Earlier this season, we asked the voices of the LA Kings about how their jobs have been changed and affected by the remote broadcasting of game. Today, we go behind the scenes, and take a look at how the backend of the production has been impacted. Steven “Hoover” Dorfman, Joel Goodling and Mike Hassan have been used to traveling to away games with the Kings, something that has been affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic this season, forcing all production to be done from home. A look behind the scenes, with the Bally Sports West team.
What added challenges have not having the team together on game days presented for you?
Dorfman: We have come up with an efficient system for our production team – ZOOM. We meet every game day via Zoom right after the morning skate media availability. This has worked really well – we’re able to meet earlier in the day – usually we’d meet three hours before the game, now we’re meeting six-plus hours before. There are also fewer distractions on Zoom than when we meet in person.
Hassan: One challenge is not being able to have spontaneous group discussions without Zoom. On road games, we’d all watch morning skate and could talk about the projected lineups and game, etc before going into the Kings locker room to talk to the players about that night’s game. At home games prior to COVID, we all had the ability to chat in person before or after our meal break in the Chick Hearn Press Room. One of the biggest challenges was prying Jim Fox or Daryl Evans away from the dessert section and hoping there was still some Oreo cookie or chocolate chips left to top off my soft serve ice cream.
Goodling: Obviously we miss the in-person, day-to-day interactions at morning skate and in the press room, but this is the one thing I can see continuing in the future — the Zoom production meeting. Right after morning skate media availability, all the announcers and analysts jump on with Hoover and myself and iron out any and all details for that evening’s broadcast. It’s a lot easier to change things around, build video and graphics to support 6-7 hours to air, where before the meetings would take place at STAPLES Center only two hours before we were live.
How has the broadcast truck changed during COVID times, compared to a regular season? Layout, roles, setup, etc.
Dorfman: We utilize 2 trucks now – our regular truck, plus the B-unit that would normally house the visiting production team – so we are able to spread everyone out – we have partitions between the producer/director and director/technical director – with half the crew in each truck.
Hassan: Social distancing with plexiglass dividers in between us is the new norm. To ensure proper social distancing we moved our Graphics Operator, Graphics Coordinator, Scorebug operator, and visiting show AD into a second mobile unit or “B Unit” which pre-COVID would normally be used by the visiting broadcast production team. We also have dividers between our EVS operators, who manage and playback all our video packages and replays for our pre-game, game, and post-game shows. Our production truck is sanitized after every game and we all use our own headsets. Our crew also make sure that all handheld microphones and announcer headsets are properly cleaned adhering to COVID safety requirements. For added safety, we have endless amounts of anti-bacterial wipes at hand sanitizer at our disposal. On game days, all crew including our announcers first fill out an online health screening survey prior to arriving at STAPLES Center and once on site we get our temperatures checked. We also get tested for COVID on a regular basis and masks are mandatory.
Goodling: We’re spread out over two TV trucks now. Sometimes our pre/post folks are in the studio when the team is on the road. Everything is deep cleaned after every broadcast. Masks are worn at all times (I already mumble a little bit so talking into my headset through a mask isn’t ideal obviously). In our home truck, I’m actually producing on a back bench so it’s been an adjustment not being right next to our director, Hassan. We have experimented with using Patrick [O’Neal] and Jarret [Stoll] live from home as well, which has created a whole new set of challenges but it’s worked out alright and now you get to see their beautiful faces (and Howie)!
How has your pre-game planning for a game changed, considering you are not at the rink or on the road? Things that have been more difficult, or any possible benefits?
Dorfman: I miss some of the little things. For example, being at practice and seeing coach talking with a player, or a player working on deflections on his own and then scoring the next game – not able to tell those stories this season. I miss the comradery the most, bonding on the road at dinner, on the bus, on the plane. It’s a chance to talk about the previous night’s game or the next day’s game – we don’t do that as much via zoom, email or text. On the plus side, when the Kings are away in the Central time zone, I like being home by 8:30 PM, hanging with the family instead of getting on a plane and into a hotel at 2 AM.
