On the Hardwood: After Assisting Fox Sports Sun, Miami Heat Retrofit Control Room for Games in AmericanAirlines Arena
Instead of a production truck, the RSN worked from the control room during the NBA bubble
The doldrums of 2020 may be in the past, but 2021 is still presenting challenges to in-venue production teams. Now out of the Orlando bubble, NBA organizations are hosting games in their home arenas and navigating the continuing difficulties of the pandemic. Like SVG’s At the Ballpark and On the Gridiron series, On the Hardwood will take a look the hardships, creative ideas, and teamwork of NBA franchises.
The Miami Heat traveled the 245 miles north to the NBA bubble in Orlando and made a surprise run to the NBA Finals as the No. 5 seed. During the bubble, HEATv, the organization’s broadcast– and in-venue–production department, allowed Fox Sports Sun to use the control room in AmericanAirlines Arena as its broadcast hub for the playoff games and subsequently revamped the space to accommodate social distancing and safety protocols during the current regular season.
“While [Miami Heat Director, Game Presentation,] Josh Goshin was in the bubble and helping our players there, we converted our control room for our RSN at the arena,” says Kurt Doster, director, arena video production, Miami Heat. “Instead of bringing in a live truck, we integrated a lot of their equipment into our room.”
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Bubble Operations: Fox Sports Sun Takes Over Control Room
The players might have been away from the AmericanAirlines Arena, but the building was buzzing with activity down on the floor and up in the control room. When Fox Sports Sun wanted to cover the Heat’s play in the bubble, including broadcasts of the non-national games, HEATv adapted the RSN’s workflows and hardware to the space.
Down on the floor, the network’s broadcast team called the game courtside through TV screens and produced pre/postgame and halftime shows from the arena. Part of the crew at the forefront of this endeavor, Doster served as technical director for the practice games, eight restart games, and the first round of the playoffs.
“It was a weird time because, up in the control room, we’re expecting to play off the sound of the fans since we’re in the playoffs but it’s a silent bowl,” he says. “It definitely took some adjusting to because, in every other run we’ve ever had [to the finals], the building’s packed and people are going crazy.”
In Orlando, the Miami Heat crew had its fair share of responsibilities. Goshin was at the helm of productions in the Wide World of Sports complex. In Miami, production and creative-services crews worked overtime to develop a hefty amount of content to play on the LED videoboards installed behind the team benches at Wide World of Sports.
“We tried to provide as much content as we could to make the players feel like they were at home,” says Doster. “We sent 200 files [to Orlando] using our pool of assets between our media-production and motion-graphics crews. We wanted that content to give the players a little extra push that we hope to give during a normal home game.”
Back in Miami: Team Rebuilds Control Room, Commits to In-Venue Energy
After the NBA season, instead of returning the control room to its previous layout, HEATv used the two-month offseason to forge ahead in the face of the pandemic. Besides removing a lot of the infrastructure installed for Fox Sports Sun, the effort rearranged other equipment to optimize productions and enforce safety for the onsite crew.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure the safety of our workers,” says Doster. “We’ve reduced the crew a little bit, but I also have to request permission for anybody who’s going to enter the arena. When we arrive, we fill out a form with standard health questions, get our temperature checked, and get a color code that determines the spaces in the arena that we have access to.”
Following those guidelines, the control room has plexiglass dividers between workstations, and employees don protective face coverings. From a production perspective, the franchise is diving deep on some of the game-day staples that AmericanAirlines Arena has become known for, including PA announcer Michael Baiamonte’s “2 Minutes” call and player introductions. In addition, the crew is deploying crowd prompts despite the empty seats.
“As we discussed [the plan] more, did a couple of games, and started to get the feel of it,” Doster adds, “we realized that we could play with the fake crowd noise to match some things that we were doing on the videoboard. If the other team is shooting free throws, we’ll pull up a scream graphic or if there’s a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter, there will be a huge eruption.”
Content Gathering: New-Look Media Day Gives Access to Players
Direct access to players is hard to obtain during the pandemic, but, in an effort to create content for the videoboard and, for example, graphics for social media, HEATv worked alongside Fox Sports Sun to host Media Day at the beginning of the season. The three-day shoot was facilitated by a 14-member team representing HEATv, which determined what rooms could be used; the RSN, which handled the interviews; and the Heat’s creative-services team.
“Our media-production and creative teams really had to pivot to continue to do the things that we wanted to do,” says Doster. “We still wanted to have interaction with the players and play the games that we want to project at some point when it’s safe to have fans.”
To get the needed content, each crew was required to follow strict guidelines and get tested for COVID-19. Besides meeting protocols, producers and camera operators maintained their distance from the players inside the interview room. And video-conferencing platforms like Zoom were used to direct the show from another location.
“There was a lot of creative discussion,” Doster explains. “Luckily, we have a small studio where [Fox Sports Sun] coached the players through Zoom and a monitor. They were able to capture a good chunk of what we would normally do without having to be there right in the face of the players.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of HEATv
At the top, Miami Heat Senior Director, Broadcast Services, Ed Filomia has been a guiding light for HEATv from its infancy. Doster is assisted by Director, Broadcast Services, David Vickery and Manager, Broadcast Services, Blake Engman, who helped redesign the control room and put it back together after the work of Fox Sports Sun. In other departments, Director, Media Productions, Keith Haeberle and Producer/Editor Katie Carballo played an essential role in content creation during the bubble and throughout this season.
Like Miami Heat players Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, Doster embodies the spirit of “Heat Culture,” the South Florida mentality that harnesses grit and determination to sidestep any obstacle. Hired in 2005 as a part-time camera operator out of Florida International University, he worked his way up the HEATv ranks, reaching his current full-time position in February 2020. With a story filled with hard work and success, Doster is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this great team.
“It’s a huge team effort at HEATv,” he notes. “I’m fortunate enough to get to work with these people on a daily basis. It’s a pretty amazing thing, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
After a pair of back-to-back road games vs. the Raptors (Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Friday, Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET) and vs. the Nets (Saturday, Jan. 23 and Monday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m.), the Heat will return to AmericanAirlines Arena for a six-game homestand starting against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m.