Over a six-week period for the resumption of the season, ABC / ESPN, in partnership with the NBA and Turner, has sought to turn what has long been billed as the “Happiest Place on Earth” into the safest.
In creating the NBA bubble at Disney World in Orlando, leagues and networks hope to protect players and staff from the coronavirus.
But they have done more than that – they have tried to turn ESPN Wide World of Complex Sports into something of a state of the art, hoping it is a pandemic TV studio.
As ESPN approaches its first broadcast on Friday night, it has tried to create a big-time feeling without the fans in attendance.
To do this, the network has only set up a month and a half of 30 plus infrastructure inside and outside the three arenas that house the courts.
ESPN would not disclose how much it spent on the facility, but it had reported that the NBA spent $ 150 million on the entire bubble.
“Speaking to others, this complex resembles an Olympic-type complex,” ESPN production vice president Mike Shiffman told the Post with FaceTime as he toured the arena for an hour and set up ESPN broadcasts.
ESPN, TNT and the NBA have been trying to think of everything to make it stand out after Shiffman, along with league officials and Turner, did a site survey six weeks ago.
Aesthetics include virtual fans and a sense of home court for each team. National broadcasts will feature 20-plus cameras compared to 12 for non-bubbling, pre-pandemic games.
During the three trials, ESPN will use more than 60 robotic cameras. There are about 200 ESPN employees working on this event, nearly 20 of them are on the air.
The hope is to make it feel like a big event.
“That’s a big part of it,” Shiffman said.
ESPN and Turner – who played Thursday night’s first regular-season reset game – are not only responsible for their broadcasts, but also for the 22 regional sports networks, so any basketball you see in the coming months will have their impact on them. Both networks are offering a “global feed” to RSN as YES for broadcasting their teams’ games.
Security is at a premium, and the NBA has put in place a two-tier bubble system.
The green area is where the players reside. There are some reporters in the green zone, like ESPN’s Malika Andrews.
Upon arrival, these media members had to test negative and quarantine for seven days before moving through certain areas.
People in the yellow zone, where Shiffman and Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson’s ABC / ESPN mainstream broadcasting team reside, are tested upon arrival in Waldorf and must quarantine for one day before being allowed out of their rooms with a negative COVID-19 Test, which has a rapid turnaround. They have no personal interaction with the players.
They are tested twice a week and asked to wear masks. There was no reaction against the rules.
Within its main production truck, the amount of personnel has been reduced by half from the rate of 10-12 to six. All are separated by a plexiglass separator.
“You feel safe,” Shiffman said.
In the arena, Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson will be on an equivalent equal to the 12 rows up. They too will have direct dividers between each of them.
For games, networks will try to show some unique shots, using a railroad truck on the side of the court. There are also extended cast line cameras, which are not normal.
Since there are no fans in the arena, the rail kick can be used during live action as opposed to only during repetitions. ESPN will also have behind-the-scenes cameras, which will allow the audience to join in as players prepare.
About six weeks ago, when Disney was designated as the NBA resume venue, Shiffman, along with officials from the NBA and Turner, made the trip to Orlando to see how they could transform the court and may have achieved to think about everything.
Turner got up early Thursday night. Starting Friday, ESPN will be on stage in the center. Then there will be 10 matches in four days.
It has been a sprint to turn gyms and vacancies into safe places, but ESPN still hopes to provide NBA entertainment at the highest level.