NBA Draft 2020: ESPN Creative Services Introduces Sleek Graphics Package for Virtual Production

The goal was a cleaner, more neutral template

Following the pattern of other professional sports leagues, the 2020 NBA Draft will be the league’s first-ever ceremony conducted in a virtual setting. In an effort to emphasize the significance of the moment and tell a visual story that’s different from previous years’, ESPN’s creative services team will debut a totally new graphics package during tonight’s broadcast.

“The pandemic has affected everybody in different ways,” notes Jeremy Simches, associate art director, ESPN. “In the NBA, the shutdown and postponement of the season [in March] kept pushing the date of the Draft further back. We weren’t going to create a new package, but we pivoted a little bit, and it worked out for the better because we were able to give the production team this really new and sharp look that they’re happy with.”

Check out more of SVG’s coverage of the 2020 NBA Draft:

Clean Slate: Graphics Break Out of Brooklyn-Themed Mold

The feedback and commentary from the team in Los Angeles turned out to be critical. After careful consideration and the unfortunate cancellation of the NBA Draft Combine in May, which is traditionally critical to developing a deeper concept, the network was at a crossroads: gamble on an event’s being held in person at the Barclays Center or branch out in a different direction.

The 2020 NBA Draft graphics package includes a lighter color palette and a more neutral approach.

“It was a little bit of a guessing game to figure if we wanted to get away from the Brooklyn theme or hedge our bets by being able to use some of this stuff if we ended up back there,” says Lucas Nickerson, creative director, ESPN. “We didn’t have a creative brief that said ‘Hey, we’re going to do this,’ so we adjusted as we went along this unique process.”

When the news came that the Draft would not take place in Brooklyn for the first time since 2013, the creative services team chose to wipe the slate clean for a reimagined look.

“It was a gradual rebrand,” says Mark Groeschner, director, project planning, ESPN. “We pivoted away from our last package since it was very Brooklyn-centric, with scenics of outside the Barclays Center and the city skyline in some of our insert graphics.”

Two Time Zones: East Coast Team Harmonizes Collaboration With L.A. Production Center

With a clear vision of a new package , the network hit the drawing board to brainstorm and deliberate. To develop a company-wide consensus and involve every visionary with a potential idea, the creative services team in Bristol, CT, wanted to include the individuals based in Los Angeles — including Lead Designers Matt Metoyer and Moira Garrovillas and Manager Tony Perez — on the project.

“We started working with our team in L.A. and gave them some loose guidelines to experiment a little bit with a look,” says Simches. “[The process] became pretty organic. I think it was a good team effort, and we all work really well together.”

Before any final decisions were made, both teams met on numerous Zoom calls and discussed elements over conversations on Slack. To alleviate the strain of working with a gap of three hours, the two groups met at noon PT. Internally, the Bristol crew operated via video-conferencing applications to maintain social distancing.

“Typically, we would all be in the same building, but [the pandemic] led us to almost have to over-communicate,” says Carol Boyle, senior creative director, ESPN. “Working from home put us on the same playing field as we collaborated with our team in Los Angeles.”

Despite the constant changes in the professional-sports calendar throughout this year, both East Coast and West Coast teams were determined to complete the task in time for the Draft.

“There were upwards of 30 people on this project,” notes Groeschner. “The team in L.A. had the most consistent folks on the project, but, with the ever-flowing nature of this NBA season with stops and starts, leveraging Slack and Zoom helped maintain the communication.”

After a 2019 Draft graphics package that included the heavy use of dark colors and spunk that personified the Brooklyn attitude, the crew leaned into a different color palette that provided more creative options.

“We wanted to keep a lighter vibe since the last year’s was the opposite of that,” adds Nickerson. “We’re able to splash team colors where appropriate and incorporate the red and blue from the NBA logo.”

Graphics Cornerstone: Vizrt Leads the Aesthetic Transformation

The creativity wouldn’t be able to shine through without the help of technology that makes the package come to life. Vizrt, which helped bring augmented-reality graphics to the set of Around the Horn near the end of 2018, was tapped for this reinvigorated package.

“Our technology team and Viz developers are able to move elements in a way that we haven’t in the past,” says Nickerson. “We used to make graphics with not a lot of character to them, but now they all have a little extra life.”

Even with notable changes to the on-air look, the crew wanted to dive deeper into this rebrand. With extra time on their hands due to the stoppage of many professional sports and the reliability of Vizrt’s technology, the team not only rethought every aspect of these on-air graphics.

“The matrix will also be in Viz, and, for someone who has designed many matrices for NFL and NBA Drafts, this was probably the one where we could blow it up and start fresh,” says Nickerson. “We’re normally up against a legacy project in an older program, so you have to shoehorn some elements, but Jeremy was able to look at some of the new possibilities that we can do for the viewer.”

Built To Last: Evergreen Design Allows for Future Additions

Last year’s graphics relied heavily on exterior shots of the Barclays Center and other Brooklyn landmarks.

A brilliant idea is one that is future-proof and can stand the test of time. With a strong foundation inviting further creativity, the team is able to make even more additions that won’t clash with the neural-toned package.

“If we’re able to do a shoot with players,” says Simches, “my hope is that we add some new elements to it. The team in L.A. did a great job, and I can’t wait to keep working with them on other projects because they are a really talented group.”

The entire project was aided not only by proper communication between the Bristol- and Los Angeles-based creative services teams but also by active conversations with the production folks.

“Mark is at the helm of our team, but Sue [Cassidy, producer, ESPN] came in and was able to work closely with this production to run our meetings,” says Boyle. “Our production partners, [Coordinating Producer] Linda Scholz and [Producer] Brian Boyle, have been amazing, and their energy kept us going because they were so appreciative of our work.”

In the end, the overall cooperation has made this difficult project a resounding success. With the company’s commitment to excellence at the top of the priority list, the new graphics package has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“I’m most proud of how accommodating everyone was,” says Groeschner. “The creative and production sides were able to see the vision early and had the patience to let it play out during an unprecedented time. We didn’t waver from what we set out to do, so we’re in a really good place and are very excited to launch it.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters


The Latest in Sports Video Production & Technology
in Your Inbox for FREE

Daily Email Newsletters Monday - Friday