On the Hardwood: How Kyle Campbell Balanced Productions for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, NFL’s Saints

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Smoothie King Center access the same control room

The doldrums of 2020 may be in the past, but 2021 is still presenting challenges to in-venue production teams. Now out of the Orlando bubble, NBA organizations are hosting games in their home arenas and navigating the continuing difficulties of the pandemic. Like SVG’s At the Ballpark and On the Gridiron series, On the Hardwood will take a look the hardships, creative ideas, and teamwork of NBA franchises.

Since the beginning of the NFL season in September, the city of New Orleans has been buzzing like it’s a non-stop Mardi Gras. Three months later, when the NBA’s Pelicans began their 2020-21 season, Kyle Campbell, director, game experience, New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, became a very busy man. As Saints director, game day experience, he was tasked with balancing in-venue productions for two franchises simultaneously.

“I didn’t get much sleep and didn’t get to see my wife as much as I would have liked to,” he says. “It has been a pretty crazy start to the Pelicans season.”


Two at a Time: Postseason Saints, Regular-Season Pelicans Take Over Downtown NOLA

In other cities, two separate individuals would handle these roles for their respective organizations. In New Orleans, Campbell is tasked with handling two professional leagues that bump up against each other on the sports calendar. The COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of difficulty because the NBA wasn’t sure when its season would begin.

The control room used by the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, here for the Pelicans-Celtics game on Feb. 21

In the NBA offseason, he says, “we didn’t know if we were going to start until after the new year or not. Luckily, leading up to that preseason game, we were on a three-game road trip with the Saints.”

Campbell and his Pelicans crew had only a few days to develop a regular-season strategy. Sleepless nights and early mornings became normal, but it was only a prelude to what was to come over the next nine days: a Pelicans preseason game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 18, a Saints game in Week 15 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 20, a Friday-night Saints home game vs. the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day, and the Pelicans home opener vs. the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 27. Over that span, the two franchises used the single control room that produces both shows.

“During that week,” he notes, “we were mixing in tech rehearsals, putting together scripts; balancing internal communications with sponsorship, marketing, and sales; and booking talent. We also were getting ready for Saints playoffs on top of that.”

With the success of the Saints throughout the year, the team was the No. 2 seed in the NFC and hosted the Wild Card Game at home vs. the Chicago Bears on Jan. 10. That night, the Pelicans were on the road in Dallas but didn’t play because of COVID-19 protocols. After defeating the Bears, the Saints played host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round on Jan. 17. Campbell was again able to fully keep his mind on football with the Pelicans playing the Sacramento Kings on the West Coast. The Saints’ 10-point loss in the second round was heartbreaking but allowed Campbell to dive fully into his other responsibilities.

“I’m extremely fortunate to have a job and expand our game experience in New Orleans quite a bit,” he says. “We have a high bar that we set for ourselves internally, so I’m able to bring in people to help fulfill [fan] expectations.”

Games at The Blender: Smoothie King Center Videoboard Entertains In-Venue Fans

As other teams gradually bring fans back into their venues, the Pelicans were one of a small group of organizations that allowed patrons in the seats at the beginning of the season. At first, the attendance limit was only 4% capacity, or 750 fans. Later, that number grew to 9%, or 1,400 fans, and now 16%, or 2,700 fans, are able to enter the turnstiles of Smoothie King Center. Although the nine-day stretch ending 2020 was a hectic time for the production crew, the hours spent devising a plan for Saints games during the regular season prior to fans’ return paid off in a cohesive plan of attack for its NBA efforts.

Control-room positions are separated by plexiglass.

“Our experience with the Saints and having a limited capacity throughout the football season helped us transition into the basketball season,” notes Campbell. “We didn’t have to work through the awkwardness of not knowing what to expect, so we’re trying to use this season to try out a lot of new things.”

Despite the return of fans to the stands, a lot of the normal in-venue elements have been scaled back to meet capacity limits and other safety guidelines. For example, entertainment teams and on-court performances during stoppages in play are absent, but, to compensate, the videoboard and fabricated crowd noise are playing a bigger role and displaying more content.

“We’re using a lot of audio sweetening,” Campbell explains. “When we go lights out, we make sure to get a good pop out of it. We’re amplifying our player introductions, and, if we’re doing a Dance Cam and there’s a battle between two people, we’ll give one person more cheers than someone else to make it feel like a true, authentic crowd.”

Although the number of attendees has been lower than in previous seasons, the organization has been able to go through the entire schedule with fans in the seats. Seeing human beings in a venue has become an anomaly during the ongoing pandemic, but it’s an appetizer to what the in-venue production team is itching to work toward.

“There are some people that are actually chanting defense and getting into the game, and it gives me chills,” he says. “We’re slowly getting that excitement back, and we’re anxious to get full arenas again.”

The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Pelicans’ Production Team

Kyle Campbell (left) sits next to Pelicans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram during a postgame interview.

Since the production team is getting more comfortable with its workflows, the organization is looking to diversify content by developing a constant stream of new ideas. Led by Vice President, Productions Shaneika Dabney-Henderson; Director, Video Production James Crosbie; and Senior Video Production Manager Brianna Latino, the crew wants to keep attendees on their toes.

“Our video-production group has done an amazing job with continuously trying to do new things,” says Campbell. “I need to definitely give love to our game-experience unit as a whole because I’ve pushed everybody to be creative and think outlandishly since no idea is off the table. I’ve been really fortunate to have a great group around me that wants the same product that the organization wants.”

The New Orleans Pelicans will host the Detroit Pistons tonight at the Smoothie King Center at 8 p.m. ET.

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