A Day in the Life: Producing Live Sports
But just like Santa Claus has to work on Christmas, a whole crew of people are spending their weekend hard at work delivering the entertainment to you.
Trust me, they aren't complaining.
Working in live sports production is one of the most thrilling jobs you could ever desire, especially if you've ever wanted to be close to the action.
To really understand the level of detail that goes into every production we enlisted 25-year veteran sports producer Dennis Kirkpatrick to walk us through a day in his shoes. Kirkpatrick has worked for all the major networks; ESPN, Fox Sports, CNN - you name it, and has produced everything from Track & Field to college hoops.
Here's a day in the life, producing live sports from the mind of Dennis Kirkpatrick:
Preparation for Game Day
The preparation you do before game day is really the most important part of the week. Unexpected things are going to happen during a live sports production, but if you are prepared for all the things you can control, it allows you to react freely to the things you can't.
In a nutshell your preparation includes:
- Knowing the teams forwards and backwards
- Planning the show
- Taking care of all the little details
- Make sure of your surroundings - you don't want to be surprised by anything on game day
- Coordinate with your talent - communication is vital
Tip: There is no such thing as a normal day in the life of a television producer, every day is different even if you prepare the same each time. Without fail something unexpected happens from a production standpoint, frankly the very nature of sports is unpredictable, which I guess is why so many people like working in sports
For me, most of the games I have been producing lately begin at 1 PM Pacific. This is a special group. Often, we are the first sports telecast of the day for west coast viewers. Disadvantages – you gotta get up early. Advantages - you are home at night.
4:00 am: Rise and shine. Time to make sure the formats are in order. Everything is scripted out before the game starts and formats are how that happens.
5:00 am: Buying breakfast or coffee and snacks for the crew. This is a very important step, because if the crew is happy everyone will be happy.
Producing live sports is really about aligning a team of people toward a common goal. You can't do it all, every individual on the crew has an important role that is essential to a smooth production. Buying breakfast might seem trivial, but it's a small detail that goes a long way with the team.
6:00 am: You want to be one of the first people at the production truck. What does that give you? Well, credibility for one thing. The workers with you with respect you for it, and you can answer questions early. Here are some of the big ones:
- Camera locations: In college basketball, the minimum number of cameras normally used is four. Two of them are up at center court and two more are located underneath the baskets. Now the bigger the game or bigger the budget, the more cameras, replay equipment, etc. If it's Duke-North Carolina, you could have up to 10 cameras and corresponding equipment. No matter what the game, or how big the production, it's your responsibility to make sure that things are where they are supposed to be.
- Audio set up: This is especially important if you have planned on taking cameras into the locker room. If it is a big network game, you will have a technical manager with you. The tech manager is the person who coordinates technical aspects of production. It is a great career and a fun one that many people don't really know about. If you don’t have a tech manager, then the producer is the one who has to make it happen.
- What is the schedule for the day? Are you meeting with talent and or coaches? Your day is tightly scheduled and early in the day is one of the few chances to check it and make sure everything is covered.
- Verifying game times, et. When are things going to happen, like the opening tip-off.
[bctt tweet="Producing live sports is about aligning a team of people toward a common goal #sportsbiz"]
7:00 am: Working on tape elements and verifying graphics. Tape elements are the tools that a producer uses inside the shows to tell a story visually, such as:
- The show opening
- Feature stories - possibly on a player, a coach or could be an sit-down interview shot earlier
- Bookends (also called intersticials) for features.
- Voice overs (VO) - pieces of video used for analysis
- Soundbites (SOT) - pieces of sound either from interviews or press conferences that are game relevant.
If the game is a big one, then you may have an associate director who verifies tape elements, since your pate will be pretty full.
Tip: As a live sports producer, what you put on the air is the most important thing that you do. Be organized and know what you want.
Action on the Court
9:00 am: Normally the first shoot around, which is very light practice and is important to observe. This is a great time to connect with coaches and note which players you will be focusing on. Often, coaches will give you little nuggets of information that can help you highlight interesting parts of the game.
Other things to look for:
- Are all the expected starters on the floor?
- Are they working on anything that looks unique?
- What is the mood of the squad? Tight? Loose? Confident?
- If you have it in your prep that you want to focus on certain players...how do they look?
It's also crucial to connect with your team of announcers and the director to share notes on what you expect to be important themes of the game. Just think about how this whole thing works - the producer organizes the show, the director determines the visuals and the announcers tell the story - if we aren't all on the same page, the game will look disjointed and sloppy.
10:00 am: Crew goes to lunch while the other team practices. You don’t have time to eat, which is the price of being the boss.
While everyone else gets their fill, you hold a production meeting with the director and talent. For a producer, the talent is the MOST important relationship you have. OK, your spouse, partner or flavor of the month aside, it is that important.
If you have worked with the talent many times, it becomes second nature. If it is a first time, you must decide how you are going to do things, like counting to commercial and promos, replays and the myriad of other items that you will do together.
Trust is paramount for each of you.
11:00 am: Crew is back and pre-production begins: voice over teases, make sure that the effects are correct, check lineups, spellings, special graphics, etc. It's almost go time, so it's time to really focus. You begin to look at the clock and it never feels like you have enough time, no matter how much you have prepared.
Noon: Rehearse the opening and possibly record it if you have all the elements (i.e. various pieces of video and sound). It's always better to record the open and then run it off tape than try to voice it live, too many things can go wrong during a live read with many elements.
Set the clock in the production truck to line up with the clocks in Bristol, Los Angeles or Houston - depending on which network you are working for.
12:30 pm: Check in with the studio.
1:00 pm: Game time. What to do then? Well, that is for another blog. (Stay tuned)
3:00 pm: Off the air and most likely doing a hit for some post game show. Finally, it's a wrap.
Sometimes, you will want to have the post-game meetings in the airport bar….watching another game!
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