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ESPN Production Crews Gear Up for Five-Game Christmas Day Slate

With some of the NBA’s hottest teams facing off on Christmas, the ESPN production team has a full plate with 13 consecutive hours of coverage.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo credit: ESPN

This Christmas, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers take on the star-studded Golden State Warriors in the teams’ first matchup of the season, making for one of the most highly-anticipated NBA games of the year. The NBA Christmas slate also features games between the Bucks and Knicks, Thunder and Rockets, 76ers and Celtics, and Blazers and Jazz.

“It’s a huge day for us,” said Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer at ESPN. “It will be our highest-rated day of the year for the NBA, so we always circle it on our calendar. We always want to be the best version we can, but it’s one of those days we’re just going to have more people watching.”

ESPN will produce all five games on Christmas, as it has done for 17 straight years. The 13-hour lineup will include games on both ESPN and ABC, with “NBA Countdown” holding things down during pregame and halftime.

“It’s the best,” Corrigan said. “This is what we’re passionate about — this sport — so it’s great to know you can sit down and transition from game to game to game regardless of network. We cross back from ESPN to ABC anyway, and we don’t treat one differently than the other. We put our best foot forward because, to us, we go and do our job, and we get to be part of what’s fun and entertaining for fans.”

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ESPN pulls out all of the stops for its Christmas production, between the “NBA Countdown” crew of Michelle Beadle, Paul Pierce, Jalen Rose and Adrian Wojnarowski, and the broadcast crews featuring big names like Chauncey Billups, Doris Burke, Hubie Brown, Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and P.J. Carlesimo. The production will even feature a special performance by musician Daveed Diggs, who starred in Hamilton.

“It’s become a must-watch thing for folks, even those who don’t follow the NBA very closely,” Corrigan said of NBA Christmas. “We pick up a bunch of outside fans — as we like to say, we like to be kind to the accidental viewer and get them up to speed. We let players be stars and document it the best we can.”

Corrigan and his crew make it a point to plan their productions with the viewers in mind, especially on Christmas.

“It’s worked out great with the league and the programming, with team matchups you want to see and players who resonate,” Corrigan said. “This year, players in all five games will be wearing microphones. Fans want that access, so we know that to take advantage of the huge audience, we need to do something a little more special, so we’re doing it across all of our games, starting with the Bucks and Knicks.”

Thanks to a competitive, drama-filled start to the NBA regular season, ESPN is already in peak form when it comes to producing games.

“We’re coming in at a really good place,” Corrigan said. “The games we have, people are really interested in them, at the teams hitting their stride or fighting through challenges. I think we’re in a great spot to capitalize on interesting stories… The great thing is, we’re a couple months into the season. From production to talent to engineering to operations, we’re in our groove of covering the NBA right now.”

The Christmas slate is particularly special because it appeals to everyone, from NBA die-hards to casual fans, according to Corrigan.

“I think the best thing for us is that, certainly, there is part of our audience that only watches at Christmas — they may be big football fans and they’re starting to transition to the NBA now — but there’s also a large part of our audience that has been with us since October, during our preseason Lakers/Warriors games,” he said.

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Fans don’t have to wait until Christmas Day to enjoy the NBA festivities, though. ESPN’s “The Jump” will air a 90-minute Christmas preview special at 2 p.m. ET on Christmas Eve, hosted by Rachel Nichols with appearances by Scottie Pippen, Amin Elhassan, Nick Friedell and Marc Spears.

Between the preview special, five consecutive games, and pregame and halftime shows, the ESPN crew is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to pull it all off.

“I have to give a big shoutout to everybody — talent, producers, directors, associate staff, engineering, operations — everybody who makes this day special for us,” said Corrigan.

“It’s hundreds of people across the board, from production to operations to engineering, just because each game is fully staffed with anywhere from a dozen to 20 cameras,” he added. “It’s a huge undertaking, and anybody who works on production, operations or engineering is working that day. It’s a source of pride to be a part of this, and to be asked to be a part of this.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

Broadcasting

What CBS Sports HQ Hopes to Accomplish During Super Bowl Week in Atlanta

CBS Sports HQ will be on the ground in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII with more than 30 hours of live streaming content during the week.

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Photo via CBS

CBS Sports HQ begins a massive stretch of streaming Super Bowl coverage next week.

With a variety of on-site programming in Atlanta, the event offers CBS Sports HQ the ability to effectively launch its second year with a major hook — and test out on-site programming. CBS Sports HQ is the company’s 24/7 streaming sports news network, available for free across a variety of digital platforms.

“This is the biggest investment in any event we have made,” said Jeff Gerttula, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Sports Digital. “CBS Sports HQ has tools we haven’t had in the past, and it’s exposure for a great product that fits a need for more fans. It’s a great showcase for us and shows everything we have across the board.”

