ESPN gets back in its NBA groove tonight with a regular-season–opening doubleheader featuring Pelicans-Rockets and Mavericks-Suns matchups. The network will continue to blaze a technological trail with innovations like the use of removable robos in locker rooms and, potentially, SkyCam at some point in the season. In addition, ESPN continues to cultivate its GREMI (graphics/replay remote integration) hybrid at-home production workflow, which debuted on its NBA shows last year after first being deployed on its MLB coverage in 2017.
“We are extremely proud of our technical managers and specialists in the field for NBA,” says Wendell Grigely, senior director, event operations, ESPN. “They have put together the GREMI operation to make it seamless and continue to find new ways to innovate. It was a lot of hard work and communication between our ops in Bristol and ops people in the field [to refine the GREMI model], but everyone just refused to let it fail, and the result was a huge success.”
GREMI Model Is in Full Swing
Last year, ESPN launched its GREMI model across all its NBA productions, and, according to Grigely, the effort was a rousing success. With the GREMI approach, two EVS operators, a graphics operator, and a graphics producer are located in Bristol, CT, but use equipment — EVS servers and Vizrt graphics systems — housed on the truck. Between two and four additional replay operators (depending on the size of the show) are located on the truck.
“The GREMI operation has been incredibly successful,” says Grigely. “In the beginning last year, we expected to have a few issues, but we really didn’t, and it was totally seamless. Everyone in production has embraced it, and it has worked out for both the remote side and our operation back in Bristol. Plus, we get consistent operators because we have the same people working more shows.”
This year, the clock-and-score–graphics operator will also be located in Bristol.
“Everyone got on board really quickly from a technical and operator standpoint to make sure this succeeded every single week,” says Grigely. “And we developed great relationships between production people in the truck and our operators back in Bristol. The communication was excellent throughout the year so we could make little improvements every week.”
Building Off Summer League Success
ESPN will continue to deploy eight to 12 cameras on the majority of NBA games, with the count jumping to 16 or 17 for marquee and primetime games, such as this Saturday’s Rockets-Lakers matchup in Los Angeles. The “through the glass” shot that has become a staple of ESPN’s NBA coverage will be back for selected games this year, with Sony HDC-P43 6X-slo-mo robotic cameras (provided by Fletcher) mounted behind the glass.
After a successful test at NBA Summer League, ESPN and the NBA will deploy “breakaway” robos in locker rooms throughout the season (pending team approval). New mounts allow the robotic cameras to be easily mounted for pregame, halftime, and postgame segments and then quickly removed.
Another successful Summer League experiment may also make its way into ESPN’s coverage this year. The network may deploy SkyCam on tentpole games later in the season.
“We are looking into using SkyCam after its success at Summer League,” says Grigely, “but nothing is definite yet. We are working with the league and the individual teams, but there is a lot of interest. We definitely want to try to get it [located] over play on the court. I think it offers some interesting angles, and we’re working to make that happen.”
He pinpoints Christmas Day — always a big day for ESPN’s NBA coverage — as a potential debut for SkyCam with more appearances possible during the second half of the season.
ESPN will also continue to mic players and coaches for its “Wired” segments as much as possible this season, according to Grigely.
EN3, Victory Trucks Are Committed to Hardcourt
ESPN will rely on two dedicated mobile units for its NBA shows this season: NEP’s EN3 and Game Creek Video’s Victory. Although ESPN will deploy a handful of other trucks when necessary, the operations team has been able to customize EN3 and Victory for the specific needs of its NBA productions.
“It’s great to have dedicated trucks that we can load up with our [custom] gear [complement] for the season,” says Grigely. “It allows to do less shipping because the mobile units show up with everything we need. We can often knock out four games with just those two trucks in a week, which will be really great for our operations team.”
ESPN Turbocharges Content-Sharing Effort With CMSI
“Our file-transfer operation now is pretty large,” says Grigely. “It really allows the content to be shared across all of ESPN’s platforms, as well as NBA and Turner. File transfer has helped speed up that process and make it a much tighter operation overall, and we’ve continued to refine that.”