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2021 WNBA Draft: Virtual Broadcast Puts Fresh Spin on Pioneering ESPN Effort From a Year Ago

14/04/2021

2021 WNBA Draft: Virtual Broadcast Puts Fresh Spin on Pioneering ESPN Effort From a Year Ago Eleven mobile video kits have been sent to players to capture reactions, facilitate live interviews By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 - 3:46 pm

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Many leagues and broadcasters took innovative steps to get back on the air following the pandemic-driven shutdown of live sports in March 2020. But, when it comes to pioneering efforts, one broadcast deserves major praise for being on the frontlines: ESPN's broadcast of the WNBA Draft.

Commonly noted as the first major live sports event to be broadcast following the shutdown, the WNBA Draft was a special effort that truly had no blueprint to work from. And the fully virtual event laid the groundwork for what ESPN, other broadcasters, and sports leagues were able to accomplish in the following weeks and months.

Now, a year later, the WNBA Draft is back (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN). It's still virtual, but it's an even more comprehensive effort that has the behind-the-scenes crew at ESPN feeling a whole lot more confident than when it was forging a path into a whole new world of broadcast.

The conversations we were having last year at this time were just on the stability of technology and what happens if we lose [a feed], says Sara Gaiero, senior managing producer, ESPN. Last year, Sabrina Ionescu was the biggest story going into the Draft, and what kept me awake at night was what happens if we lose her signal at the moment she gets drafted; we'll never have that moment of seeing her joy. I have so much more confidence in the technology this year that I don't even sweat those details anymore. Our team has done a great job, and I truly have relied on them to just run with this.

A big difference this year is that WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the picks from ESPN's New York Seaport District Studios. A year ago, she broadcast from her home. This year, she'll have the gorgeous backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Draft taking place on the set for ESPN's daily morning show, Get Up!. The set will be redecorated with WNBA scenery and, of course, a podium from which to announce the picks.

ESPN's Sara Gaiero: What's exciting this year is, we know we can talk about a season that's going to happen. There was so much unknown going into the Draft last year.

Approximately 20 crew members (camera operators, video, shading, audio, a couple of stage managers) will be at the Seaport facility, but the majority of the behind-the-scenes crew (about 40 positions), including the main studio set and the primary control room, are on ESPN's Bristol, CT, campus. Crews there will continue to be spread out in compliance with social-distancing protocols.

A similarity to last year is that the event will again be anchored from a studio in Bristol. Ryan Ruocco will host studio coverage alongside basketball analysts Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson and reporter Holly Rowe.

ESPN has shipped 11 mobile video kits to a selection of the top WNBA prospects. The kit comprises an iPhone 11, an iPad, a ring light, a Beats Pill+ portable speaker, and a transmission solution from TVU Networks. ESPN's Shea Byrum, Ryan Bastic, and Leah Morgenstern assembled the kits and worked closely with the players to link up and position the kits so that they can be used to capture reactions when a player is drafted and then used again for one-on-one interviews with the studio talent later in the show.

What's exciting this year is, we know we can talk about a season that's going to happen, says Gaiero. There was so much unknown going into the Draft last year, just about what's going to happen with the regular season and how we are going to play. There's far more clarity, which is just great for us to be able to go into this great event and get these stories out and talk about this league, which is really hot right now. Just about a month after this Draft, the regular season will begin, and we'll see what Season 25 for ESPN looks like.

The WNBA Draft Presented by State Farm will air live on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2021/04/14/2021-wnba-draft-virtual-broadca...
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