Turner Sports Shifts Into Overdrive for NBA All-Star Game

Complicated by COVID, the event was reduced to one day and produced in only five weeks

NBA All-Star Weekend has become a tradition for the NBA and Turner Sports, with events like All-Star Saturday Night and the skills competitions, a celebrity game, NBA Fan Fest, and, of course, the game. The 2021 edition will be much different: compressed into one day, March 7, and even moved from Indianapolis to State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

The compressed weekend also involved a compressed preparation window.

That, says Turner Sports VP, Sports Production Technology, Chris Brown, was the real challenge. “The notion of completing an All-Star Game event with only one survey and then five weeks to put it together meant there was only so much we can do,” he says. “Production needed to know how they could wrap creative around what the NBA wanted to do from a presentation standpoint.”

The NBA All-Star Game compound features NEP Group production trucks at the center of the action.

Not surprisingly, the compound is scaled down from the usual NBA All-Star Weekend. NBA Entertainment will not have a presence, and the NBA will produce the world feed with the help of its HSAN (high-speed area network).

“We’ve gone from 17 or 18 trucks down to about seven,” says Brown, “but, if it was a non-COVID world, we would have been able to pack the operators down to about four trucks.”

During the five-week preparation period, the production and operations teams worked closely to make sure the event feels as normal as possible for fans at home.

“We’re still trying to create as elaborate and robust a production as we can while also trying to take a minimalist approach,” says Brown. “The goal was to figure out how to integrate all these productions and achieve what production wanted from a show-flow standpoint without our traditional methodology, where we had a separate truck for Saturday, a game truck, and then a studio truck.”

NEP Supershooter 4 will be at the center of the activities on March 7, producing both the skills-competition events and the game itself. NEP EN2 A and B will be onsite for studio-show needs; Super B, for overflow and transmission.

All the events on Sunday will be produced with the same crew, the only exception that All-Star Saturday Night producer Jeff Randolph will slide into the chair to produce those elements (and will occupy it on Sunday for the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which begins at 6:30 p.m. ET).

“It’s the same technical crew for court coverage,” Brown notes. “It will be a long day for them.”

He adds that the court coverage will be fairly traditional and 58 cameras will be in the mix. As for new enhancements, Canon is providing shallow-depth-of-field EOS C500 Mark II camera systems, which have become a hot trend in the industry.

“We tested them last week and definitely want to use them,” says Brown. “The NBA has given their approval to see what [the cameras] will bring to the show.”

A Rail Cam was also considered, but even the limited number of fans in attendance makes that unfeasible.

“We are going to have a Jetta Towercam, which is a telescoping camera that will be behind the bench and is robotic,” says Brown. “That will provide a unique perspective.”

Robotic cameras will also be used in the tunnels and hallways that the players use.

In recent years, the All-Star Game has leaned into player miking. This year, up to 11 players, along with coaches and officials, will be miked. “It’s part of the commitment to get the viewers as close to the court as we can,” Brown notes.

The core production team will also be servicing other WarnerMedia entities, including Bleacher Report, which will be in the arena during practices. TNT Overtime needs, too, will be met by the production team.

“We’ve added a few cameras for them to go along with the studio show,” says Brown. “We’re also helping NBA TV for pregame and postgame coverage.”

Postgame interviews continue to be a production challenge in the age of COVID-19. For the All-Star Game, Bluetooth headsets and a boom mic will be deployed.

“We found a good deal of success with that in the bubble,” Brown explains. “We potentially could fold that into some pregame interviews for the studio show.”

Inside the NBA will have a big presence with a set in the corner of the arena.

“It’s going to be neat because of the level of interaction they’re planning,” says Brown. “Host Ernie Johnson will let Reggie Miller and company take over for the skills events, and that will make it pretty dynamic.”

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