ESPN Caps First-Half Schedule With Weekend-Long Showcase

The production will deploy nearly 100 crew members onsite in Chicago, remote graphics in Bristol

After a prosperous first half of the regular season, the WNBA’s brightest stars head to the Chicago this weekend for 2022 All-Star Weekend at Wintrust Arena. To celebrate the league’s excellence and to bring awareness to current societal issues, ESPN will broadcast the two-day event with enhanced technologies, onsite crewing, and passion.

“We definitely look at this [weekend] as an opportunity to make our coverage a little bit more robust,” says Sara Gaiero, coordinating producer, ESPN.

Cinematic Addition: Megalodon Joins the Cameral Arsenal

The 2022 WNBA All-Star Weekend calls for deployment of high-quality broadcast equipment, and, for this year’s edition, the broadcaster is tapping a shallow–depth-of-field camera that has taken sports broadcasting by storm. Normally used for cinematic shots of live game action, which will be the case for Sunday’s exhibition matchup between Team A’ja Wilson and Team Breanna Stewart, the camera will be deployed during the MTN Dew 3-PT Contest and WNBA Skills Challenge on Saturday, July 9.

Home to the 2021 WNBA Champions Chicago Sky, Wintrust Trust Arena will host the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game on Sunday, July 10.

“We’ll have a little bit more leeway to get up close to the players [on Saturday], says Gaiero. “We’ll be able to get some really intimate views and looks during those competitions.”

In an effort to enhance coverage even further, ESPN is working closely with the WNBA and its executives for increased access in Chicago. The 2022 regular season has been highlighted by miked players and coaches and a sense of deeper storytelling, but, for a massive event like this one, Gaiero and company want to bring fans into areas not usually covered.

“We’re currently working with the league to add robos in some unique areas around the court that aren’t covered 100% of the time,” she says. “The hope is that we can establish [those positions], use them on Sunday, and learn from it moving forward.”

Along with new camera implementations, ESPN will take its miked-player concept to a new level. In-game interviews will take place during the exhibition game, but, on Saturday, Wilson will be miked throughout the 3-point contest and skills competitions. This will offer fans an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to participate in such events, how players interact with each other, and how it feels to be a part of WNBA All-Star Weekend, as well as a better understanding of the personality of one of the league’s best athletes.

Working Onsite: Game Creek Video Takes Over Exterior Compound

Instead of the full-REMI approach of the regular season, the broadcaster will have both production and operations teams onsite in the Windy City. Working outside Wintrust Arena, nearly 100 crew members (70 technicians, 20 production personnel) will be situated in the television compound. Game Creek Video is providing the mobile units, including Game Creek Justice for Saturday’s festivities and Game Creek 79 for Sunday’s showcase. The onsite plan covers the front bench and replay services, but REMCO [remote-controlled] workflow for graphics and scorebug operation will be located in Bristol.

From an operational standpoint, the weekend requires a fair amount of collaboration. Given the schedule of events, the broadcaster needed to establish two separate infrastructures: one at McCormick Place Convention Center for Saturday and one at Wintrust Arena for Sunday. Gaiero applauds the hard work and determination of the teams, led by Operations Manager Leigh Michaud and Managing Director Michael Sullivan.

“Our operations team has done a terrific job with building these two sites and finding efficiencies since we’re right next door to each other,” says Gaiero. “Building up to this weekend has been quite the undertaking for them.”

Like this conversation with Phoenix Mercury’s Sophie Cunningham during the July 4 game vs. Los Angeles Sparks, in-game player interviews will be conducted during the All-Star Game.

Within both footprints, ESPN will deploy onsite studio coverage of each day’s events. For the halftime show during Sunday’s game, LaChina Robinson and Carolyn Peck will be seated in an intimate set on the court. As for the call, Ryan Ruocco, Rebecca Lobo, and Holly Rowe will be behind the mic on Saturday and Sunday.

Alongside the linear coverage, ESPN’s digital and social teams will provide coverage. Social Media Specialist Britneé McCoy-Davis and Senior Social Media Specialist Terrika Foster-Brasby will generate original content for ESPN and espnW TikTok and IG Reels, featuring content from players and talent on all digital channels. WNBA Hoop Streams Presented by Google — hosted by Christine Williamson and available on ESPN’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube platforms and the ESPN App — will precede the All-Star Game at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Storylines: Broadcasts Will Raise Awareness on Brittney Griner, Retiring Stars

Besides the on-court action, the league will continue to do what it does best: raise awareness for important issues that are bigger than basketball. One at the top of everyone’s mind is the prolonged detainment of eight-time WNBA All-Star and 2014 WNBA champion Brittney Griner in Russia. For more than four months, Griner’s situation has caught the attention of both the league and the entire sports world. The league has paid tribute to her throughout the regular season, including her initials and number imprinted on all 12 home courts. The tributes have continued into the midseason break, with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert naming Griner an honorary All-Star. Gaiero considers it ESPN’s duty and responsibility to share the story, which extends far beyond the basketball court.

“[The WNBA] is doing everything in their power to raise awareness about her story,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to educate them because it’s important for people to know all the details, and, with the ABC audience on Sunday, we might get a lot of casual basketball fans who may not be up to speed on the story.”

Productions were improved throughout the first half of the WNBA season with additions like stanchion POV cameras.

Besides amplifying the message of Griner’s detainment, the broadcaster will also honor the careers of Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles in their final WNBA All-Star Game. Bird — a 13-time WNBA All-Star, four-time WNBA champion, and one of the greatest players the game has ever seen — and Fowles — 2017 WNBA MVP, a two-time WNBA champion, and four-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year — have left their mark on the sport.

“We’ll look to interview them at some point during the broadcast on Sunday,” says Gaiero. “We want to do our best to say, ‘Thanks for all that you’ve done to impact this league, on and off the court.’”

Planning for the Postseason: ESPN Sees Midsummer Showcase as Playoff Proving Ground

This weekend will recognize what the players have achieved over the past two months, but, for ESPN, the productions will have a lasting effect on broadcasts on the WNBA calendar. Similar to the way the broadcaster works with the NBA to test new technologies during Summer League, WNBA All-Star Weekend has become a test bed for Gaiero and her team. If something works well, fans might see it used during the postseason and finals in August and September.

“The league has been very open-minded with us trying new things,” she adds. “We see [this weekend] as a training ground with hopes that we could implement technologies down the road.”

2022 All-Star Weekend will include the MTN Dew 3-PT Contest and WNBA Skills on Saturday, July 9 at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN and the All-Star Game on Sunday, July 10 at 1 p.m. on ABC.

 

 

 

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