NBA players are just weeks away from hitting the court and bringing fans the first live game action in nearly four months!
Teams are slowly starting to trickle into Orlando and what has been dubbed "The NBA Bubble," for mini-training camps and acclimation to the new normal playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Trail Blazers and select personnel board a plane to fly across the country, they will be leaving an important part of the traveling entourage behind: The broadcast team.
Blazers Broadcasting, the crew tasked with filming and presenting the games, will remain in Portland and produce the broadcasts remotely.
It's something the broadcast team has never had to do before, and Trail Blazers Director of Broadcasting Jeff Curtin knows that.
"It's something new for my team and myself," said Curtin in an interview on the Sports Business Radio Podcast. "We've never done this before. We have, obviously. a lot of concerns...I think the NBA's set up a great plan for all the teams and the RSNs and the broadcasters. But, yeah, it's really new territory."
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.]
Curtin and his team have just a little more than three weeks to work out the kinks and get ready to sail uncharted waters.
Just think of the normal things you take for granted during a broadcast that you won't have with the Orlando bubble. There will be no Brooke Olzendam cut-ins. No halftime coaches interviews. No interaction between Jordan Kent and Lamar Hurd, and the coaches and players on the bench. Curtin won't even have full control of all the cameras in the arenas. It will be an entirely new production and viewing experience.
On the TV side, they're gonna get us a feed that's clean, with no graphics. They've also actually allowed each team to have a local camera operator there that we'll be able to be on headset with. So, I will be able to be having one camera person that I can help focus on our stories of the Trail Blazers. Then this world feed will come back to our studios, we'll insert the graphics and announcers, and no one will be on site. The challenge, at least for the TV, is we're limited to what the director and producer on-site is kind of telling for the story; what shots they're getting, what replays they're doing. We're just kind of following along. - Jeff Curtin, Trail Blazers Director of Broadcasting
On the plus side, as Curtin noted, he will be able to be in the ear of one designated camera operator in the arena. For the entertainment of Blazers fans, hopefully he makes sure that camera is fixated on the Blazers bench so we get those classic bench reactions!
But in all seriousness, with the broadcast team having to use the generic feed, it will be like no broadcast we are have ever seen.
In fact, Curtin is looking at all avenues to help create a truly Blazer-centric experience. The idea has been floated that perhaps Olzendam can do her normal pregame interviews via Zoom and have them incorporated into the broadcast, and social media could play a larger role than ever.
Teams going to Orlando are allowed to send one social media representative, and for Portland, that duty falls on social media master Amara Baptist. Baptist has long been at the helm of some on the most successful and entertaining social media accounts around the league, but now that expertise could help bolster the in-game broadcast.
"Amara travels with us, so she's well experienced at this, and she'll be our only representative to help get some stories and images, videos potentially," said Curtin. "We're not sure exactly what kind of access she's gonna be able to get, but we're definitely counting on her to provide us some great content for TV and radio."
Using Baptist's social media content to help create the scene for the viewer could be paramount. With no sideline reporters, no control of all the cameras in the arena, no locker-room interviews, shootaround availabilities, etc., finding and telling the Trail Blazers story becomes harder for Curtin and his team. It's something the veteran broadcaster wants to make sure he doesn't lose on game day.
Again, it's those stories we're really gonna miss. I think everyone can kind of understand that not having your announcers their, or having your courtside reporter there, just for conversations with players, team coaches... we're just not gonna have and it's really gonna be challenging. - Jeff Curtin, Trail Blazers Director of Broadcasting
It won't be just the TV side of things that has to adjust. Radio play-by-play voice Travis Demers and his broadcast partner Michael Holton will also be broadcasting the game remotely from inside Moda Center.
"On the radio side, we'll just get an audio feed and our radio broadcasters will be in Portland calling it off a monitor with a couple different monitors in front of them, some laptops with stats and information provided by the NBA as well on the courtside app," Curtin told Sports Business Radio. However, there will be a fun little catch for the radio duo. Rather than do the broadcast from a studio, they will be calling the game from their normal radio position inside an empty Moda Center.
The radio team will be in the arena, actually...at their normal position. We'll probably turn on the video board in the arena and let them call it off that. - Jeff Curtin
Fans understand that we are in uncharted territory, so Curtin need not worry. He has told the Blazers game-day story to Rip City for decades, and even if he has to do it remotely, Rip City can't wait to see the next one he puts over the airwaves.
Listen to Jeff Curtin's entire interview with Sports Business Radio below.