Turner Sports, NBA All-Star Game Heat Up Toronto

freeD returns to the coverage; Sony HDC-4300 cameras debut

NBA All-Star Weekend, one of the marquee events on the NBA calendar, has begun in Toronto, and the full slate of events once again has Turner Sports and NBA TV production teams of more than 170 people more than busy. It also marks a return to normalcy after last year’s event in New York City, when the NBA All-Star Game was played at Madison Square Garden and All-Star Saturday Night activities were held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. All of the top activities this year take place in the Air Canada Center (ACC).

“Managing one building’s schedule is far less difficult than trying to manage two buildings, two schedules, and the logistics of getting back and forth,” says Chris Brown, director, technical operations, Turner Sports. “The challenge now is making the schedule work so that the video department can have 90 minutes to test the lighting and color balance.”

The big-time activities don’t begin until Friday, but the production trucks rolled in last Friday to get ready for rehearsals, and NBA TV has been on-air with one of its top shows, The Starters.

The program began as a podcast in 2013, featuring four Toronto natives (Tas Melas, Phil Elder [J.E. Skeets], Leigh Ellis, and Trey Kerby). The program is now a nightly fixture (at 7 p.m.) on the NBA TV schedule and has been broadcasting live from the Real Sports Bar and Grill, located across the street from the ACC. The TNT studio show will also broadcast live from the same location prior to a regular-season NBA broadcast tonight.

With the weekend’s increasingly ambitious and creative entertainment components, the production teams began rehearsals earlier than usual (Wednesday prior vs. Thursday). “There is a lot of complexity to the entertainment portion,” Brown points out, “so more rehearsal time is needed.”

Saturday’s activities begin at the Ricoh Coliseum with the NBA East and West All-Star practice prior to Saturday’s main event, which is All-Star Saturday Night from the ACC.

All fiber connects are inside a trailer to keep them warm in extreme cold in Toronto.

All fiber connects are inside a trailer to keep them warm in extreme cold in Toronto.

This year’s festivities will mark the second year in a row that the trucks will be located in very cold conditions (the low temperature on Saturday is expected to be -7), and there were some lessons learned from similar conditions in New York City last year. Because the extreme cold caused some issues with NBA Entertainment’s booth kits, all the terminal fiber gear this year is located inside a trailer to keep it all well above freezing.

What’s New in Production
From a production standpoint, 36 cameras will be used when the event hits its high-water mark at the ACC on Saturday night and Sunday. New this year will be four Sony HDC-4300 cameras operating in 6X mode for slow-motion replays.

“We will also be using the [Replay Technologies] freeD 360 [replay] system,” says Brown. “That will be exciting.”

This is also the second week in a row that the freeD system is used for the nation’s top sports event; CBS Sports used it last week for Super Bowl 50.

Other enhancements include the return of a 46-ft. Luoma crane and three RF cameras (two Steadicam and one handheld).

Bexel is providing Quantum wireless player mics for the coaches and six players. The latest version of the Quantum microphone pack has shrunk by 17%, making them even less cumbersome for players and coaches to wear.

A 5K camera used for the freeD 360 replay system

A 5K camera used for the freeD 360 replay system

In terms of the production trailers onsite, NEP’s SS24 is handling game duties on Friday and Sunday at the ACC, and NCPX will be in action for All-Star Saturday Night. A production team working in NCPVIII will oversee halftime entertainment and player introductions on Sunday.

NEP’s ND1 three-trailer unit is also onsite. The A unit is handling transmission and Orad virtual graphics (courtesy of three cameras, including a Steadicam). The C is serving as a transfer/ingest/edit area (with four Adobe Premier units). The B unit is operating as an ESU unit because the NEP ESU was in Santa Clara, CA, for the Super Bowl when the build-out in Toronto was under way.

“NEP was able to work something out and turn ND1 into a new ESU and then some,” says Brown, noting, “We were able to eliminate quite a substantial amount of copper cabling and make it more efficient in terms of distribution with fiber.”

NCPXI is also on hand for TNT’s studio-show operations, which will once again be tightly integrated with the All-Star Saturday Night activities.

“[The integration] will be similar to [last year’s],” says Brown, “but will provide a next level of enjoyment for the fans as it will be heavily involved the entire night.”

CP Communications’ RF6 trailer is on hand to manage all audio-submix duties as well as handling RF cameras and radio communications.

The All-Star Weekend compound across from Air Canada Center

The All-Star Weekend compound across from Air Canada Center

“One of the challenges in Canada is, most of our crews are used to communicating via text and cellphones,” Brown explains. “While most have international plans, we had CP add a repeater inside of the Air Canada Center with seven repeated channels so that the studio and operations group could talk to each other.”

And let’s not forget Dome Productions, Canada’s preeminent remote-production-services provider. Dome’s Journey unit is being used for the world-feed production, and NBA TV is using Dome Sierra at the Sheraton Hotel and Dome Silver at the Ricoh Coliseum. The latter venue hosts the Rising Stars practice and the Celebrity Game tonight. Tonight’s BBVA Rising Stars Game will be played at the ACC.

NBA TV, meanwhile, is calling Lyon 14 home, and Dome’s Floater B unit is handling editing duties for NBA TV and NBA.com. Five Adobe Premier systems have been added, bringing the total on the show to nine, in that unit, thanks to Bexel and Thumbware.

“The producers are here. They want to be able to sit next to the editor and create what they want. You can’t replace that [without the editors’ being here],” says Brown. “There are pieces that can be edited in Atlanta, but a lot of the work is done in the moment. NBA.com, for example, is connected to the EVS network and will cut clips and other deliverables. And, for them, timeliness is key.”

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