Live From Super Bowl LVI: ESPN Calls Disneyland Home for Week-Long Studio Programming
The network will transition to a show at SoFi Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday
Super Bowl LVI has brought the entire sports world together, and while prime real estate at the spacious SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park is available, ESPN chose to bring their week-long slate of NFL studio programming to the Most Magical Place on Earth — Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Setting up shop at Disney California Adventure, the four-letter network has taken over a prime spot in front of the park’s Pixar Pier.
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Under the umbrella of the Walt Disney Company, ESPN’s decision to move their studio content to the Disneyland Resort was a brilliant stroke of corporate synergy. Since Wednesday. Feb. 9, shows like Postseason NFL Countdown, NFL Live, NFL Matchup, and segments from SportsCenter were greeted to a live audience and appearances from Disney characters like Micky Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Donald Duck. The activation was theoretically easy-going and care-free on paper, but in a park that sees tens of thousands of patrons a day, there were numerous hurdles to leap over.
“We coordinated [this plan] for the last four months and our partners at Disney have been fantastic, but we have to be aware that there are thousands of people trying to enjoy the park,” says Mark Mignini, operations manager, ESPN. “Our set has been cornered in an area and we’ve navigated everything pretty easily and successfully.
As for their physical footprint in the amusement park, a 24 ft. by 30 ft. stage is located on the Paradise Bay viewing area with Pixar Pal-A-Round — the 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel located in Pixar Pier — and the waters of the World of Color nighttime spectacular as the background. The set has hosted an impressive list of on-air talent, including Hall of Famer Randy Moss, Super Bowl Champions Tedy Bruschi, Ryan Clark, Booger McFarland, and Rex Ryan, Pro Bowl quarterbacks Brian Griese, Robert Griffin III, Matt Hasselbeck, and Alex Smith, notable NFL personality Mina Kimes, Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick, first round pick Marcus Spears, 10-year NFL veteran Dan Orlovsky, analyst Matt Bowen, NFL insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, long-time reporter Sal Paolantonio, versatile hosts Sam Ponder and Laura Rutledge, and Monday Night Football play-by-play commentator Steve Levy.
From a technical perspective, these shows are being shot with a total of eight cameras. The camera complement includes three hard cameras (with a fourth hard camera for Sunday’s show), a RF Steadicam, a stage jib, and a jib with virtual reality capabilities on a building in the Pacific Wharf section of the park. Game Creek Video’s Gracie mobile production unit is housing the production team in Anaheim. This approach is a bit different from the network’s presence for Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay.
“We did a much smaller show with a lot more rules in place like social distancing, testing, and limiting the amount of people allowed inside the truck,” adds Mignini. “We’re still wearing masks and being careful, but what a difference a year makes.”
As the content calendar shifts to Super Bowl Sunday, the on-air crew of Postseason NFL Countdown heads onsite to a set in the outer concourse of SoFi Stadium for a four-hour pregame show. Meanwhile, the Disneyland team will continue operations for a full day of content deriving from both locations. Host Suzy Kolber will be joined by Hall of Famer and MVP of Super Bowl XXIX Steve Young, McFarland, and Smith at the venue as Ponder, Bruschi, Matt Hasselbeck, Moss, Ryan, and Super Bowl Champion and three-time All-Pro Travis Kelce preview the game from Disney California Adventure. Paolantonio and Dianna Russini will serve up reports on the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, respectively. In addition, Schefter and Mortenson will be working from a small set in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. After the game, a pair of shows will follow the action: NFL Primetime with Chris Berman, McFarland, and Young and SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt with Tim Hasselbeck, Clark, and Riddick. This three-location approach will rely on 100 total staffers and Game Creek Video’s 79 truck to handle all of the stadium-based shows.
Overall, the past five days on the West Coast have been extremely beneficial for the company for multiple reasons. The trip gave the chance to showcase these shows to a live fanbase, utilize a local and popular destination as an interactive environment, and return back to the traditional method of productions.
“We’ve viewed this as being one small step closer to normalcy,” says Mignini. “The fact that we’re doing [productions] more like we used to has been awesome.”