Starting Monday, January 28, CBS Sports HQ will air more than 30 hours of live programming from Atlanta leading up to the game. Its daily morning show, “Kanell and Bell,” hosted by Danny Kanell and Raja Bell, will be on site each day. “Pick 6 Rundown” brings to life a podcast Monday through Friday, and “Reiter’s Block” will air each day from Radio Row.

Leading up to Super Bowl LIII, CBS Sports HQ will show 10 hours of pregame coverage — and following the game, a live postgame show will air.

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Gerttula said the network knows the fans want the hours of extra programming around the year’s largest sporting event, so with the newfound ability to offer it to viewers, it’s a no-brainer to capitalize on the access and production ability on the ground in Atlanta.

The programming, for the most part, doesn’t deviate from the standard weekly programming on CBS Sports HQ, but it does provide an inside look at the week in Atlanta and offers more brand awareness at the event while engaging more people.

The Super Bowl itself will be streamed across platforms, including iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

“We’re able to reach more fans on televisions,” Gerttula said. “The cord-cutting audience can access something that’s free and easy to consume.”

Along with spreading the product further, CBS Sports HQ also gives the network an ability to produce more and better digital content than in the past. A 24/7 streaming network helps give the network’s sports programming an additional outlet for content when in the past it was limited to TV and radio allowed times.

The Super Bowl week coverage will kick off another year — it launched Feb. 28, 2018 — of learning for the young streaming network, Gerttula said. Logistically, this week the network will seem normal on the stream, but massive operations-team execution will be happening in Atlanta, setting up for what essentially is a test of future capabilities.

READ MORE: CBS Sports HQ Places Its Bets on Sports Betting Show

“This is the first chance for us to flex operational muscles and produce things we couldn’t have done three years ago,” Gerttula said. “The beauty of this space is we’re always learning and experimenting. The data is real time. So when we have ideas, we can test them and we see the results.

“We’re going to learn a lot in year two, starting with the Super Bowl.”

Gerttula said the week in Atlanta will potentially be something they extend to other major sporting events, but how often is to be determined.

“We’ll be opportunistic,” he said. “We want to play to our strengths where we feel we can do something unique. It’s not something we’ll do all the time, but where we have an opportunity and can take advantage of it.”

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Saturday Nights Evolving Into Marquee NBA Night for ESPN and ABC

ESPN’s increased emphasis on NBA Saturday Primetime — paired with the NBA’s drama-filled season thus far — appears to be the formula for successful ratings.

Bailey Knecht

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Image via ESPN Media Zone

Back for its fourth season, ESPN’s NBA Saturday Primetime will premiere this Saturday on ABC with a matchup between two of the league’s flashiest franchises in the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.

“I think you’re going to see a great presentation of NBA basketball from a production standpoint, and from a standpoint of the best the NBA has to offer, in terms of teams and players,” said Doug White, senior director of programming and acquisitions at ESPN. “It really encapsulates everything that’s great about the NBA.”

The series will continue throughout the rest of the season, with a marquee matchup on ABC each Saturday. This week, the Rockets and Lakers face off with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Lisa Salters leading the broadcast crew.

“The league itself does great job collaborating with us and working on the schedule,” White said. “If anything, in terms of the way the league works with us, it’s that we’ve been able to make sure we put a good product forth for our viewers and fans.”

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Saturday will also feature a matinee version of NBA Saturday Primetime with a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, called by Mark Jones, Hubie Brown and Israel Gutierrez.

“You never know what’s going to happen that far out, but what you can probably say is that some of the teams you see on Saturday nights will be the teams in contention, and will be the teams — in all likelihood — vying once we get to the playoffs,” White said.

The usual NBA Countdown crew of Michelle Beadle, Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups and Jalen Rose will hold down the fort during pregame and halftime each night.

Despite this Saturday being the first broadcast of NBA Saturday Primetime this season, White said that the ESPN team is in full swing, from its producers to its broadcasters.

“It’s not practice for us,” he said. “These are real, live games, and although the Finals is the culmination of everything, our guys already have their chemistry down, from Mark Jackson, Mike Breen, Lisa Salters, Doris Burke—they’ve all worked together for a number of years.”

Between the NFL’s Monday Night Football and MLB’s Sunday Night Baseball, certain days of the week have essentially become synonymous with big-time matchups in other professional leagues. Though NBA games receive high ratings when they are broadcast on the popular networks like ESPN, ABC and TNT, there hasn’t traditionally been one major matchup of the week like in the NFL and MLB.

That’s why, as White explained, ESPN has made it a goal to turn Saturday night into the primary must-watch time slot for NBA fans.

