ESPN Returns to San Antonio, Miami for NBA Finals With New Trucks — and Toys — in Tow

The 2014 NBA Finals tipped off last night on ABC, and, as in 2013, San Antonio jumped out to a 1-0 series lead against Miami. But just because the opponents — and the venues — may be the same, don’t think the ESPN production crew will be recycling last year’s plans.

“We look at it from fresh eyes, because we never really know where we’re going to be,” says Wendell Grigely, coordinating director, remote operations, ESPN. “Even though we were in San Antonio and Miami last year, the compound setup in San Antonio was completely different than what we did last year.”

Last year, ESPN’s production trucks were docked in an outdoor area close to the AT&T Center, which was easy on the production but hard on the crews. This year, the compound has been set up in a fieldhouse located some distance from the arena.

“We decided to move all of the trucks inside that building,” explains Grigely. “You’re under cover, you’re out of the 97-degree heat, and you’ve got some air-conditioning inside, so it’s a little bit more comfortable for the entire crew. It’s a good distance from the arena, but that’s where fiber-optic cable helps you by being able to connect to the arena very easily.”

In fact, the production units tapped to cover the Finals in San Antonio and Miami are new (to the NBA Finals) this year. Game Creek’s Pride and Glory A and B units are covering Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio, as well as Games 5 and 7 if necessary. All four units of NEP’s EN-1 will handle production duties for Games 3 and 4, as well as Game 6, in Miami. Lyon Video will deploy a 40-ft. straight truck to each city to handle studio production.

After two consecutive years in which ESPN contended with down-to-the-wire seven-game series in the Conference Finals — and had to scramble to get trucks in place — this year’s Conference Finals provided a bit of a respite for the network: both ended in six. NEP’s EN-1 A, B, C, and D units were already in Miami covering the Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and Pacers, while Game Creek’s Pride and Glory A and B units were in Indianapolis. When that series ended, ESPN opted to keep EN-1 in Miami and hold Pride and Glory in Indianapolis until either San Antonio or Oklahoma City won the Western Conference Finals.

“The challenge coming out of the Eastern Conference [Finals], or any of the Conference Finals, is when the opposing conference is completed: if it goes all the way to seven, you have very little time to get that site set up,” says Grigely. “We were fortunate: the West ended in six, which gave us plenty of time to get the Game Creek trucks into position in San Antonio. Sometimes, it’s great to be lucky.”

ESPN plans to deploy 36 cameras to capture the NBA Finals, including 10 high-speed cameras in a mix of handheld and hard-camera configurations: four Sony HDC-3300 Super Motion cameras, two Grass Valley LDX 6X cameras, two I-MOVIX X10 cameras, and two split-block I-MOVIX ultra-slo-mo cameras that will shoot through the glass of the backboard. The complement also includes Skycam for aerial views.

Productions also feature in-game interviews with coaches, and both coaches — and, potentially, several players — are wearing wireless microphones during the game.

Working with EVS, ESPN is deploying a new technology that allows the network to insert the clock feed into its replays using EVS Epsio software. Onsite EVS replay servers are configured to accept 1080p outputs from four of ESPN’s regular HD game cameras — Sony HDC-2500s — to allow zoom in on replays, much the way 4K has been used in big-game broadcasts.

“Many people utilize 4K, but we found a way to do this with 1080p: just using the high-resolution cameras with 1080p and getting the zoom capability out of it, which is working well for us,” says Grigely. “You have to have the right play at the right time happen to actually have this on-air, but, if there’s something critical at the critical time and the clock is important, we have that option, and, if we want to do the zoom function for the toes or the feet on the three-point line, we have that function as well.”

Although all eyes are on San Antonio at the moment, a contingent of staffers has already been dispatched to Miami to prep the compound and arena for Game 3 on Tuesday. In total, ESPN will deploy more than 300 production and operations personnel throughout the series. In addition to the ABC telecast, ESPN supports ESPN International, ESPN Deportes, NBA TV, and NBA Entertainment.

The NBA Finals on ABC continues with Game 2 on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET in San Antonio. Mike Breen, the voice of the NBA Finals, provides play-by-play, with analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, reporter Doris Burke, and officiating expert Steve Javie. The NBA Finals on ABC is also available on ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3, and WatchABC.

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