Hassan: The biggest change is we are no longer traveling with the team for road games and we’re provided a clean “world feed” from the various home broadcasts. As the director, I have access to either 1 or 2 of my own cameras on-site and my job is to cut between the world feed and my cameras throughout the game and provide the best game coverage possible. Imagine listening to another director and anticipating during live game action where they might go next and at the same time listening to my producer to see if he wants us to stay with the world feed or tell our own story, which could be a highlight package or a replay our analyst Jim Fox wants to highlight. This process is definitely a challenge, but I enjoy it and it definitely gets your adrenaline going. We also have a router feed that provides access to all the home shows cameras and replay (EVS) sources. We have an AD (assistant director) on headset in each road city that helps coordinate sending us highlights or feed specific cameras I request during the game like a penalty box POV to see a player in the penalty box. Prior to every road game, I get a list of all the available cameras (usually between 15-20) from every home show director to know what cameras I have access to. Every team has a different camera compliment and numbering system. Coverage of our home games hasn’t changed much aside from not having fans in the building. I think we all miss seeing and hearing the fans reacting to a goal, a hit, or a big save. We definitely miss the excitement and energy Kings’ fans add to our broadcast so it definitely impacts how I can direct the game. After goals, the goal of any director is to try and capture the excitement of the crowd but that’s not an option, so I focus more on player and coach reactions. I definitely miss our off-day crew dinners on road trips with our traveling media group and team personnel. Charlie Gittos in St Louis, Martini Modern Italian in Columbus, or Joey’s in Calgary are some of the favs.
Goodling: Getting lineup notes, injury info, COVID-protocol situations, etc all from Kings PR in real time (who often are getting it last minute as well) is the big thing. But communication has been excellent with Jon Gomez this season and he tips us off on any and everything (that he can) that would affect our broadcast. [An example, last trip in Colorado], we got word seconds after we did the projected lines in pregame that Alex Iafallo was out with an illness. We got the text live on air and Patrick was able to deliver the news in real time. Planning a walk-in interview has changed as well (before we could just bank it with an ENG camera because the crew would normally be at lunch when players arrive). Now, Carrlyn can record it from home and it helps out the crew big time.
Is there anything you’ve had to do during this season to adapt that might become more of a regular thing in a normal season?
Dorfman: I’m not sure if production teams will ever travel again. We’ve proved we can do the broadcast from a remote location and working together with a host feed has some benefits, especially when it comes to getting immediate looks of super-mo replays. Zoom interviews have been a blessing – The reverse retro interviews with Jim Fox hosting Garry Galley and Sean Walker, or Gabe Vilardi and Ray Ferraro, or Cal Petersen and Kelly Hrudey, or Mattias Norstrom and Tobias Bjornfot, probably never would have happened without Zoom
Hassan: I think moving forward that the number of remote productions will grow and even with an easing of restrictions the effects of COVID on the sports production industry are here to stay. Our “COVID World Feed” model definitely has its challenges, but ultimately if we can produce a quality show and continue to do so remotely it could become our new norm. Less travel means more family time and quality time with my 8yr old son Hudson who has become a big street hockey fan during COVID.
Goodling: I honestly don’t know if we’ll travel ever again. The remote “at-home” productions were already starting to become a thing and COVID just accelerated it. The fact we can take feeds at STAPLES Center and the team can be in St. Paul, Minnesota and nobody at home watching knows the difference…that’s a game-changer. I think our announcers will travel again, however. It’s hard to call a game off a monitor. Plus, those personal relationships are so important with the team and staff. I don’t mind sleeping in my own bed every night now, but I will certainly miss traveling North America with my Kings work family. Between working Kings & Angels, I went from traveling 150 days a year to zero. That’s certainly been the biggest adjustment for me personally.