At the Rink: Carolina Hurricanes Sidestep Water Leak To Welcome Fans Back to PNC Arena
The RSN feed is being played on the videoboard
The National Hockey League was the last of the four major U.S. sports leagues to host a non-bubble regular season. As fans gradually make their return to the seats, how is that affecting in-venue productions and digital content? Similar to At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, and On the Hardwood, At the Rink looks at the operations of NHL organizations to see how they are coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to a sense of normalcy.
The Carolina Hurricanes might be described by some NHL fans as “a bunch of jerks,” but most fans refer to this franchise as the bringers-of-fun who evoke the true essence of the game: enjoy it as much as you can. The team’s elaborate celebrations are being presented in front of a live audience, but the in-venue production team pulled off its own magic trick in navigating an unforeseeable situation that developed while the team was away from PNC Arena.
“We have a unique situation because we had some water intrusion damage to our systems while we were on furlough,” says Chris Greenley, senior director, CanesVision and in-game marketing, Carolina Hurricanes. “We’re actually running our RSN feed on the board since we’ve lost the ability to have game and clock information on the videoboard.”
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Change of Plans: Team Answers Water Damage With RSN Feed
Staying on your toes is a big chunk of live event production, but uncontrollable forces like water damage add a serious wrinkle. A fair number of cameras and devices were put out of commission, but Greenley and company were able to think on their feet with the help of the team’s linear-television partner, Fox Sports Carolinas. The regional sports network provided the videoboard feed prior to the return of fans, but now, with spectators once again in the stands, some aspects of the show are still out of the production team’s hands.
“There are certain times when it’s not ideal,” Greenley says. “When there’s a bad penalty call, our coach goes ballistic. We usually wouldn’t show that, but, right now, there’s not much that we can do about it.”
Following the first game with spectators, against the Detroit Red Wings on March 4, the crew has been working to bring back the joy that fans are normally experience at every home game. From what started out as a small team comprising Greenley, a graphics producer, and an LED operator, the staff has grown, with the addition of several staffers. Since the team was already in constant communication, there weren’t any preset meetings to discuss the new plan, but the consensus was to start out slow and gradually build back to the show that everyone is used to seeing.
“Given our equipment restrictions, we couldn’t go 100 miles per hour [from the beginning],” Greenley explains. “It has been nothing like we’re used to, by any stretch of imagination, but we’re trying to improve every game. Whether it’s bringing back a couple of camera operators to do some crowd shots or opportunities for EVS [replays] during breaks, we want to continue to add value to the fan experience.”
Time in Canada: NHL Bubble Provides Blueprint for Current Season
After finishing in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes were able to sweep the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Qualifier in the Toronto portion of last summer’s NHL bubble. For a season that started with no one in the stands, the organization’s time in Canada has had a lasting impact on how the production team operates at home.
“We tried to incorporate some of the elements that we saw in the bubble,” says Greenley. “It was similar to the wider shots of the arena that were part of the TV presentation.”
The biggest challenge was to present the game differently from the way CanesVision has done it in the past. During a normal year, Greenley and his team would incorporate interactive elements for the fans as well as spots where sponsor-branded content would run. In an empty arena, the in-venue team worked alongside Fox Sports Carolinas to provide a canvas that would look appealing on the broadcast.
“It was definitely an adjustment for all of us because we’re not used to creating content for fans specifically through other mediums, like television,” he adds. “Overall, it went pretty well.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of CanesVision
As the fifth-best team in the league, the Hurricanes are celebrating more often than not this season. The first real Storm Surge brought back the energy that everyone has been waiting for, and, as the Canes push toward the finish line, CanesVision, the team’s video-production arm, will rely on the crew that has been toughing it out all year long.
“Graphics Producer Brandon Lopes and Engineer Brendan Rush have done a great job since coming back to the arena,” says Greenley. “They’ve been a huge asset by getting us ready for the return of fans.”
The Carolina Hurricanes will host the Columbus Blue Jackets at PNC Arena on Saturday, March 20 at 7 p.m. ET.