On the Hardwood: With Empty AT&T Center and Reduced Game-Day Staff, Spurs Add ‘Digital Arena’ to Mobile App

New platform provides real-time trivia, chat, statistics

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.

With five NBA championships, the San Antonio Spurs are one of the better franchises in the NBA. In this current season, Spurs Sports & Entertainment is looking to continue the organization’s spirit of excellence with a new second-screen initiative. Digital Arena, located within the Spurs mobile app, is a centralized destination for fans on any given game day.

This season, the in-venue production team is operating with a smaller team than usual.

“We’re working with our digital department for a second screen that goes with the broadcast,” says Carter Snowden, senior manager, production, San Antonio Spurs. “It has developed a positive community, and fans seem to have a lot of fun playing the games that we have and chatting with one another.”


Inside the Digital Arena: Community Flocks to App for Game-Day Exclusives

Over the course of the NBA season, teams have been working hard to figure out how to generate fans’ buy-in during each game. Through the team’s mobile app, the digital staff is augmenting the linear broadcast on Fox Sports Southwest with exclusive content that runs throughout the game.

Led by VP, Strategic Engagement, Becky Kimbro; Director, Digital Communications, Geoff Sakaguchi; and Associate Manager, Product Design, Matt Schad, the Digital Arena offers amenities during commercial breaks: chances to win prizes through team-centric trivia and a real-time leaderboard, live and up-to-date statistics, a live chat room where fans can talk about the contest.

The Spurs’ crowd-noise setup in AT&T Center

“Our digital team is responsible for making sure that everything looks good and is running smoothly,” says Snowden. The game-presentation team is responsible for formatting the content and coming up with trivia questions, prizes, and chat moderation.

Digital Arena is rightfully a top priority on fans’ to-do list during any game, but the mobile app has other features that keep spectators at home entertained. Whether fans are at home or in the stands, the app provides statistical information like shot charts and the ability to follow the progress of their favorite players. In addition, the app is capable of displaying on-demand instant replays during gameplay. When fans were allowed in AT&T Center, this function was further augmented to allow them to receive these in-game highlights at their seats.

Short-Handed Crew: Production Team Puts on Streamlined Show

Because of health and safety protocols and a simplified videoboard show, Game Operations Manager Daniel Radwanski; Associate Manager, Event Production, Abbie Lopez; Snowden; and the game-day staff are rolling with a reduced group in the control room. From an operational perspective, the team is running without its normal complement of cameras, so only the most crucial positions in the control room are being occupied.

“[Our team] has definitely been cut down,” Snowden notes. “We normally have two Xpression operators with an AP to help coordinate and a robo [camera] operator, but we don’t have that [this season]. We have two [Evertz] DreamCatcher operators to play back whatever the coaching staff needs at any given moment.”

Fans are able to chat in real time during the game in the mobile app’s Digital Arena.

With fewer cameras and staffers, the videoboard show is run off the linear broadcast feed with added graphics. It’s produced more for players and coaching staff than for fans, but the crew is integrating such elements as music from DJ Quake, performances by the team mascot, cinematic videos, and new visuals from Mixon Digital during stoppages in play.

“We’ll roll in a highlight package near the end of a timeout,” Snowden adds. “We’re also using Managing Director Christina Mixon and her group’s new system to have some of those really great statistical visualizations that animate in real time for shot and zone charts.”

Audio cues are being pumped into the venue thorough equipment loaned by Firehouse Productions, and PA Announcer Roland Ruiz plays a major role in the game-day sound profile.

“We have a couple of our traditions, like ‘Go Spurs Go,’” Snowden explains. “[Fake crowd noise] has helped everyone feel as comfortable as possible. There’s so much about all of this NBA season that’s incredibly uncomfortable, obviously, but that is one thing that definitely helps create a home-court advantage.”

Health and Safety Protocols: GermLogic Leads the Way on In-Venue Cleanliness

A majority of organizations have assembled internal health and safety teams to enforce COVID-19 regulations in the workplace. The Spurs are partnering with Austin-based GermLogic to clean common touchpoints. One sanitization and disinfection system is in the control room, and others are dispersed in other, high-traffic areas in the building.

GermLogic supplies sanitization and disinfection systems throughout the arena, including this one in the control room.

Along with sanitation, the franchise is doubling down on team-mandated and leaguewide regulations, including social distancing, plexiglass dividers, and tiered zones.

“We’ve been taking [COVID-19] very seriously by basing all of our decisions on the science,” says Snowden. “[Our leadership] has done everything they can to make sure that we feel as safe as possible in our work environment.”

Looking Ahead: Spurs Sports & Entertainment Awaits Fans’ Return

After nearly a year of the coronavirus pandemic, the sports-video–production industry is still dealing with its effects. With fans prohibited from the stands, Spurs Sports & Entertainment will continue to cook up ideas to keep them engaged, and, when fans are once again allowed through the doors of AT&T Center, they will be warmly welcomed.

“It’s great to be able to remain engaged with them in a much different way,” says Snowden. “At some point down the line, we’ll be beyond excited for whenever we can have a sold-out Spurs game again.”

The Spurs continue their seven-game homestand at AT&T Center tonight as they host the Denver Nuggets at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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