NBA Summer League Comes of Age as ESPN Boosts Production Levels

ESPN is carrying all 67 games from the 24-team tournament in Vegas

Not long ago, the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas was barely on the radar of the average NBA fan. Launched in 2004 with six teams playing 13 games, NBA Summer League seemed unlikely to air on national cable networks. A lot can happen in 13 years.

Now in its second year covering the 24-team Vegas Summer League, ESPN is carrying all 67 tournament games from Thomas & Mac Arena and Cox Pavilion across its family of networks. In addition, ESPN’s The Jump and multiple editions of SportsCenter are airing live from onsite, and the network has increased its production complement with additional cameras and a variety of high-end tools, including a RailCam system.

“Many years ago, Summer League was covered by only three cameras with a [NewTek] TriCaster within a small office trailer, and all the marquis games were played in the smaller Cox Pavilion to ensure a ‘look and feel’ of a capacity crowd,” says ESPN Operations Manager Patty Mattero. “[But this year], we have complete five-manned-camera coverage along with a few POV [cameras] in both arenas and an announce-booth POV. This is our second year covering Summer League, and we always strive to bring our broadcast coverage to a new level.”

Despite New Tech Toys, ESPN Is All About Efficiency
Games on the ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU linear networks feature six cameras, including a beauty shot; games airing on NBA TV (and simulcast on ESPN3) have four ESPN cameras with a fifth provided by an NBA TV camera position. Both arenas also have three POV positions, which are new this year.

Among the highlights for this year’s Summer League coverage is ESPN’s use of a RailCam for the first three days of action at Thomas & Mack Arena. The rail is a 20-ft. run mounted on top of the announcers table and uses a miniature Sony camera with robotic mount. In addition, ESPN is using Marshall POV cameras below the basket in both arenas.

On selected games, ESPN is also outfitting coaches and players with mics for its “Wired” in-game audio segments.

Although ESPN’s arsenal of production tools has grown for Summer League, the network remains focused on efficiency in the productions. ESPN is using its GREMI (graphics remote integration) workflow, in which all graphics are generated and integrated into the telecast at its broadcast center in Bristol, CT — reducing onsite crew and equipment.

“[We are focused on] creating efficiencies without compromising coverage,” says Mattero. “Incorporating this workflow required careful attention to bandwidth and circuits for file-transfer and GREMI control.”

Inside the Vegas Compound: Harb on the Scene
Knoxville, TN-based Harb Production Services is once again providing the mobile units, with DHP Sadie covering Thomas & Mack Arena and DHP Sophie handling Cox Pavilion games (both are 40-ft. expandos). Keeping these trucks cool in the baking Vegas heat during long production days is no easy task.

“The number-one challenge is combatting the excessive heat in Vegas to keep all technical facilities and trucks cool to withstand days of setup and 10 days of live coverage,” says Mattero. “It’s very hard to maintain a level of A/C, and many spot coolers are needed for additional cooling support within trucks and external rack equipment. … The heat plays a huge factor when trying to maintain our [GREMI control and file-transfer] equipment racks from overheating.”

Producing a whopping 67 games in 10 days with just 10 minutes between games has required Mattero and company to create a detailed rotation schedule to manage the roughly 120 ops/production staffers and technicians onsite.

“[We are] focusing on consistent setup across both mobile units to support a rotation of several production teams,” she explains. “[That] has been very successful this year.”

ESPN is delivering content via The Switch’s fiber network along with IP Encoder paths for data and backup needs.

“There are also many challenges to coordinate all the various comms needs and technical connectivity for different networks, with games airing daily on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, E3, and NBA TV,” says Mattero. “In addition to this, we also provide several different feeds to various teams’ local broadcasters.”

Much More Than the Game: The Jump and SportsCenter Onsite
In addition, PSSI’s K34 (A and B units) production/uplink hybrid truck is on hand to serve studio shows, including The Jump (broadcasting live 30-minute shows) and SportsCenter (the 11 p.m. ET edition live from Vegas July 11-14).

ESPN has erected two set locations for both shows in Thomas & Mack Arena: one in the upper seat section and another at floor level. SportsCenter also has several satellite standup locations.

Chinese media giant Tencent is also at Summer League for the first time, doing pre/postgame interviews on selected games.

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