“Definitely, from our standpoint, this is our marquee night of the week, and we treat it as such,” he said. “We do put some additional bells and whistles on it, so it does stand out a little bit from a presentation standpoint.”

So far this season, ESPN and ABC have been a powerhouse pairing during NBA broadcasts, with ABC averaging 7,100,000 viewers (up five percent from last season) and ESPN averaging 1,761,000 viewers. Although ESPN’s numbers are down 4 percent from last season, the network has seen a seven percent increase from two years prior at this time of the year.

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“We’re all part of the Walt Disney company, so we work very much in tandem with our ABC stations,” White said. “It’s pretty seamless, and we’ve been doing it for so long together… We’ve learned that people will tune in, and people will come for big-time matchups, and that Saturday night is a great platform to present that to fans.”

Although it’s yet to be determined what the final viewership numbers will look like at the end of this season, ESPN’s increased emphasis on NBA Saturday Primetime — paired with the NBA’s drama-filled season thus far — appears to be the formula for successful ratings.

“We’re bullish on this year and the NBA overall,” White said. “It’s a very healthy league, and it’s popular with the fans and all demos. We think, for this year in particular, it’s an exciting year. There’s been great drama that gets played out. It’s like a gift that you unwrap all season long to find out who will be there at the end.”

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Executives Believe Golf’s ‘First-and-10 Line’ Can Help Build the Sport

NBC Sports and Topgolf are banking on growing the sport of golf, both in viewership and participation, with the Toptracer ball-tracking technology.

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Photo via Toptracer

NBC Sports Group’s use of Toptracer tech could help attract fans to golf and demonstrate the broader application of the tech to lower the barrier of entry to the game.

NBC Sports and Topgolf Entertainment Group, the parent company of Toptracer, announced a partnership this week to include the tracking technology on PGA tour telecasts this season.

“Topgolf and NBC Sports are two companies focused on technical innovation across the golf industry,” said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports Group. “This forward-thinking partnership allows us to combine our strengths to modernize how fans engage with golf.

“We’re thrilled to expand our partnership for high-quality PGA Tour coverage, but we’re equally excited to showcase technology like Toptracer Range for golf courses to help evolve the golf experience for the future and bring new fans to the sport.”

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The Toptracer ball-tracking technology will be on all of NBC Sports PGA Tour golf telecasts, starting with the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which tees off on Jan. 31. The ball tracking will be viewed on either live video or NBC Virtual Follow, which traces the ball’s trajectory over a graphic of the hole.

Rather than just a white ball in the air, the Toptracer tech provides 3D flight data analytics, including ball speed, apex, curve and carry. Topgolf acquired and rebranded Protracer is 2016.

Toptracer President Ben Sharpe said he’s excited the potential the partnership brings to fans watching a golf broadcast and equated it to football’s introduction of the First-and-10 line.

“When it started, it was [Founder Daniel Forsgren] watching and seeing the ball in the air, but didn’t know if it’s fading or drawing,” Sharpe said. “He was trying to find a way to show information for golf fans of all knowledge levels to appreciate.”

Sharpe previously worked at TaylorMade Golf Company, including a stint as CEO, until 2015 and joined Toptracer in 2018, despite not looking to get back into golf. He said he saw the opportunity of the technology to grow the game, which he loves and is now having the “most fun ever” in his career.

The partnership’s announcement also mentioned the potential of future content development initiatives.

What Sharpe is potentially most excited about is the partnership’s ability to help commercialize the Toptracer technology beyond the Topgolf locations — which see 18 million people annually. He said the partnership will accelerate the technology’s implementation at golf courses and driving ranges, opening up access to the game.

NBC Sport’s Golf division includes GolfNow, an online tee time and booking platform, which is now the official sales partner for Toptracer Range, the consumer-facing product for golf facilities.

“We’re in the business of helping our golf course partners leverage these new concepts to attract more golfers to their facilities and build their businesses,” said Will McIntosh, executive vice president of strategy for golf at NBC Sports. “Toptracer Range is a perfect example and we’re looking forward to showcasing this new technology to our partners around the world.”

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The Toptracer Range places a camera on the bays, with in-bay monitors, which provide similar data seen on the broadcasts. The data can then be tracked through different sessions on the company’s mobile app.

The technology at a driving range can open up virtual games, such as longest drive and closest to the pin competitions and virtual golf courses.

“We’re all consuming more media through digital form now and what we can do is digitize the game and bring it to a much wider demographic,” Sharpe said. “In an industry that people say participation is down because it takes too long or is too hard, we want to get people back in.

“We’re creating a leisure activity where family and friends can have an enjoyable experience on a range, when they used to be for middle-aged males.”

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