BOSTON (CBS) — The coronavirus pandemic has created countless challenges for every pro sports league in North America, not the least of which is creating a game presentation that doesn’t feel hollow or downright spooky in an empty arena.
While there’s no exact correct way to accomplish that goal, the NHL announced its plans for game presentation in a way that should make the experience a bit less eerie for viewers at home.
Using video screens, unique lighting setups, and specific audio choices for each team, the league announced that it plans to create different looks for every game that takes place — even those that are played on the same sheet of ice in either Toronto or Edmonton.
“Rather than taking advantage of virtual fans or cardboard cutouts or putting teddy bears in the stands, we’ve decided that we’re going to do something that really caters to the fans at home, the fans that are enjoying the television experience,” NHL senior executive vice president and chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “We want to educate them. We want to entertain them. We want to visually excite them.”
In terms of creating some level of normalcy, the league has compiled in-arena songs and goal horns from each of the 24 teams involved in the restart.
Games will also have 32 cameras for TV broadcasts, a significant uptick from the usual 20 cameras for a game. The league also announced that arenas will be equipped with a JITACAM.
“What it is is a jib camera on a very long arm, and it is positioned over the crowd — we’re not normally able to do that — and it’s on a truss,” Mayer explained. “And essentially what it will do, it will dolly along the ice, and we really feel that this will be a camera that’s going to give you a very unique look. Plus, it’s going to be able to track along with our players and you’re getting an amazing feel for the speed of our game.”
Here’s a peek at what that JITACAM can look like during NHL action.
Mayer said that the league will be using artificial crowd noise and also emphasized the increased presence of in-arena audio during games — though the league will be careful to prevent any naughty words from airing on live TV by airing the games on a five-second delay.
“There will be microphones everywhere, but because there are no fans in the stands, the sounds of our game — the checks, the slap shots, some of the things that are a part of our broadcast but now will be a bigger part of our broadcast — will come out,” Mayer said. “We’ll be on a five-second delay, also. We know our various audiences will be watching, and just in case there’s some colorful language, we want to protect our players and our coaches.”
And to help cover up that problem of empty seats, the NHL will be creating an environment that’s somewhat similar but still different than what the NBA is doing. Here’s a look at what the games should look like when you tune in:
“This is going to be an unusual, to say the least, endeavor,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “It will be challenging at times, but I assure you we, in conjunction with the [NHL] Players’ Association, who we work with every step of the way, are trying to do everything possible to make this an experience that hopefully you’ll never forget, but in a good way.”