On the Hardwood: Minnesota Timberwolves Feature On-Court Media Day With Drone Flyover at Target Center

Even without fans onsite, game-day experience offers usual intro video, mascot antics

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.

Basketball fans around the country were already excited about the 2020-21 regular season, but, 24 hours before tipoff, anticipation increased for Minnesota Timberwolves supporters when the franchise released a cinematic drone flyover of the interior and exterior of Target Center. As one of the video’s highlights, the production team conducted a new version of its Media Day, which has become a microcosm of in-venue operations this year.

“Media Day was really strange this year,” says Alyse Danikowski, manager, game presentation, Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. “We usually have a whole round-robin with local and national media there, but, this year, it was just our in-house team.”

MORE ON THE HARDWOOD INTERVIEWS:

Player-Generated Content: Inside the Timberwolves’ Preseason Media Day

Prior to the start of the regular season, the production crew put in a lot of  energy and effort putting Media Day together. In prior years, each player and a team representative would meet with each national and local media outlet for about 10 minutes. With the external organizations kept away from the venue by the COVID-19 pandemic, Danikowski’s in-venue team and other departments collaborated on a safe yet efficient plan.

Inside the Minnesota Timberwolves control room

“We had four total stations: two on the court for some intro videos with dramatic lighting, another with a green-screen station, and one with a gray screen for interviews,” she says. “Our RSN [Fox Sports North] had a station as well as two photo stations and a couple of Zoom stations that no one manned.”

Other than the players, only 15 people at a time were allowed inside Target Center. Throughout the two-hour period, the Timberwolves’ production staff coordinated with the players when they had free time after practice. Since personnel within the organization are all tested and abiding by safety protocols, the staffers were able to direct each player as to what station to go to next. Since this operation had some new workflows and elements, the crew wanted to make sure that they grabbed what they needed while they had premium access to the players.

“At the end of Media Day, you’re always asking, ‘Did I get what I needed?’ but it was even more so this year,” says Danikowski. “Even though it was definitely different, it went pretty smoothly.”

Maintaining Energy: In-Venue Show Includes Intro Video, Pregame Light Show

Since fans aren’t experiencing the game in person this season, many production crews are forgoing the traditional videoboard show and game-day experience. This isn’t the case in Minnesota: the team is opting to continue elaborate pregame festivities. Even so, the staff is adjusting the run of show to omit content that would be geared toward patrons onsite.

Mixers provide fake crowd noise at Target Center.

“We’re pumping in music since we still want to create that home-court advantage,” Danikowski explains. “We’re also producing our intro sequence with a video and lights, but we’re not necessarily running the different player features or the Military Member of the Game that we usually would.”

The team is having some fun with the empty arena, including humor that features Crunch the Wolf. The goal is to fire up the players with some of the stimuli they’re accustomed to.

“We don’t have the fans necessarily cheering along with our videoboard prompts,” notes Danikowski, “but we want to keep the energy high for the guys on the court. We’re still getting used to the [fake] crowd noise in terms of keeping it realistic, but it has been interesting to find that balance when you’re the one actually controlling it.”

Connecting the Lynx: WNBA Bubble Gives Much-Needed Practice

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Alyse Danikowski in front of the videoboard during the season opener vs. the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 23

Preparations for the 2020-21 NBA season began months ago during the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, FL. Working with the four-time–champion Minnesota Lynx, Danikowski and company showcased their creativity with content shown in the confined space during the three-month “Wubble.”

“They had a couple of screens for sponsorship and corporate partners, but we created an intro video, various noise prompts, and ‘Lynx Win’ graphics,” she says. “We also produced pregame shows for these games on our website, Twitter, and Facebook that presented player and coach interviews as well as player features.”

This content allowed the team to take a different approach and become a little more comfortable with what has become the standard over the past 10 months.

“Getting that sort of experience was a good way to build up to the Wolves’ season,” Danikowski adds. “We were able to get into that headspace of bringing this entertainment to a fan-less arena and engaging our fans that are at home. A lot of other teams were not necessarily thinking that far ahead, but we were already working on it over the summer.”

The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names on Timberwolves’ Production Team

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Sheridan West (left) courtside with PA announcer Shawn Parker

Since one team facilitates productions for both organizations, there is a lot of team chemistry and camaraderie. Danikowski; Senior Manager, Game Entertainment, Sheridan West, who has been handling the bulk of the crowd noise; Senior Animation and Video Feature Producer Josh Harms; and Animation Feature Producer Maggie Frost are getting a lot done in the face of a lot of adversity.

“We have a small, but mighty team,” says Danikowski. “We’re very lucky to have the crew that we do at the Wolves.”

The Timberwolves will play consecutive games at Target Center: vs. the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. ET and vs. the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 8 p.m.

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