G League to serve as petri dish for game broadcasts

G League to serve as petri dish for game broadcasts

By John Ourand & John Lombardo


What will NBA broadcasts look like years from now? Watch the G League this season and you may find out.

The league and ESPN, which will carry at least 20 G League games this season, will use these games as a laboratory to test TV production elements that it could bring to its NBA telecasts. Expect to see more comprehensive graphics, unique camera angles, incorporation of social media posts, and increased fan involvement during broadcasts with current or additional partners.

“It is geared toward new ways to produce and consume our game,” said G League President Malcolm Turner. “Are there new and more engaging opportunities to distribute our game to our fans and perhaps give our fans even more of an opportunity to participate in our productions?”

Despite the technological innovation that has hit the sports media market, the basketball broadcast on TV has not changed much in six years.

G League games will serve as a tech lab for ESPN this season.
ESPN’s top NBA game producer, Tim Corrigan, said the last truly big innovation hit televised basketball in 2011 when ESPN put super-slow-motion cameras behind each basket during games. Originally set up as “dunk cams,” the cameras have evolved to show other aspects of the game, like, for example, the speed and physicality of LeBron James’ drives to the basket.

“We are all searching for the yellow line of the NBA,” Corrigan said, referencing the 1994 innovation that changed the way people watch football on TV.

ESPN hopes that some of the technological innovations it will test in the G League will find their way onto NBA telecasts.

Corrigan praised the way TNT used social media in its opening night telecast when the Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward broke his ankle. The telecast showed Twitter messages wishing Hayward well from other athletes, including NFL star J.J. Watt.

“Social is now certainly part of what you’re going to consider when you look at storytelling,” Corrigan said. “That’s an outlet we didn’t have before.”

For this G League season, ESPN will experiment more with its graphics packages, which will include incorporating more social media activity into the telecasts, potentially collapsing part of the screen to show NBA players’ tweets about the game being played.

This type of move follows Adam Silver’s desire of making his televised and streamed games look more like video games that are available on sites like Twitch.

ESPN also will be looking to collapse part of the screen to include real-time game statistics such as rebounds, points and assists.

“We’re looking for a consistent, current flow of information that you can get that no broadcaster is doing right now,” he said. “In order to do it, we have to test it out before we do it and make sure it’s something we feel comfortable doing. I don’t want to overtake the screen right now. But I do want to see what we can do with enhanced information.”

The goal is to find elements that can be exported to the NBA game broadcasts.

“We’re trying this because we think this could be on the NBA,” Corrigan said. “It might be an end game for why it might have value beyond just trying it on a G League game.”

ESPN treats its NBA Summer League games the same way. This past summer, it used a camera that moved up and down the court on a rail in front of the announcer’s table.

“There were certain things about it we liked, and there were certain things about it we felt like we needed to go back and work on,” Corrigan said, referencing the camera’s picture quality needing to get better before it could be used on NBA games. “Had we not had Summer League to do that, then we can’t do things like that.”

Corrigan also referenced ESPN’s plan to light up the three-point line a couple of years ago to distinguish three-point shots. Ultimately, ESPN decided that the effect was too distracting.

“Our fans found it challenging to watch,” he said. “You don’t want to junk up the screen with too much stuff. Even though it was only on three-point field goals, we felt like if it was not making it better, we shouldn’t do it.”

Corrigan said that games still will look like basketball games, with a high camera at center court following the ball when it’s in play. He has resisted showing alternate camera angles while the ball is in play.

“If you’re always trying to make it sexier by cutting to low angles to get action moments, you’re going to miss far more than you’re going to gain,” he said. “When your job is to document something, you need to document it. Our job as producers is to pick those moments when the ball’s not in play and properly accentuate and tell the story.”

The G League is in its second year of streaming games on Facebook Live and the league is still finalizing the number of games to be broadcast on NBA TV.

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