Wichita State fans experienced their first remote broadcast game on Wednesday when UNLV played at Koch Arena.
This is the future, it appears, no matter how you thought it sounded. I watched about half the game on Thursday and found it noticeable and distracting. ESPN will also use the remote studio for Saturday’s game against Utah and the Feb. 6 game at Illinois State.
Last season, ESPN did 45 games remotely. This news release explains ESPN’s plan, without making too much of the fact announcers aren’t in the arena or that this is a cost-cutting measure.
According to Jack Watkins of the Missouri Valley Conference, ESPN will do around 120 games, from conferences of all shapes and sizes, this season.
“The look and the feel will be identical, but the production team will not be at the live event,” said play by play announcer Rich Hollenberg, who does games for ESPN. “We will have all the same cameras that we normally do, but the announcers will be at an ESPN location.”
Hollenberg and Miles Simon called Wednesday’s game from Charlotte, N.C. where ESPNU has facilities. He and Mark Adams will do Saturday’s game from Bristol, Conn., ESPN headquarters.
Hollenberg describes the setup as working from a production room. His producer and stage manager will sit alongside, like they do at games.
“We will essentially have a big monitor in front of us … and four other monitors, at least, around them, showing what all the other cameras are showing, as well,” he said. “It’s almost like being at a sports bar. My setup is going to look exactly the same; it’s just when I look up, I’m looking at monitors instead of the court.”
ESPN, and other networks, used this approach before, largely for international events such as soccer or FIBA basketball. Hollenberg previously did youth baseball and soccer remotely, working at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
First and foremost, announcers will miss the crowd.
“The challenge is to match our energy level being in an antiseptic environment … versus being in the game environment,” he said. “I have all the faith in the world, working for ESPN, that all the camera angles and all the information I need will be at my fingertips.”
One of basketball’s routines is the day-of-the-game shootaround, where TV guys usually chat with the coaches to do research and get a feel for story lines, injuries and gossip. They talk to players, watch the teams run through a light practice and that time is crucial to giving the viewer insight and examples of what is team is about.
For remote games, it is replaced with a conference call. If you’ve watched announcers such as Adams and Hollenberg enjoy those conversations in person, you know it isn’t the same.
And without eyes in the arena, it is also possible for important things to happen out of the camera view — an injury, a reaction by a player, a hand signal by a coach that tips a coming play.