Sports Graphics Forum: Successful On-Air Packages Call for Open Communication Between Creator and Client

For the vendor, setting deadlines and limitations is paramount

When fans get comfortable on their couches on a Friday night to watch their favorite team, the graphics flying across the screen are a major aspect of the production value. Although the networks deploy the packages that educate and entertain viewers, the process truly starts with the vendors. At the recent SVG Sports Graphics Forum, third-party studios and broadcasters discussed the finer details of what it’s like to develop a product within a push-pull relationship.

Building Rapport
With any project, it’s always easier to work alongside someone you know. The same applies to the inception, construction, and execution of a graphics package for live sports production. When it comes to getting a job done correctly, a partnership that entails respect and relatability can increase the likelihood of success.

Jason Joly, director, broadcast graphics, MSG Networks, advised setting guidelines for proceeding with the working relationships and getting to know how each team works: for example, work schedule, philosophy on work, how quickly it can get things done. “It ultimately comes down to having that comfort level.”

From left: drive studio’s Nick DiNapoli, MSG Networks’ Jason Joly, Undefined Creative’s Maria Rapetskaya, ESPN’s Michael “Spike” Szykowny, and Houston Media Group’s Christian Winters discuss the back-and-forth of creative collaboration at the SVG Sports Graphics Forum.

On a larger scale, companies with nationwide reputations and a long lineage of star power can potentially stunt the growth of a business relationship.

“It’s a mutual respect. We don’t want to work with people where we feel like we’re the boss and they’re working for us,” said Michael “Spike” Szykowny, senior director, motion graphics and production planning, Creative Services, ESPN. “We try to find people that we feel we can establish [a relationship] with. I think that’s when [things] really jell the best.”

Managing a Steady Workflow
In this type of back-and-forth process between two entities, elements can get lost in translation. For any team entrenched in the work, sticking to a comprehensive and efficient workflow is the hardest task to complete. On the studio side, designating a go-to individual to relay the progress of a community project can be a simple solution to guaranteeing clear communications.

“It’s best to have a consensus and a lead person. That person is in a role of speaking for and working with the group by keeping them in the loop,” said Nick DiNapoli, co-founder and creative director, drive studio. “If you work with a committee, it gets out of hand because everyone may have a different opinion. [With the team given] the proper briefings and overview, [the individual] can give good feedback [on what the team is seeing.]”

After appointing a person for representation, vendors urge setting deadlines and sticking to a plan without deviating too much. On a team that stays true to an agenda by maintaining timely work, there isn’t any room to sacrifice quality.

“Fundamentally, the best way to stay on schedule is to build one as padded as possible by building in more truck rehearsal days than you may need,” noted Christian Winters, creative director, Houston Media Group. “Setting milestones [is also important]. Do your big ones first: [they] are going to inform all of your other design choices because the ripple effect from that will work very favorably. The biggest thing is managing [the schedules of your employees]. Back at HBO, we would have weekly meetings with all of our executives and also have regular meeting with all of our freelancers. As much as you can have regular set meetings and regular check-ins, you’ll have a good feedback loop with the vendor.”

Despite scheduling strict deadlines for the studio team, Maria Rapetskaya, founder/creative director, Undefined Creative, prioritizes accommodating the culture and mindset of those who work on the broadcast side of the operation.

“We’re the kind of shop that doesn’t like [working with] stress,” she explained. “We try to keep things manageable by setting realistic deadlines. Sometimes, the clients we work with have a culture of last-minute [decisions], so we have to account for that. It’s on us to understand how [the broadcaster] works and how they want things delivered, because, at that point, we’re just an extension of their team.”

Ultimately, a business partnership that involves an open mind to curate a productive idea and an open line of discussion will provide mutual success for both parties.

“I always think, on both sides, it’s about the people [you’re working with] and not necessarily the project,” said Szykowny. “If you take care of the people, the projects will take care of themselves.”

Check www.sportsvideo.org for in-depth reports, video interviews, full-panel audio recordings, photos, and more from the Sports Graphics Forum.