AVP Champions Cup Series Offers Live (Socially Distanced) Beach Volleyball on NBC, Amazon Prime

Echo Entertainment produced the first of three weekend broadcasts from Long Beach, CA

Live beach volleyball returned over the weekend with the first of three AVP tournaments to be held on a sand-court venue created on the Long Beach (CA) Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot. Broadcasts of the AVP Champions Cup Series, which replaces the normal June-October AVP season, are being produced by long-time AVP production partner Echo Entertainment with strict health and safety protocols in place. With sports fans starved for live content of any kind these days, AVP and Echo have teamed up to bring beach volleyball to the masses on NBC, NBCSN, and Amazon Prime, using a unique venue and hybrid production model.

Echo Entertainment and AVP have deployed netcams for coverage

“After we went through all the emotions of losing our full season,” says AVP Creative Director Josh Glazebrook, “we started going through how we were going to bring the sport to the world during the COVID crisis, and we came up with this concept, so we’re incredibly stoked to pull this off. Since then, we’ve had many, many hours of discussion about how we can do this safely with the right protocols while still putting ourselves in position to [produce] a great event. We have a really great group here who has worked around the clock to make this happen. It has been a journey, but everyone has come together, and we’re excited to bring this to the fans.”

The AVP Champions Cup Series kicked off last weekend with the Monster Hydro Cup. The Wilson Cup and Porsche Cup will hit the beach in the next two weekends.

Beach Compound: Dome Trucks Serve Dual Courts for NBC, Prime

AVP and Echo have rolled out Dome Productions’ Journey and B100 XPT mobile units to cover two courts — stadium court and outer court — at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Dome Productions’ Journey mobile unit is on site in Long Beach for AVP.

In the truck compound, Journey is serving Amazon Prime’s first-to-last-ball live-streamed coverage, as well as its pre/postgame coverage. Meanwhile, the B100 XPT flex-space is serving NBC Sports’ linear-broadcast windows with a small control room featuring a Grass Valley Korona switcher panel (that pulls an M/E off the Grass Valley Kayenne K-Frame switcher in Journey), audio board, EVS replay system, graphics, and scorebug system.

“There are two separate directors, so the cameraman will actually serve two masters,” says Echo Entertainment Technical Producer Pierce Williams. “Even though the NBC director will take a kind of a ‘quote unquote’ world feed from the Amazon Prime feed, they also have the ability to take any cameras via that Korona panel that takes an M/E stripe off the main K-Frame. So NBC takes the Prime show but also can expand on that for their own benefit.”

With no fans in attendance, AVP has modified venues from its traditional setup to include large branded walls.

A third production dedicated to Prime’s coverage of the outer court is using a remote cloud-based workflow. Echo has deployed a TVU Networks IP transmission system and arranged for a 1-Gbps internet path to deliver camera feeds and audio to Echo’s production facilities, where the production team is located, just up the road in Calabasas, CA. On-air talent for these matches are calling the action off-tube from their homes.

Encompass Digital Media has rolled out a satellite-uplink trunk for transmission needs, providing four encoder paths: one for NBC’s linear telecasts, two for Amazon Prime’s streaming, and one as a backup for the cloud-based remote production from the outer court.

Court Coverage: With No Fans, On-Court Becomes Key

With no fans in attendance, AVP has modified the venues from its traditional setup. Stands that usually have seating have been converted to large branded walls, and AVP has rolled in a full set of LED ribbon boards to surround the court.

“It’s not uncommon for us to build in parking lots,” notes Glazebrook, “so that’s not much of a departure for us. But, obviously, not having people in the stands is a huge departure for us. We think we’ve created a gladiator feel with walls surrounding the competition court. The idea is to give the feel of a studio without the people.”

With no fans in attendance, AVP and Echo have made on-court and player audio a priority

AVP and Echo have deployed a total of 16 cameras in Long Beach: 11 on stadium court and five PTZ units for the outer court. The stadium-court complement comprises three Sony hard cameras (including a Sony HDC-4300 high-speed system) and five handhelds, as well as three mini POV cameras (including a netcam to capture big plays at the net).

With no fans in attendance, AVP and Echo have made on-court audio a priority. The coverage features increased wireless microphones, including units on the referees and coaches, on the umbrellas above the players’ boxes, and six strewn across on the net.

“We also have a lot more effects mics on the court because we are redirecting a lot of the effects mics that would have been on the crowd to the court,” says Williams. “We want to bring out the sound of the game so the viewer can feel the action more than they have in the past. The crowds have been so good for AVP for years that hearing anything in there can be tough sometimes. This is going to be a lot different and should be new experience for the viewers, which will be great.”

Glazebrook adds that, with more casual fans likely tuning into the tournaments given the dearth of live sports, AVP and its broadcast partners are endeavoring to appeal to a more mainstream audience.

“The past few weeks, we’ve gone over how to bring it down to the basics a little bit so people get a feel for what beach volleyball is: how difficult it is, the skills involved, the performance and athleticism it requires,” he says. “How can we showcase those things to [casual fans] who may not be that familiar with our sport? We’re looking at on-screen graphics and things like that to stir conversation and highlight some of the technical aspects surrounding the sport. Communicating the vibe and lifestyle appeal to television is very important to us, so we are definitely looking to morph this live broadcast into something that’s watchable for your average Joe.”

Protocols in Place: Crew Safety Remains Top Priority

Echo and Dome have worked together to shift several positions inside the trucks to ensure social distancing and have installed plexiglass separating all positions and benches. Since the B100 XPT flex-space unit features a back row that’s completely movable, the back bench has been turned around to face the wall so that there are two full rows 6 ft. apart and facing away from each another.

AVP created a sand-court venue on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot.

To ensure that the 40+ crew members were healthy, Echo reached out to its production team 14 days and then five days prior to the first tournament and required each individual to sign a pledge that they would quarantine in advance of and during the AVP productions. In addition, the majority of the crew is L.A.-based in an effort to avoid unnecessary travel. Arriving onsite each day, crew members are temperature-tested and must pass a verbal checkout from the medical team. In addition, each has been provided with plenty of PPE and dedicated individual headsets.

“Keeping everyone safe is our No. 1 priority for sure,” says Williams. “We have also [established] zones: the camera ops can’t come into the truck, and the truck guys can’t go out into the field. It’s the same with the athletes, coaches, and other [personnel]; they aren’t going to come around us, and we’re not going to go around them. Our goal is to limit everyone’s face time as much as possible to keep everyone safe.”

Live coverage of the AVP Champions Cup Series resumes this weekend with The Wilson Cup on NBCSN and Amazon Prime.