NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (2024)

ESPN is using Game Creek Video trucks in Boston and NEP facilities in Dallas

By Jason Dachman, Editorial Director, U.S.
Thursday, June 6, 2024 - 3:51 pm
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    With its biggest NBA production of the season set to tip off tonight in Boston, ESPN’s operations team has taken full advantage of the extended 10-day break it was gifted between the Eastern Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight. In both Boston and Dallas, ESPN not only has sprawling production compounds at the arena but will also deploy a Skycam, RF shallow–depth-of-field camera, and live drone as part of its arsenal of cameras and technology.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (1)

    ESPN’s ops team in Boston: (from left) Luis Manuel Lopez, Christine Rouskas, Kelley Nagi, Eddie Okuno, Tommy Clark, Paul Kucharski

    “It’s always an honor to cover history,” says Eddie Okuno, senior remote operations specialist, ESPN. “The NBA Finals are truly history-making. What’s going to be documented here will live on forever, and our team is ready for it. It has been a long journey this season, and we all feel very privileged to be here.”

    A Tale of Two Compounds: Game Creek in Boston, NEP in Dallas

    In Boston, ESPN has rolled out Game Creek Video Varsity A and B mobile units for its main game production and Spirit A and B units. Game Creek Gotham is on hand for the broadcaster’s studio shows, including tonight’s NBA Finals Special edition of the NBA Countdown pregame shows (as well as halftime and postgame shows) for each game, NBA Today weekday show, and HoopStreamsdigital pregame show (on YouTube, Facebook, and the ESPN App).

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (2)

    Game Creek Video trucks will house ESPN/ABC game and studio operations.

    In Boston, ESPN oversaw construction of the 65,000-sq.-ft. compound, which is driven by CES Power and located in the Mass General Hospital parking lot adjacent to TD Garden. In addition to ESPN’s facilities, the compound houses the NBA world-feed production operating out of Mobile TV Group 39 FLEX (MTVG’s Edge live-production suite is handling the commissioner’s press conference) and NBA TV’s Live at the Finals productions out of NEP Pegasus.

    “We have a lot of familiarity [putting on NBA Finals] in Boston dating back to the late 2000s,” says Okuno. “We’ve built a great relationship with both the Celtics and the TD Garden folks. Because of that relationship, we were able to secure the Mass General Hospital lot, and it has been our home for big events like this for many years. It has been a real team effort to get it all done, and we’re very thankful for the entire team in Boston.”

    Meanwhile, in Dallas, ESPN is deploying NEP EN1 A, B, C, D, and E units (the broadcaster’s Monday Night Football trucks) for the game production and NEP NCPII (along with the Beta flexible B unit) for studio shows and robotic-camera operations.

    “[The ops team] started loading in on Monday in Dallas,” says Okuno. “If the Stars had ended up having a Game 7 [in the NHL Western Conference Finals], they would not have been able to start until Wednesday. I have to shout out the NHL folks and ESPN’s NHL ops people for working so closely with us while on overlap planning [in case the Stars made the Stanley Cup Final]. We all knew we were headed for a collision, but everyone was on the same page, and we were ready for whatever happened.”

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (4)

    MTVG 39 Flex serves as the NBA world-feed truck.

    Spare No Cameras: Three Have Virtual-Graphics Overlay Capability

    ESPN has deployed a total of 45 cameras in Boston (with similar plans for Dallas) for its 1080p SDR production. The complement is headlined by a trio of cameras with full AR/virtual-graphics overlay capabilities: the Skycam system (with integrated SkyTrax data), RF shallow–depth-of-field roving handheld (provided by AVS and FACTION Media), and a live drone outside the arena (provided by Disney’s in-house drone team).

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (5)

    Skycam features Skytrax data enhanced with AR/VR/MR overlay.

    “The shallow–depth-of-field RF camera has virtual-graphics capability, and AVS has a two-way transmitter that gives the operator a real-time return,” says Okuno. “That way, the camera operator can see the positioning of those graphics as they frame the shot. You’ve got to see that positioning, or you’re running blind out there.”

    In addition, NEP’s Fletcher has positioned Antelope Nucleus 4K high-frame-rate robos (with PTZ cutout/zoom capabilities) as Below the Rim (BTR) cameras under each basket.

    “Fletcher used it on the [NCAA Men’s] Final Four and brought it to our attention,” says Okuno. “We were impressed with it and now have put our own spin on it. It has worked out really well. It provides some great super- slo-mo looks from that low floor center-basket position.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (6)

    Fletcher Nucleus camera in basket stanchion cutout

    ESPN will have a whopping 16 high-frame-rate cameras in both cities, largely Sony HDC-5500’s (with Canon 122X lenses) operating at a mix of 4X and 6X slo-mo. Fletcher also has plenty of robos on hand, including its typical Above the Rim (ATR) cameras on each basket.

    “At this point, our Finals-level show is pretty much the same as the Conference Finals,” says Okuno. “We do that so everyone can get up to speed for a show of this size and with this many cameras. We get all the kinks out so that, by the time we get NBA Finals, we’re 100% ready to go and have everything dialed in. Our confidence level is very high because we know the technology has all been ironed out in advance.”

