Sports, Entertainment Execs Discuss Merging World at Sports Entertainment Summit

SVG’s 2011 Sports Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles today kicked off with an overview from experts of where sports meets entertainment and, more specifically, the increasing importance of entertainment elements — pre- and post-game concerts, expanded halftime and player-introduction segments — to sports events.

The NBA All Star Game was a focus of the event. Next month, it will be held at the nearby Staples Center, and entertainment elements play a key role in the festivities.

“We use a completely separate truck to produce the entertainment segments,” said Kevin Dobstaff, VP of live programming and entertainment for NBA Entertainment. “But there are a lot of shared resources with Turner Sports, like camera positions. Integrating the trucks in the compound with the sports side is a challenge.”

Another challenge is the growth of those entertainment segments in terms of scale and length.

“Over the past five years, the player introductions [at the All Star Game] have become just as big as the halftime show,” Dobstaff added. “It’s a 20-minute sequence with an anthem, a stage, and things flying in and out of the stage and coming out of the tunnel.”

For fire marshals, security, and venue personnel, it can be a challenging time.

Salli Frattini, executive producer/founder of Sunset Lane Entertainment, said that potential conflicts with police or fire marshals make planning and communications essential. During an MTV Video Music Awards broadcast from Radio City Music Hall, the opening number offered Eminem and 125 “Slim Shady” lookalikes taking over, and stopping the traffic on, Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue. Often, though, municipality officials can get in the way of such plans, calling for production cues to be made early or late.

“You need a backup plan and have to be ready to make a call on the fly,” Frattini noted.

NEP Screenworks President Tom McCracken, pointed out that, although the entertainment and sports units are similar, there are differences. “People working in entertainment prefer a more intimate atmosphere,” he said. “Also, an entertainment truck generally records a show, and it isn’t live, so there is a need for a greater amount of tape machines. And audio ends up being a larger part of the program than it is for sports.”

Along with entertainment-specific production trucks is the need for personnel at key production positions who understand the entertainment side but also have a synergy with the sports-production team.

“It is a good idea to have a music mixer, producer, and others who have specialties in entertainment,” added Frattini.

These folks also should understand how the Internet is changing the way events are produced and distributed. Audio, for example, is now repurposed in a number of ways to reach multiple platforms and devices.

“Audio is a constant challenge,” said Dobstaff. “The big entertainment elements for sports require the right mix to be sent to the arena, TV, and then the different ways audio is going out for streaming. You need to make sure the audio is correct.”

Tom Patino, production manager for The Tonight Show, reported a different challenge: having his production team on-site at major events like the Olympics, Grammys, Oscars, or the Super Bowl without feeling like interlopers.

“We really depend on the organization to help us out, like the NFL, NBA, or host broadcaster,” he said. “At the Olympics, for example, we will ask for some wild and crazy things, and we get their support. And what we get on-air they find amusing.”

Felisa Israel, executive producer for the E League, a celebrity basketball league with more than 200 members, said that one of the interesting developments in the mix of sports and entertainment is the growing athleticism of singers, comedians, and actors. “With celebrities being athletes, we can shove them into a halftime performance and have them sing. There is a lot of crossover.”

Of course, one difficulty with entertainment events that are not confined to a field of play is that some ideas can sound great early on but quickly run into issues beyond the control of all involved.

Lee Zeidman, SVP/GM for the Staples Center/Nokia Theater and LA LIVE, said that events like ESPN’s X Games can create interesting ideas, such as attempting to jump over the Staples Center or skydiving from a skyscraper into the LA LIVE plaza. “For the most part, we are progressive in our thinking and never say no to an idea. We will vet it, look at the costs, and see what we can do.”

Of course, even a go-ahead can run into problems. The Tonight Show once planned to have a skydiver fall out of the sky and land near host Jay Leno’s car in the parking lot.

“But the wind shifted toward some power lines, and we decided not to do it,” Patino recalled. “That turned out to be a good call.”