Unpredictable Night at NBA Draft Keeps ESPN on Its Toes
After a two-year hiatus in New Jersey, the NBA Draft made its grand return to New York last night at the shiny new Barclays Center. On hand in Brooklyn to produce its 11th-consecutive Draft telecast, ESPN rolled out its full arsenal of production tools to cover a topsy-turvy evening filled with unpredictable picks, blockbuster trade news, and a memorable sendoff for outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern.
“This is always one of our favorite shows of the year,” ESPN coordinating producer Jay Levy said just before the Draft began Thursday. “The venue is not a huge challenge because we’ve done a number of college basketball games here [at Barclays], so there’s not a lot of surprises. But we are always trying to add new elements to keep the show exciting and fresh.”
The Scene at Barclays
ESPN called Game Creek Video’s Victory mobile unit (A and B trucks) home during the Draft production. Director Ed Curran (fourth Draft) and producer Bo Garrett (seventh Draft) were at the front bench in Victory’s A unit, while
Phil Dean (ESPN’s NBA Draft Lottery producer) served as associate producer.
ESPN deployed a total of 18 cameras throughout the arena, including a FlyCam aerial system, three jibs, a wireless RF Steadicam (from CP Communications), and an overhead robotic attached to the center-hung video-board (supplied by Fletcher).
“It’s not an excessive amount of cameras by any means, but it fits perfectly for what we’re doing here,” said Lee Kalinsky, ESPN’s Technical Operations Manager for the Draft. “I’ve been doing this show for six years and it’s very unique. We try to bring out [camera angles] that create an intimate feel for [viewers].”
Inside Barclays, ESPN erected two sets – a main set featuring on-air talent Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jalen Rose, and Bill Simmons and a secondary set for analysts Tom Penn (former NBA team exec and salary cap expert) and Fran Fraschilla (international players expert). Penn and Fraschilla had a large telestration screen supplied by Reality Check Systems at their disposal on the secondary set.
In addition to the two sets, college basketball reporter Andy Katz and NBA Insider Chris Broussard were stationed in an upper suite overlooking the floor, providing live reports. Meanwhile, Heather Cox handled green-room-area interviews, and new addition Shane Battier made his debut at the Draft interviewing draftees just after their names were called.
“I love doing shows here [at Barclays],” said Kalinksy. “A lot of the people that are working here came from NBA, which is not always the case for these arenas. So they know what we are looking for from the broadcast side as well as what the league is looking for from a league perspective. Everyone that works here goes out of their way and it’s incredibly helpful.”
Virtual Graphics Join the Party
Perhaps the biggest technological addition to this year’s show was the network’s liberal use of virtual graphics and banners throughout the Draft. The virtual elements gave the impression that these banners were actually present at Barclays and highlighted players’ stats and information as they came off the board.
“We are going to have virtual banners inside the arena a lot,” said Levy. “We will be able to see some of the draftees as we’re talking about them in groupings. Right now they won’t be used for sponsorship opportunities or for any full-screen type graphics. They will be more along the lines of head-to-toe players shots, similar to they what they did in the NFL Draft.”
Remotes Over Video-Conferencing
ESPN elected not to incorporate video-conferencing this year, as it has in the past. Previously supplied by Glowpoint, the technology allowed ESPN to bring in live video from team headquarters around the country. However, because of the brisk nature of the NBA Draft (only 5 minutes per pick rather than ten in the NFL Draft’s first round), ESPN rarely had a chance to make use of these feeds.
Instead, this year ESPN set up five live sat-uplink remotes around the country, including reporters on location in the four highest NBA Draft markets – Cleveland; Orlando; Washington, DC; and Minneapolis. Shelley Smith was also live from Clippers headquarters in Los Angeles to cover the team’s acquisition of new coach Doc Rivers.
A Grand Ratings Reward
ESPN’s substantial efforts at Barclays did not go unrewarded, at least according to the overnight ratings. The telecast’s 2.6 overnight is tied as the highest since the historic 2003 Draft, which was headlined by future megastars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. The Draft was up 13% compared to last year’s telecast, which posted a 2.3. The Draft peaked at a 3.3 rating from 8:30 to 8:45 p.m. ET.