Pickleball Mania World Championship Helps Fill Live Sports Void on ESPN3
As sports broadcasters and live-streaming outlets seek to fill the void of live content for fans during the coronavirus pandemic, more fringe sports are finding their way into the mainstream. Exhibit A: Pickleball Mania World Championship, which is streaming today exclusively on ESPN3 beginning at 12:00 p.m. ET. The event, which features four of the world’s top pro pickleball players vying for the Pickleball Mania Crown, is being produced with a skeleton crew at a private residence under strict quarantine.
“It means everything to me to help give back to… sports fans that are looking for any reason to stay positive right now. Sports is one of the great ways to join people together and is one of our pastimes in the United States,” says Harry Cicma, executive producer and CEO of Harry Cicma Productions, which is handling the production. “I am proud that Harry Cicma Productions and ESPN joined together to find a creative way to bring live pro sports back to the fans, and hopefully the sports and event worlds will be back up and running soon, as we beat this terrible coronavirus disease.”
For those unaware, pickleball is a paddle sport featuring a plastic ball with holes played on a badminton-sized court that combines many elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Today’s event, which begins at 12:00 p.m. ET, will feature four competitors in two semifinals, a final, and a bronze medal match.
The production includes a small two-person crew with two unmanned stationary cameras (one at the baseline and the other at the net) and one roving handheld operator. Meanwhile a producer/director is utilizing a NewTek TriCaster to produce the show. Cicma is serving as Coordinating and Executive Producer — and working from home and guiding the crew remotely via Skype in order to maintain social distancing. The final program feed is then encoded and sent to ESPN for live-streaming on ESPN3 (it will also air on tape delay on other networks at a later date).
“We have two cameras locked in place, which is unique for us, due to the coronavirus situation,” says Cicma. “Typically, we’d have two [camera operators] operating in those positions, but we wanted to keep a smaller number of people.”
The most significant challenge for Cicma and his team was keeping the event in a small private venue (a residential house) with no fans and less than seven people onsite to abide by coronavirus restrictions. Furthermore, each player is serving with his or her own ball, so they won’t be touching a ball from another player.
“The top priority and reason for this production is to give back to the community during this difficult time, and to maintain the narrative that staying at home and maintaining social distancing is our top priority in America during this difficult time, in order to save lives and beat coronavirus,” says Cicma.
The Pickleball Mania World Pickleball Championship was co-founded by former tennis professional Ryan Sherry, NFL veteran Brandon Siler, and former professional football player Peter “P.J.” Jensen. They will also serve as Tournament Directors. Harry Cicma Productions produces hundreds of taped and live events each year for the major sports, and specializes in feature shows, documentaries, sizzle reels, and magazine shows.
“We wanted to help sports fans finally have some live sports at home, while waiting for all events to eventually get back to normal,” says Cicma. “I personally analyzed which type of one-on-one sport would fit the model of having a small quarantined staff, and less than eight people onsite, in order to maintain safety during this coronavirus pandemic. Pickleball was the perfect fit. Staying at home saves lives during this coronavirus outbreak, so these events wouldn’t be possible if they required more staff and athletes.”
The Pickleball Mania World Championships begin streaming at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN3.