ESPN To Take Viewers Behind the Scenes, On the Court at WNBA All-Star Game

The WNBA All-Star Game returns to ESPN this weekend, which can mean only one thing: inside access. Since ESPN began televising WNBA games during the league’s inaugural season in 1997, the network has gradually cultivated a production strategy that stresses behind-the-scenes and on-the-floor access to players and coaches. That will continue this Saturday in Phoenix at US Airways Center, where viewers will get plenty of behind-the-scenes coverage of the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars.

Among the returning “inside access” elements this year are on-court handheld cameras; miked players, coaches, and refs; locker-room interviews during halftime; in-game access to both teams’ benches for player interviews; and additional pregame, halftime, and postgame access to players and coaches.

“These access elements give the viewer new and unique perspective on the players and the game, whether from an alternative camera angle during free throws or through the opportunity to hear from a player in the locker room during halftime or on the court during the game itself,” says WNBA All-Star Game producer Kate Leonard. “The league allows us to not only showcase the on-court abilities of the top players in the League but to also capture their personalities and interactions.”

Three wired handheld cameras will have access to the court during free throws and dead-ball situations. The operators are also permitted to cover team huddles during time-outs and breaks.

ESPN, which is using Game Creek Video’s Glory single-expando mobile unit, has deployed a total of 14 cameras for the production: seven manned cameras, six mini GoPros, and an unmanned beauty shot. (Although Fletcher-provided Above the Rim cameras have been deployed in the past, they will not be used for this year’s production.)

A total of four players — one per half from each team — will be outfitted with Quantum5X (Q5X) wireless microphones during the game. In addition, each head coach will wear a Q5X live mic.

“Miking the player, refs, and coaches is always coordinated through the league,” says ESPN Operations Producer Judi Weiss. “Our RF tech assists in wiring the jerseys. This is not done while the player is wearing the jersey but earlier in the day once we receive the equipment from the league.”

Players’ jerseys have a special pouch in the lining for the microphone, allowing player to wear it without creating a distraction. ESPN works works with each player to position the microphone and explain how it will work.

In addition, ESPN puts a larger emphasis incorporating audio throughout the game, even bringing in an additional producer to focus entirely on listening to the mics and packaging elements that showcase the best player audio during the game.

“While the overall set up and workflow is similar to a regular-season WNBA game there is an increased focus on hearing from various players throughout the game, via the microphones and in-game interviews,” says Leonard. “Unlike a regular season game we are utilizing more equipment and a larger technical crew to set up and manage the audio and video elements.”

ESPN contracts Bexel to provide Zaxcom wireless mics for coaches and usually for the referee, but the ref mic will actually come from the venue.

ESPN’s telecast of the WNBA All-Star Game begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday July 19; Ryan Ruocco will call the action with analyst Rebecca Lobo and reporter Holly Rowe. 

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