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NBA Returns: ESPN, Turner, NBA Team Up for Sprawling, COVID-Safe Production at Wide World of Sports


NBA Returns: ESPN, Turner, NBA Team Up for Sprawling, COVID-Safe Production at Wide World of Sports Broadcasts will include national telecasts and world feeds for RSNs By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Thursday, July 30, 2020 - 2:36 pm

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The long wait is over, and the NBA returns to the hardcourt tonight with a Jazz-Pelicans and Clippers-Lakers doubleheader from the league's bubble at Disney's Wide World of Sports (WWoS) complex in Orlando. The pair of telecasts on TNT will tip off one of the largest undertakings in NBA broadcast history with the NBA, ESPN, and Turner Sports teaming up to produce not only national telecasts but also world feeds for hundreds of regional-sports-network broadcasts across the country.

An aerial view of the NBA production compound at ESPN Wide World of Sports. (Photo courtesy of Chris Calcinari/ESPN)

A nearly 200,000-sq.-ft. broadcast compound has been built and follows strict health and safety guidelines, and the three WWoS arenas have been transformed into one-of-a-kind venues chock-full of LED screens, robotic cameras, embedded microphones, and other state-of-the-art tech.

This is a high-level overview of plans for production operations in Orlando. Stay tuned for more in-depth SVG coverage of NBA, ESPN, and Turner Sports operations at the Wide World of Sports in the coming days.

Inside the Compound: A Baker's Dozen Trucks, Plenty of Safety Measures The 194,920-sq.-ft. broadcast compound is equal to roughly three football fields and serves as home to 13 production trucks and 31 trailers.

ESPN is using NEP's EN3 and EN2 mobile units and Game Creek Video's Victory (all with A and B units). Turner Sports has rolled in NEP's Supershooter 8, TS2, and M14 (all with A and B units). In addition to the trucks and trailers, the compound features six mobile-unit cover tents, two catering tents, two field-shop tents, and multiple cooling stations.

Three sides of the court have 17-ft. LED videoboards.

Powering the compound are 20 generators provided by CAT Entertainment Services: 12 500-kVA units, two 300-kVA units, two 400-kVA tow plants, and four 175-kVA tow plants. Also on hand are 32 HVAC units.

ESPN and Turner have laid more than 436 miles of fiber to tie together the compound, the three arenas, and various areas throughout the WWoS complex.

On the transmission side, there are 65 outbound paths and 14 inbound paths for ESPN, which is relying on The Switch and its ESPNet company-wide infrastructure.

Positions within the trucks have been reorganized to ensure social distancing, with most A units housing just six crew members. Many of the replay operators and robotic-camera shaders have been outboarded to the B unit or other locations in the compound. In addition, ESPN is using its GREMI model for all its telecasts, with three or four replay operators and graphics and scorebug positions operating out of its Bristol, CT, headquarters.

The Arena will serve as Court 1, hosting the Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

The crew has been divided into functional groups, with the majority of the production and operations staff in the yellow zone and commuting solely between their hotel on Disney property and WWoS. Individuals are also limited to specific trucks and trailers to minimize cross-contamination among the crew. Crew members are required to wear face masks and maintain social distancing at all times. All onsite staff are tested regularly for COVID-19 and have daily temperature tests upon arrival at the facility.

NBA Entertainment EVP, Media Operations and Technology, Steve Hellmuth is leading the charge for the league's broadcast plans. The ESPN operations team onsite is led by SVP, Remote Production Operations, Chris Calcinari; Senior Operations Manager Patty Mattero; and Senior Remote Operations Specialist Eddie Okuno. Turner Sports ops are headed by VP, Operations and Technology, Chris Brown.

Inside the Venues: RailCam and Robos Galore HP Field House will serve as Court 2 from the regular season through Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs.

NBA games will be played across three venues at the WWoS: The Arena (Court 1, the main national-telecast court and site of Conference Finals and NBA Finals), HP Fieldhouse (Court 2 for the regular season to Second Round), and the Visa Athletic Center (Court 3, primarily for games broadcast exclusively by RSNs).

RSNs will receive a world feed produced by either ESPN or Turner, along with a dedicated iso camera (with full comms to the camera operator) and access to several other camera feeds. The final telecast will be integrated at the RSN's home control room/truck.

The mobile units are assigned to one venue apiece: The Arena is covered by EN3 (ESPN) and Supershooter 8 (Turner); HP Fieldhouse, Victory and TS2; and Visa Athletic Center, EN2 and TS2. In addition, ESPN is producing a large chunk of the RSN games from Visa as REMI (remote-integration) shows, sending camera/audio feeds to control rooms in Bristol to be integrated for the final production.

At least 258 cameras have been deployed across the WWoS complex, including more than 60 robos. Each venue is equipped with 30+ cameras for game coverage, with The Arena and HP having roughly the same camera complement and Visa a slightly smaller one.

Chief among the new production elements is the RailCam system at both The Arena and HP Fieldhouse, which will glide along the court at floor level to create a valuable new shot for ESPN and TNT coverage.

Visa Athletic Center will host the majority of the RSN-exclusive games.

Nearly all court-level cameras, normally manned positions, have been converted to robos. Seven cameras (depending on the venue and the game) continue to be manned: one center-court handheld (the only court-level unit), three up cameras (game, tight, and second tight), left
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