3 Point Productions Plays Major Role in Popularity of WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces
The company has been a partner since the franchise’s first day
With a stake in the NFL, WNBA, and NHL, Las Vegas is slowly becoming a professional-sports town. One of the city’s original franchises, the Las Vegas Aces, has risen from the ground floor of women’s professional basketball to become a formidable force in the league’s Western Conference. Now in its fourth season, the organization continues to grow its creative and in-venue strategies with 3 Point Productions, a production company that has been a steadfast partner since 2018.
“We’ve been a part of this club from the get-go,” says Matt Heuer, creative director, 3 Point Productions. “It’s an opportunity that we still look back on, and I’m very proud of the way it all came together.”
Humble Beginnings: Aces Rebrand After Six Years in Utah, 15 in San Antonio
The Las Vegas Aces have a long history in the WNBA, but playing under different names in different cities. The organization played first in Salt Lake City as the Utah Starzz from 1997 to 2002, then migrated southeast to play as the San Antonio Silver Stars from 2003 to 2013. The club were the San Antonio Stars from 2013 to 2017, then moved to Las Vegas in 2018 to play under their current name. Looking to plant roots in Sin City, the Aces looked outwards to develop a voice and identity in their new home and turned to 3 Point Productions for its expertise.
“We jumped [into the project] before the Las Vegas Aces were unveiled,” notes Heuer. “We knew that [head coach] Bill [Laimbeer] was going to be involved, and we knew they had some exciting aspects about the brand.”
The company not only generates a majority of the team’s in-venue content but is also responsible for distributing this material on game days at Michelob Ultra Arena (formerly named Mandalay Bay Events Center). Without many local professional teams at the time — the Vegas Golden Knights had been established in 2017 — the pool of production talent was somewhat shallow. This caused a massive learning curve for Heuer and 3 Point Productions President Patrick Walker to flatten.
“There was a lot of training on the front end, so it was almost like a second home for quite a while leading up to the inaugural year,” Heuer says. “We got [the Aces crew] to a place where we were able to execute an amazing first season, and we’ve set up a solid foundation from Year 1 that we’ve been able to grow.”
Vegas-Based Ops: Video Village, High-Energy Prompts Light Up Michelob Ultra Arena
Fans have finally been welcomed back to the building, but, during the early months of the 2021 schedule, internal COVID-19 protocols from the 2020 “Wubble” in Bradenton, FL, were carried over. As the season progressed, some restrictions were lifted, allowing more interaction with spectators in the stands.
During the Aces’ playoff run, which unfortunately ended in Game 5 of the semifinals against the Phoenix Mercury, the energy level was kicked up a notch for the packed crowds at the venue. The change in pace involved flashing a lot more hype videos, fan-driven prompts, and prize giveaways a lot earlier in the contest. The prompts included the A’ja Wilson Dance Cam, Chelsea Gray Dribble Cam, DJ Cam, and the Kelsey Plum Flex Cam.
“Seattle has always been known as a tough place to play, and I think that’s [becoming true] here in Las Vegas,” says Heuer. “Something that we would traditionally save for the third- or fourth-quarter moment would be used a lot earlier, especially in a deciding game like a Game 5.”
The tools that Heuer and his team have at their disposal are in Video Village, the name for the area located at court level and adjacent to the player tunnel. Because the team plays in a smaller venue than, say, the Liberty, who play in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the control-room layout is driven by a simplified tech arsenal, including a NewTek 3Play production switcher, Chyron graphics, and Daktronics software to run elements to the LED ribbon boards and main centerhung videoboard.
Star-Studded Production: Heuer, League’s Best Drive Elements for 2021 WNBA All-Star
During the 2021 regular season and playoffs, Heuer was busy with games for the Aces, but, during the extended Olympic and All-Star break, he put in some extra hours at the center of production plans for the 2021 WNBA All-Star Game. Since it was located in Las Vegas for the second straight season (absent the pandemic-canceled 2020 edition), 3 Point Productions once again participated in the annual showcase as it did in Seattle in 2017.
To produce a marquee event like the All-Star Game, Heuer assembled an Avengers-style crew for this exhibition in Las Vegas. It included Aces in-game host CJ Simpson, Washington Mystics and U.S. Women’s Basketball in-arena host Britt Waters, Washington Mystics’ in-arena talent DJ Heat, and first-time in-arena host for the Atlanta Dream Bria Janelle.
“It’s always such an honor to be a part of those games,” Heuer says. “It was a little different than what we did in 2019, but, all of that considered, it was magical. We were able to take a page from the NBA playbook and bring in talent from various WNBA markets.”
Split Squad: Crew Balances Aces Work With Ops for Seattle Storm, Atlanta Dream
Although there are a lot of show elements to control in Las Vegas, 3 Point Productions also has contracts with two other WNBA teams: the Seattle Storm at Angel of the Winds Arena and the Atlanta Dream at Gateway Center Arena. The former is a longstanding partner of the Seattle-based company; the latter relationship began after 3 Point Productions drove in-venue shows in the Wubble. Heuer and company have ties to other franchises as well, including with the New York Liberty at Westchester County Center in 2019. Despite a hectic schedule with home-game schedules in three cities, staffers are splitting the duties occurring across the country.
“If it’s our first year [with a team],” Heuer explains, “we’re trying to introduce ourselves and get a buy-in from their existing talent. We’ve done a really good job because we have some great people that are natural leaders and don’t fear going into a room and trying to guide them towards a bigger vision. It also comes from a deep passion for the WNBA since everybody on our staff is a big fan of the league.”
Some key members of the team are Producer Justin Sullivan with the Storm, Producer Brian Hayes with the Dream, and Operations Director Derrick Gomez, who maintains schedules for all three teams. On any given night, Sullivan and Hayes are at the helm of a crew of 20-25. Each city deserves its own brainstorming and research sessions, and, to cater the content to the specific audience, the company is developing a strategy that hits all of a team’s touchstones.
“The biggest challenge is making sure that what we’re doing is authentic to their city,” Heuer says. “There’s an education process, but we have to go in there and open our arms up to people’s thoughts and feedback.”
Time for Reflection: 3 Point Productions Reminisces on Aces’ Growth
3 Point Productions is also making a name for itself with partnerships beyond the WNBA. For example, it has signed new deals with collegiate teams like Colorado College’s Division I hockey program, with the G-League Ignite in Las Vegas, and the new Overtime Elite. The company will be back with Dream, Aces, and Storm in 2022; for the last of the trio, it will be producing games for the four-time WNBA champion in the new Climate Pledge Arena.
Aside from the Storm, the Aces are the company’s longest-tenured WNBA partner and, in many ways, mean a lot to the folks at the company since it was in at the beginning. Watching Las Vegas grow from a boxing-centric locale, to taking its first steps in professional athletics with the Golden Knights, to blossoming into a sports metropolis has been quite a ride. It’s a noteworthy accomplishment that 3 Point Productions will always cherish, but the real work is only beginning for a company turning into a viable in-venue partner.
“Pat and I trained [the Aces’] staff on graphics during the first summer, and now we’re managing their entire experience,” says Heuer. “Seeing how quickly Las Vegas fans adopted this team was probably the most rewarding, but we’re not finished yet. It’s very much in development, and we’re still pushing to do new things out here.”