    ESPN has also enlisted a crew equipped with a TVU wireless camera/transmission system to capture live shots in and around the arena, the game, the pregame show, Hoop Streams, and the Kevin Hart altcast scheduled for June 12. Says Okuno, “We are able to feed all the color shots, the flavor stuff that is so important to getting the energy for this show. We have a crew out there gathering that flavor.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (7)

    Game camera with SMT data and optical tracking is partnered with Hawkeye data for shot-distance game camera.

    “The production team,” he continues, “wants to capture the flavor and color and atmosphere onsite because it adds a lot of energy to the show. We figured out a way to share that TVU content with all the entities of ESPN: the game truck, NBA Countdown truck, LAPC, Hoop Streams, international, the Kevin Hart altcast for Game 3, and everywhere else all around the ESPN networks.”

    In addition to all the cameras, ESPN continues to work with SMT to add shot-distance–tracking graphics in tandem with Hawk-Eye Innovations, which provides data to the league’s broadcast partners. During the NBA Playoffs, as players shoot, SMT is providing shot-distance graphics based on data gathered by Hawk-Eye.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (8)

    ESPN’s NBA Finals production features several Sony HDC-5500 cameras.

    Beyond the Main Show: Studio Shows, Altcasts, International

    For both cities, ESPN is using a REMCO (remote-controlled) production model for graphics and scorebug operations and four EVS replay systems — all of which are being controlled remotely from Bristol, CT.

    In Boston, ESPN’s studio set, located in Section 9 on the ground level of TD Garden, features three studio cameras and a mini jib (plus on-court handhelds shared with the game truck). In Dallas, the set, in Section 121 on the ground level of American Airlines Center, is more compact due to space limitations at the venue.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (9)

    ESPN’s courtside studio set at TD Garden in Boston

    Via a modified REMCO production model, the line cut for the studio show is produced onsite in the truck (Gotham in Boston, NCPII in Dallas) and sent to a control room at ESPN’s LAPC (Los Angeles Production Center). The final broadcast is integrated in L.A. and passed on to Bristol for distribution on ABC.

    NBA Unplugged With Kevin Hart, ESPN’s NBA alternative presentation, will return for NBA Finals Game 3, carried on ESPN. Hart and his cohorts produce their commentary from his Atlanta studio, and ESPN dedicates one iso camera to the show, along with one intercom tied to Bristol, where the final altcast feed is integrated for broadcast.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (10)

    The NBA Countdown announce team — (from left) Malika Andrews, Richard Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins — will be onsite in the main in-arena set and an outdoor setup.

    ESPN’s NBA Finals international needs have grown significantly over the years. This year, both ESPN Latin America and ESPN Brazil (along with the ESPN Deportes domestic broadcast) have their own announce booths onsite; ESPN Australia is using a BTR robo shared with the main game production for live hits from Boston and Dallas.

    In addition, ESPN International and Star+ will be producing a Watch Party for viewers in Latin America during selected games, using a four-camera PTZ flypack owned and managed by ESPN.

    “We have been tasked with a lot of things that fall outside just the game itself,” notes Okuno. “We’re very much ready for that. The finals continue to get bigger every year, and it’s our job to be ready for anything that might be thrown at us.”

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (11)

    ESPN is set for Game 1 in Boston.

    A Chance To Reflect: Looking Back at an Unforgettable Season

    With the NBA Finals set to tip off tonight, Okuno and his team are taking a moment to reflect on one of its most eventful NBA seasons in recent memory — headlined by the inaugural In-Season Tournament.

    “The big difference this year,” he says, “was the addition of the In-Season Tournament, which we threw the kitchen sink at. That was the thunderbolt for us to get out of our comfort zone and be as innovative as possible. Doing something that, at that large a scale right before our Christmas Day games, which are massive by themselves, prepared us for the playoffs and finals. The team rallied around one another, and that’s a big reason we’re in such a great position today.”

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (12)

    ESPN Senior Game Technical Director Ross Flagg

    In Boston, the game-operations team is led by Senior Operations Producer Kelley Nagi, Operations Producer Christine Rouskas, Operations Specialists Paul Kucharski and Tommy Clark, Senior Operations Coordinator Luis Manuel Lopez, and Operations Coordinator Kim Conrad. Studio operations are handled by Senior Operations Producer Traci Flohr, Operations Producer (Hoop Streams) Charlie Cruz, Senior Operations Specialist Joe Rainey, Operations Specialist Mitchell Workman, and Operations Coordinators Jason Dorsey, Paul Leonard, and Gianfranca Foccaretta.

    In Dallas, the game-operations team comprises Operations Producers Hauna Moore and Johnathan Williams, Senior Operations Specialist Alan McDonald, Operations Specialist Dave Baker, and Senior Operations Coordinator David Quintanilla. Studio operations will be overseen by Senior Operations Producer Kristianna Bryant, Operations Producer Daniel Reifert, Senior Operations Specialist Joe Rainey, and Operations Specialist Mitchell Workman.

    On the international side, Operations Producers Mike Krivens, Scott Garifo, and John Baxley ensure that it all goes smoothly.

    NBA Finals 2024: ESPN Rolls Out Skycam, Shallow Depth of Field, Live Drone in Both Boston and Dallas (2024)
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