In the latest of a series of Top Rank events in Vegas, ESPN continues to excel with bubbled crew
Since the start of the coronavirus-driven shutdown of live sports in March, boxing has been one of the live events that has helped ESPN get back on the air.
In fact, it was a Top Rank Boxing event in June that was the first on-site live production of a sporting event for the ESPN operations team post-COVID.
Now, following a series of successful fight nights over the summer in a COVID-safe bubble environment at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, ESPN is gearing up for a card on Saturday night that ESPN Senior Remote Operations Producer Lynne West calls “the biggest fight we’ve had in the bubble so far” and “one of our bigger fights this year.”
A card highlighted by the World Lightweight Championship between WBA, WBO, and The Ring lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko and IBF lightweight champion, Teófimo López (10 p.m. ET, ESPN) will get the big show treatment from ESPN this weekend.
The complement of production tools is impressive as ESPN has filled the MGM Grand Conference Center Grand Ballroom with more than 20 cameras, including two super slow-mos, two ringside handheld cameras (that have been moved off of their traditional position on the apron to standalone camera platforms to ensure safe social distancing), a roving RF handheld, a cabled roving handheld, an RF Steadicam, a jib, and numerous POVs throughout both the ballroom – and the casino as a whole.
West noted that there’s a heavy presence of RF in the facility as ESPN is choosing to use wireless technology to allow for easier and more comfortable execution of social distancing measures. For example, there’s an expanded studio desk for pre- and post-fight programming to air from and announcers at that desk utilize wireless headsets so they don’t feel tethered to a specific place and can remain safely apart from each other.
Also, on the audio front, ESPN will be placing microphones on each fighter’s trainers throughout the fight card. Safety precautions have required the crew to overload on those tools, bringing in nearly 15 lavalier units. Those devices are placed in a UV locker to sanitize them after each use and are placed in a sealed plastic bag prior to distribution to anyone in a fighter’s camp that might be wearing them during the broadcast.
In regards to the venue, the on-site ESPN crew – which has included key contributions from VP of Production Mike McQuade and Remote Ops producers Meg Messmer and Mike Krivens – has been making the most of a small space in this series of Top Rank events that have been hosted at the MGM Grand. Naturally, with no fans in attendance, the hotel’s 17,000-seat arena is not being utilized as it would be in normal circumstances. Instead, ESPN and Top Rank have jacked up your standard hotel ballroom and turned into a high-energy fight fan’s haven. Ten massive LED screens surrounding the ring to build a prize fight-like atmosphere for the fighters and spice up the space on screen for viewers at home.
“This is such a large undertaking and it has been a huge success,” says West. “Everyone here is proud of what they’re doing and Top Rank has been a phenomenal partner to us. It’s been a positive experience in a very awkward time. So, if you have to do it, this is absolutely the best way to do it. We’re all very proud of it.”
ESPN’s on-site operations team has also remained vigilant in regards to its safety precautions on site. There are three production trucks in the compound at the MGM Grand (NEP Broadcasting’s NCP 10 A, B, and C units) largely to ensure that enough socially distancing can be safely made among the crew. That includes the front bench where director Aladdin Freeman, producer Jim Zirolli, and AD Michael Mascaro will call the shots during the live broadcast.
Back when the Top Rank series was at its peak and ESPN was producing two fight nights a week in June and July, a crew was set up in a bubble environment for more than seven weeks according to Manager, Remote Operations Kim Bloomstone. Since then, events have become more sporadic, but the commitment to following a COVID-safe bubble has been effective.
“We haven’t been loosening up on our protocols and we’re proud of that because truthfully, I think that people feel safe,” says Bloomstone. “The crew feels safe. We talked about this again this week, we were talking about bringing the camera platforms a little bit closer to the ring. We’ve kind of eased back off on that again. We’re going to keep them back where they are right now just to keep people safe and keep them back far enough away from anybody in the ring.”
Bloomstone also praised West’s dedication to her crew, shining a light on the extra mile she’s gone to make the bubble an enjoyable experience for all involved behind the scenes.
“We’ve been lucky to have her on this package this whole time,” Bloomstone says, noting that West puts together activities for the bubbled crews ranging from pizza nights to football watch parties and cornhole tournaments in order to keep morale up. “No one’s asked her to do it, she does that all above and beyond on her own. I can’t say enough about her commitment to this sport and our efforts out there. She’s the glue that holds the crew together. We’re very appreciative and I hope that the crew realizes how much she does for them.”