Venue Q&A: MSG’s Bauman Talks Fan-Engagement Strategy, Teases Nov. 29 Event
As SVP/executive producer, Creative and Technical Services Production Group, Madison Square Garden, Marc Bauman serves as senior creative and technical advisor across multiple MSG divisions and is responsible for content creation and production of the in-game event presentation for all New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Liberty, and Westchester Knicks home games. SVG sat down with Bauman to discuss how he has put his stamp on fan entertainment at the Garden, what fan-engagement strategies and technologies have been the most successful at the venue, and what attendees can expect at the Venue Production Seminar on Nov. 29.
You spent more than 30 years at Lincoln Center. Tell us a little about your experience there and some of the highlights from that part of your career?
Prior to joining Madison Square Garden, I was the supervising producer of Live From Lincoln Center, the highly lauded PBS television series, which I joined in 1981. I supervised all the live television broadcasts presented by the 12 constituent companies at Lincoln Center, including the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet, the Lincoln Center Theater, the Juilliard School, The Film Society, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. For my work at Lincoln Center, I received 57 Emmy nominations and seven Emmy Awards.
Our mission was to try to accurately translate the experience of attending an event at Lincoln Center into a live national broadcast with the least amount of intrusion into the experience for the audience member. We developed sophisticated small-format robotic cameras and minimally invasive microphone techniques and used the least amount of “TV” lighting possible. Many of the technologies we developed are commonplace today, but, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, a lot of what we accomplished was groundbreaking.
Tell us about your role at Madison Square Garden.
I like to tell people that my job is to say yes to good ideas. Obviously, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but, in the end, it boils down to supporting my co-workers and encouraging them to think outside of the box: to try new things, to execute them with the highest degree of production excellence possible, and to keep their ideas organic to the brand.
I am also extremely lucky to have the support of ownership. The fan experience is of the utmost importance to our company, and I am allowed ample creative freedom to investigate and explore new technologies and new ways of using old technologies that engage the fans. I travel around the country and abroad to investigate new presentation technologies. You will see some of those on Nov. 29.
My responsibilities also extend beyond event presentation for our three teams. I have oversight of the exterior lighting designs of the arena, as well as our seven full-time motion-graphics designers, who support not only the teams but also the content for the 10 large LED screens outside the arena and the LED screens at our other properties: Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater, and the Forum in L.A. I even oversee the lobby holiday displays, which you will see on the 29th.
How long have you been in this role?
When I started at MSG in 2013, I was working at the network. Turns out, there was not much for me to do, as the people at MSG Network are the best at what they do and there was little new for me to add to advance their broadcasts. I was, however, instrumental in the redesign of their two broadcast studios, along with support and creative input from the MSG engineering department. We recently were awarded this year’s Emmy Award for scenic design for those studios.
How do you work with each of the teams?
We constantly get input from coaches, players, and management. It’s a balancing act to take their input and tweak it to fit the fan demographic. In the end, I want the fans to have a good time. My responsibility is to keep them engaged, even if the team doesn’t.
Was this a new position within MSG? If so, what were the needs the organization felt needed to be addressed?
The role I am in is usually filled in other sports organizations by someone with close ties to the marketing or ad-sales department. When I transitioned from the network to the teams side, the president of MSG at the time wanted someone who did not have sports-production experience or ties to marketing. He wanted to free up, or loosen, that connection so we could think freely to deliver entertaining fan-engagement experiences that no other team was doing. We don’t drop coupons from blimps or hand out free pizzas, but we do toss T-shirts. By comparison, many teams toss out 20-30 T-shirts a night. We toss approximately 340!
As a long-time successful producer of live television and events, what motivates you, drives you for each show?
This is hard to answer because it is kind of intangible. I know when the audience is having a good experience. I can see it on their faces. I sit up high in the arena and can see the expressions on the faces of our fans. When we run a highlight package, show a great super-slo-mo replay, introduce a celebrity with a funny clip, or engage the fans with our new “AirCam,” the reactions are immediate. I try to separate what I do from the team’s performance and concentrate on doing whatever I can to create a fun and engaging entertainment experience for our fans.
How do you bring that to each sports and entertainment event in the world’s most famous arena?
One of the areas I was tasked to change immediately was the national-anthem performance. Most teams have an in-house performer that sings at every game, or they bring in local amateur talent. We don’t do that. We are in New York City, where I have access to the best Broadway, opera, pop, rock, or country talent the world has to offer.
In the first year, it was a bit of a struggle to get people to agree to sing here: the national anthem is an intimidating piece to sing, and Madison Square Garden is an intimidating place to sing it in. But now I have an embarrassment of riches. This year, I expect to have 60-80 unique performers between the Knicks and Rangers, and all will be sensational.
I also spend a lot of time doing things outside of my comfort zone. I travel to many other arenas so I can see what they are doing, and, occasionally, I find a good idea and modify it for our fans. For instance, the Nashville Predators have a live-band-performance area where they have top Nashville musicians perform between periods of a hockey game. We have adopted that and use up some platform seats on selected nights to bring in top-name talent to perform for the fans. Some of the artists we are talking to this season are Chick Correa, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Natalie Cressman, London Souls, Umphreys McGee, Jonny Lang, John Mayer, and Lenny Kravitz.
What is your philosophy and MSG’s philosophy regarding the fan experience and fan-engagement technologies?
You’re going to see some of that on the 29th: AirCam One, our GoPro [camera]-equipped remote-controlled helium-filled flying camera platform; our in-dasher POV cameras; the [Evertz] DreamCatcher HFR replay system; the potential redesign of our arena PA system, which will revolutionize the audio experience for fans at MSG; even our 36-shooter T-shirt guns that rapid fire T-shirts into the crowd.
I also keep my eyes open for technologies that might not appear to have an immediate application. I recently saw a DJI Osmo demo at a DJI drone store in a mall in Edmonton, AB, and realized that this could be used by our editors and even interns to get broadcast-quality B-roll imagery at almost no expense. Shots we probably wouldn’t have bothered to get due to expense and complexity only a year ago.
We are also working on an RF selfie cam and object-tracking technologies.
What excites you the most about your role?
Finding new stuff to keep the fan experience fresh.
What can attendees expect to see and experience on Nov. 29?
We have the sharpest, brightest on-ice projection system of any arena in the country and more moving lights (112) than any arena. Our lighting designs are created by Chris Kuroda, who is the lighting designer for the band Phish, and, along with our 112 moving lights and our four hazers, we have created the most theatrically dynamic and visually cinematic opening lighting/projection sizzle of anywhere in the country. We go from 0 to 100 in one second! You will also see AirCam One and one of the largest video screens of any NHL arena, our new theater organ. Oh, and lots of T-shirts!