SportsPost NY: Concept and Tone Lay Foundation for Perfect Show Open

Every two years, an event hits television with majestic fanfare and transfixes the country. For two weeks, the Olympics combine the highest level of athletic competition with the human element, showcasing victorious triumph and agonizing defeat. From its hallmark drumbeat to iconic flame, the Olympics transcend sports.

And all of this must be conveyed in a show open.

At SVG’s first-annual SportsPost NY, NBC Sports and Olympics Art Director David Barton treated attendees to a sizzle reel featuring Olympic show opens spanning nearly 20 years, culminating with a tease for Sochi 2014.

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NBC Sports and Olympics’ David Barton

Creating a show open that captures the spirit of the Olympics starts with the music.

“That music is so special. There isn’t an Olympics without that fanfare. I’m privileged to be able to work with that,” said Barton. “That music just compels me; you feel empowered by it. And that’s how I treat the Olympics: I just prop it up to its highest potential.”

While not all sports events have the inherent gravitas of the Olympic Games, all possess their own unique tone.

“[The open is] getting you ready and setting the expectations for what you are about to watch and experience over the next half hour or hour or whatever that time might be,” said Gil Haslam, creative director, Troika Design Group. “[It is] how you get the audience tonally aligned with the great story, the energy that can catapult you seamlessly into the actual event.”

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Troika Design Group’s Gil Haslam

It needs a concept of what the open should accomplish. “A strong, effective open is going to start with a foundation,” says Haslam. “Understanding the point of view of the brand, the network, the channel, the property … Everybody’s got to understand what the purpose of the open is.”

Depending on what the show open precedes, it can convey raw energy and excitement or sentimentality and emotion. Regardless, a show open must elicit a sense of anticipation.

“One of the first things that we look at is how this can be like the hype-up piece,” said John LePore, creative director, Perception. “This can be the equivalent of when you’re at the game and the lights cut out and they start to play ‘Final Countdown’ over the PA system. … Sometimes, it’s more of a sentimental build, or it takes a moment to recognize this is something that is really epic and momentous and history-making that we’re about to watch unfold.”

Creative directors must be sure to keep in mind the message their clients wish to convey. “When we rebranded the SNY network in 2009, Citi Field was just about to open for the first time,” explained LePore. “So the whole opening sequence wasn’t just about hyping up Mets fans and talking about [how] they’re going to come storming out of the gates this season; it was also about [how] they’ve got this whole new temple that’s been built for them. We wanted to focus on that and play off of that and position it as sort of rebirth.”

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Perception’s John LePore

To create a great show open, creative directors must establish trust with their clients. According to the panelists, clients often aspire to create something that’s never been done before. Creative directors must gently guide these clients toward maintaining the aesthetic of sports without sacrificing originality or creativity.

“Sports has a huge appetite for structure and physicality. … You want the graphics to be imposing and really out there and in your face,” said Jocelyne Meinert, owner/director, Big Studios. “One of the things that we hear a lot is, We want something really new. But, actually, you want a certain amount of newness, [and] you also want familiar. … [You need to] understand your client’s goals and what the vision is.”

A show open must tell a story in 20-30 seconds, the first chapter of a program lasting anywhere from a half hour to two weeks or more. Often, the challenge is to limit what you include in the open in order to not overwhelm the audience.

“How you tell that story, how you set that first mark of that tone within the constraint of that time is tricky, because a part of you wants to just throw a million things on the screen. But how do you make that digestible?” said Barton. “It’s a tricky thing. You have to allow things to breathe; you have to take your time with a good understanding that it has to happen really quick.”

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Big Studio’s Jocelyne Meinert

The panelists urged the audience to keep in mind that a show open, though lasting only 20-30 seconds, takes far longer to create.

“We would love the time to go, Hey how bout this? We just had a great idea,” said Meinert. “The bottom line is, everything is a challenge, [and] it’s what the client’s reality is. We can do an open in two weeks, but you give us two months, and we can do a lot more.”