At the Rink: During First Two Months on the Road, San Jose Sharks Develop Engaging Content in Different Ways
Back at home, staffers have handled multiple positions
The National Hockey League was the last of the four major American sports 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 will look at the operations of NHL organizations to see how their coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and adapting back to a sense of normalcy.
Over the past year, professional teams have gotten used to playing games in a bubble environment. When the NHL moved back to its traditional home-venue format, COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County forced the San Jose Sharks to host training camp in Arizona and play their first 12 games on the road. During this time, the franchise got creative to produce content for the fans.
“The city of San Jose and Santa Clara County wouldn’t allow any contact sports,” says Dustin Lamendola, director, creative and entertainment, San Jose Sharks. “It’s been great to be back in our building and getting to work with everybody again.”
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An Extended Road Trip: Production Team Sets Up Remote Media Day
At the mercy of the city and the county, the Sharks were NHL nomads without a permanent home for quite some time. The intricacies of this unique NHL season are abundant for all 31 participating clubs, but with the team not making last summer’s bubble in Canada, Lamendola and company were given a head start on planning for what was to come.
“We were on the sidelines for quite some time,” he says. “We were able to watch other colleagues around the league do a great job in Edmonton and Toronto throughout the playoffs.”
This observation period allowed for ideas to brew, and when the time came to head out on the road at the cusp of the new year, the team hit the ground running to create a modified Media Day after their official one was cancelled. An annual generator of 85% of the team’s yearly material, it was imperative to recreate this tentpole event in a different setting. Alongside Producer Brendan Ergas, the staff got to work on implementing a virtual workflow that would allow Lamendola, based in San Jose, to work with the players and crew on the road.
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“We usually have on-ice shoots with the players, but we had the opportunity to sit the players down individually,” he adds. “I conducted the interviews through Zoom while Brendan was in the room, so that was a unique experience. Our players knew it was a different challenge for us, so they rolled with it pretty well and had fun with it.”
Cheers to 30 Years: Zoom Calls Generate Content With Alumni for 30th Anniversary
Known for their new and improved ideas every season, the Sharks didn’t want to settle for the status quo. In an effort to push the production bar, the crew leveraged vignettes captured during their virtual Media Day but also decided to take a quick trip to the past. Since 2021 is the club’s 30th anniversary in the National Hockey League, the team is. For example, the team is tapping into Zoom once again for a handful of interviews with former players called SAP Alumni Rewind:
The concept was born five years ago when the Sharks were celebrating their silver anniversary as a professional NHL franchise. Since his time with the organization began in 2013, Lamendola has a firm understanding of how this year-long celebration went back in 2016.
“The philosophy for our 25th anniversary was getting former players into the building because we thought seeing these guys after years of being gone was really powerful,” he continues. “Since we couldn’t do that, it opened the door to speaking with people who live in Europe or Canada. We’ve actually touched base with a lot of athletes that we maybe wouldn’t have been able to talk to.”
The team’s 30th anniversary also coincides with the release of their Reverse Retro jersey, which resembles the sweater worn during the 1998 season:
LET’S GOOOO pic.twitter.com/PW3CIxCRTR
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 20, 2021
Speaking of history, center Patrick Marleau is only 10 games away from eclipsing icon Gordie Howe for most games played in a career, which is sure to create additional buzz around the team in the coming weeks.
Back in the Bay: Staffers Facilitate Multiple Roles at SAP Center
The Sharks were able to return home last month on February 13 for a game against the Vegas Golden Knights — two days shy of 11 exact months since their last home game in SAP Center. Since being back, the crew has had to assume a variety of rules that they used to not do in previous seasons. Members from all different departments, ranging from public relations to Lamendola’s gameday staff in game presentation, they are doing whatever they can to maintain timeless traditions and help make the show run as smooth as possible. For instance, Event Presentation Coordinator Cameron Crouch is involved in producing fabricated crowd noise and Lamendola is now responsible for opening up the locker room door for the team as they take the ice. From a production perspective, the players on the ice are the main focus group to entertain in SAP Center.
“We’re wearing a lot of different hats this season,” he admits “We’ve really tried to keep the entertainment level as high as we can for the players without being a distraction. One of the big things for us is being able to play music that they prefer.”
Along with player-centric content, the franchise is diving heavily into cinematic footage to highlight the new Heritage jersey, which was unveiled in December 2020:
It’s back! pic.twitter.com/5SRQKF72ce
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) December 15, 2020
For Lamendola, this videoboard intro conjures up nostalgia for a local Bay Area kid.
“We’re super excited about our Heritage jerseys,” he says. “When they take the ice in, it reminds me of being a kid growing up and watching the Sharks play.”
As an added touch, the Sharks are doing all that they can to connect their fans with the squad while at home. To achieve this, a wall of virtual fans dubbed the Western Digital High Five is greeting the players in the tunnel before they head into the locker room and after they exit:
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Sharks’ Production Team
Throughout their 30-year history, the San Jose Sharks have created a long-lasting bond with the Bay Area. Along with many memorable moments, including the first Western Conference Championship in 2015-16, this season will also be one for the history books. From Vice President, Communications Scott Emmert in PR; Manager, Brand & Creative Whitney Hallock in digital content creation; Vice President, Marketing Doug Bentz in fan engagement; and Event Presentation Manager Daniel Bell in his first season, this unwavering staff has allowed Lamendola to persevere during this unforgettable time.
“It’s been a team effort all the way around,” he concludes. “When you have people that really support what you’re trying to do, it’s something that’s extremely powerful.”
After three games away from home, the San Jose Sharks will return to SAP Center to face the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, April 6 at 10:30 p.m. ET.