Stanley Cup Final Preview: ESPN Secures SkyCam on All Games as Ops Navigates Massive Geographic Divide Between Host Cities

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers is Saturday night

This year’s Stanley Cup Final is historic for a multitude of reasons. It’s the first Cup Final appearance for, arguably, the greatest hockey player of this generation: Connor McDavid (though don’t tell the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote that). A Canadian team could hoist Lord Stanley for the first time since the first Jurassic Park movie was in theaters. And, at 2,541 miles apart, this matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers features the biggest distance between host cities in Stanley Cup Final history.

That last “fun” fact is enough to make anyone who has worked in sports television operations want to lose their lunch, but the team behind the scenes at ESPN is ready to go for what will mark their second Stanley Cup Final since the NHL returned to the Worldwide Leader back in 2021.

The puck drops for Game 1 from Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Fla. on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET across ABC, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes (with Sean McDonough on the call along accompanied by analyst Ray Ferraro, reporter Emily Kaplan and rules analyst Dave Jackson) and the production and operations teams are ready with a comprehensive plan that includes some juicy highlights like the use of a SkyCam in both arenas, a pair of on-ice Skate Cams, and an exterior drone.

NOTE: Visit next week for more in-depth coverage of ESPN’s production of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s that geographic divide between the two cities that stands out as the true operational challenge facing both ESPN and the Canadian broadcaster, SportsNet. Not only is there the distance, there’s the international border, plus the fact there aren’t direct flights between the two cities; meaning many crew members will have 10-15 hour travel days potentially up to four times over the course of the series.

Fortunately, the NHL has built two days between games when the series shifts cities, but many operational challenges still remain. Deploying personnel, equipment, and resources to both sites is chief among them, as is ensuring the availability of broadcast trucks, satellite uplink facilities, and communication systems to support live broadcasts, interviews, and analysis from both venues. That would all be true of any series of this magnitude, but it becomes especially challenging with two smaller markets across international borders.

According to Erin Orr, ESPN’s Senior Manager, NHL Remote Operations it helps significantly that the crew has the experience of producing the 2022 Stanely Cup Final under its belt. She says the team feels far more prepared thanks to that and its helped streamline planning, coordination, and collaboration among ESPN’s production teams, technical staff, and logistics personnel.

“It’s fortunate that we’ve had several visits to Edmonton, both during the regular season and in the playoffs’ early stages,” Orr remarks. “Having that familiarity gives us an advantage. With the unpredictable weather and airport challenges this time of year, there’s always a risk, but we’re taking precautions. We’ve arranged for a team in Edmonton to be on standby, ready to assist our Florida crew in case of any unforeseen travel hiccups. It’s all part of our international planning process.”

As noted on the production front, ESPN is jumping at the chance to put its best foot forward in terms of deploying storytelling tools for the front bench of producer Jeff Dufine and director Doug Holmes. Linda Schulz, coordinating producer for the NHL on ESPN expressed excitement over SkyCam during a call with SVG prior to Game 1.

“It’s crucial for our coverage,” she says. “It also allows for virtual graphics, which I find not only a strong display but allow us to, in a situation like this, show off the arena and the atmosphere, which is the most important thing beyond documenting the game. Once you get to the Stanley Cup finals, there is no better atmosphere to appreciate in terms of a sporting event and SkyCam enables us to provide that spectacularly show off the arena and the ice.”

The two on-ice Skate Cams are cine-style cameras shooting in shallow depth-of-field (when desired) and an operated on Ronin stabilizing gimbals. The operators on skates are able to get onto the ice during pregame, between periods, and certain stoppages in play. The RF connectivity for those are powered by CP Communications.

“We use them a lot to gather the atmosphere,” says Schulz, “whether it’s during the Anthems or [taking off skates and] working its way through the fans within the bowl or outside of the arena. [They are] roaming [cameras], but when the play is dead and we get into commercial break, that skate cam jumps on the ice and allows us to circle around the players and get a more intimate feel, which is pretty cool.”

Pregame, between period, and postgame studi coverage – with Steve LevyMark Messier, and P.K. Subban will be on site and travel between both South Florida and Central Alberta. That content is produced as a Hybrid REMI/Traditional Workflow with individual TX Paths back to Bristol. Shoulder programming is overseen by VP, Executive Producer Andy Tennant, producer Mark Schuman, and director Eric Discher.

Here’s the full broadcast schedule for the 2024 Stanley Cup Final (all times ET):

Game 1: Oilers at Panthers — June 8, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 2: Oilers at Panthers — June 10, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 3: Panthers at Oilers — June 13, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 4: Panthers at Oilers — June 15, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 5: Oilers at Panthers* — June 18, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 6: Panthers at Oilers* — June 21, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 7: Oilers at Panthers* — June 24, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS)
* if necessary

Visit next week for more in-depth coverage of ESPN’s production of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final.

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