At the Rink: Detroit Red Wings Cover Motor City Storylines With Three Digital Shows, Hockeytown Home Ice
Wednesdays are filled with all four productions throughout the day
The National Hockey League was the last of the four major U.S. sports leagues to host a non-bubble regular season. As fans gradually make their return to the seats, how is that affecting in-venue productions and digital content? Similar to At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, and On the Hardwood, At the Rink looks at the operations of NHL organizations to see how they are coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to a sense of normalcy.
One year ago, the NHL postponed the 2019-20 season after it was thrown into disarray at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, the Detroit Red Wings are inching closer to the light at the end of the tunnel with increased attendance and a full slate of virtual or onsite programming that is keeping Red Wings fans tuned into the action.
“We started out the season having 250 friends and family members, then more recently, we’ve had 500, and now we’ll be entertaining up to 750 fans,” says Pete Skorich, VP, entertainment services and broadcasting, Olympia Entertainment. “We’ve decided that we’re going to treat these 750 fans like there are 20,000 people roaring for the Detroit Red Wings in the arena.”
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Down at The District: Production Team Powers In-Venue Show, Hockeytown Home Ice Second Screen
The District Detroit, a 50-block radius that is the sports hub of the Red Wings, MLB’s Detroit Tigers, NBA’s Detroit Pistons, and NFL’s Detroit Lions, is usually bumping with fans of all four professional teams. The crowd and sound levels have been subdued in this area, but the newest of the four sporting venues in The District, Little Caesars Arena, is still packing the production punch that you would expect during a regular year.
“We’re trying to create a lot of atmosphere and entertainment for these select fans,” says Skorich. “We’re doing as much as we can, so the players are able to hear a lot of music, feel the emotion of the crowd that’s there, and get jacked up to win games.”
Even though the venue is only at 4% capacity, the in-venue team is pumping in artificial crowd noise via the Firehouse Productions system that the NBA is currently using. In the NBA, these automated crowd sounds are emanating throughout the venue to penetrate the ears of both players on the court and fans in the seats. In the NHL, the league has taken a different approach to audio sweetening since they’re not permitted to play music during gameplay.
“Since we share a building with the Pistons, the NBA helped put separate speakers that pointed at the court for their players to hear,” continues Skorich. “The Red Wings have speakers pointed away from the players, but into the crowd. It’s a challenge because you want the sound to not be too loud, but also not too fake. Our team has greatly improved in this area with anticipating plays, goals, and disappointment.”
While the main crew focuses on the videoboard show and elements being played in the arena, another team is occupied with Hockeytown Home Ice presented by Bud Light, a second-screen experience that operates alongside the linear broadcast. Similar to what the Los Angeles Chargers with HomeTurf, this digital platform is a chance for the production team to showcase crowd prompts, player-centric content, and real-time statistics for fans that are unable to make it to the building. For those watching on the couch, it’s a way for fans to further connect with the team until it’s safe enough for a sold-out crowd.
“It’s allowing our fans to see a lot of things that they would see in the arena during timeouts, intermissions, and pregame that they can’t see on television,” adds Skorich. “It’s also a really nice companion piece for our broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit.”
Three Shows in Motown: Word on Woodward, Morning Skate, The Forecheck Detail Team’s Performance
Olympia Entertainment, the company that controls creative material for the Red Wings, Tigers, and Pistons, has found its footing in COVID-era productions. Back in March 2020, they were still figuring out how to supply content in a virtual space through efforts on social media and their corresponding regional sports network, Fox Sports Detroit. With a full year under their belt, Olympia Entertainment has continued one of their main programs and extended into more digital/linear shows catered solely to the Red Wings.
The Word on Woodward, which started during the nationwide sports shutdown, is a two-hour program that runs every Wednesday. Featuring fan-submitted questions and interviews with players and executives from the Tigers and Red Wings, it’s a mostly virtual format that is hosted by notable personalities like Daniella Bruce, Art Regner, and Carley Johnston. On game days, the production team kicks it into high gear with a pair of shows. At 10:30 a.m., the team is giving fans access to the team practice during Morning Skate: a program that breaks down player performances and presents conversations with members of the opposing team. Lastly, as it gets closer to puck drop, The Forecheck is a pregame show that airs three-and-a half hours before every home game.
Based on the NHL schedule, the Red Wings will be pushing out four shows in one day on home games that fall on a Wednesday: Morning Skate at 10:30 a.m. ET, The Word on Woodward at 12 p.m. ET., The Forecheck at 4 p.m. ET, and the traditional videoboard show and Hockeytown Home Ice during the game.
“Due to the nuances of the new NHL schedule, we’re playing back to back games,” says Skorich. “By the end of the night, all of our fans know exactly what happened.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Red Wings’ Production Team
As an Original Six team, the Detroit Red Wings have one of the more storied legacies in the National Hockey League. The staffers on the production team, including Video Production Engineer Eric Angott, Audio Engineer Brad McGee, Producer/Editor Mark Milligan, IPTV Producer Brian Woodworth, Lead Producer/Editor Mike Fitzsimmons, and Motion Graphics Designers Al Scott and Baxter Trapp, are the current keepers of that legacy. When fans do make their full return to Little Caesars Arena, more history can be made in the Motor City.
“We’ll be really happy when we can finally have all of our fans back,” he concludes. “We’re looking forward to hearing them yell and scream for us.”
The Red Wings return to Little Caesars Arena to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET.