The most interesting part of live television broadcasting in memory was recently captured by cameras and microphones last fall in a hallway in Switzerland. It was the decisive moment of the Laver Cup, a relatively young invention of the tennis calendar which almost shamelessly tried to emulate the team-oriented and national bent intensity of the Ryder Cup golf.

Despite not having a grand slam stamp, Laver Cup has carved a niche among tennis players, mainly because it leans fully into its personality as a neat television show made for television that gives fans quite unusual access to conversations on the field.

In fact, when Alexander Zverev prepared to play Milos Ranoic in a tiebreak that would decide which team got the trophy, the stars were undoubtedly Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal when they chased him down the aisle, offering a side of personality without a script. when the camera follows.

Federer: “I want the first pump or” release “every point (expletive) you win. And every point you lose? You (expletive) think of him like a man.”

Nadal: “No problem. There are no negative faces.”

Federer: “The problem is, when you (lose one point), it’s always like‘ Ahh, I know that. Ahh, (expletive, expletive). “

As television producers, pro athletes, and league executives reflect on how their products might look different when sports return this summer – possibly without fans – let’s hope for something like Laver Cup or “The Match II” last weekend featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will provide a road map.

Put the camera everywhere. Let the microphone take junk talk and strategy sessions that are usually hidden from viewers. Learn to live with an unpleasant language. Offer something to fans that they have never seen before.

This is a concept that Stephanie Druley, executive vice president of ESPN for the production of shows and studios, would love to import into broadcasts that will definitely look and feel different without fans in the stands.

“As much as we can get. I find it interesting,” he said. “It’s very interesting for viewers to go inside that way.”

ESPN and other networks, however, face enormous obstacles in reorganizing their broadcasts to give fans more access: Players and coaches.

Although the NFL and NBA allow certain levels for microphones during matches, the league must approve the sound bytes that come out to the broadcast. That is why you have never heard Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers say something more interesting than “returning to defense” when they are in a crowd of timeouts.

And to some degree, that is entirely justified. Real training and authentic player-to-player interaction can be both standard and even offensive. Comedian George Carlin used to do a little on seven dirty words that you can’t say on television, which is only about half of the amount you hear if you are on the floor for a normal sporting event.

The coach will also be worried about the feelings of hurt that come back to bite them. If Nick Nurse, for example, begs his team to choose an opposing player during the playoff series and the clip goes viral, does that create unnecessary complications for the Toronto Raptors just down the road when the player is a free agent?

However, when the sport seeks to return under these very unusual circumstances, the league must embrace authenticity as a way to re-engage their existing fans and possibly reach out to new ones.

Whether it is a short-lived XFL experiment where much of the communication on the ground is part of the broadcast on a slight delay for Michael Jordan’s behind-the-scenes footage in the documentary series “The Last Dance”, presenting the game in a more unfiltered way is a marketing opportunity that is largely not be used.

But in the end, the league has the final opinion on how they are presented to TV viewers.

“You can’t wear someone’s microphone if they won’t approve it,” Druley said. “We have a conversation to think about how we work together but we learn a lot with XFL, we really do it in terms of audio and we think there are things that can be brought. There are delays, but for viewers at home, delays are not recognizable and I think we should think of doing the same thing if we are given the type of audio we want to have. “

When the MLB and NBA matches took place this summer without fans, ESPN knew it had to be creative and take risks in how to present the product. You might see different types of camera angles. You might hear the crowd breaking out, as the German Bundesliga experimented with last weekend. Can you really involve real fans? This has the potential to be a big challenge to make it attractive to viewers.

“We have to go there first but there are a lot of things that we think about,” Druley said. “Some of them will add value and fans will appreciate that, and other things that we will try and people might want to get their regular game angle back to what they have been for 20 years.”

But the Laver Cup example is one that should resonate for the league, in the sense that showing real dialogue between players improves the product rather than diverting it. And no one likes Federer more because he uses a series of curse words on television during a tense competition. That just makes it look more real.

Even NBA players like Steph Curry and Andre Igoudala commented on social media during “The Match” about how nice it was to hear Mickelson train Brady through various shots and thorns back and forth between the two teams.

Is it possible for them to allow the same level of access to be activated under the striking pressure of the playoff pressure? That will definitely make for some interesting TV.

“Competition changes everything,” Druley said. “They are all very competitive and you watch Match Match” on Sunday and you will never get that kind of honesty. They are loose. There’s nothing on the phone … that’s why you make people hesitate to take the first step using the microphone or just access it in general, leaving the camera in some places where they usually can’t go. “

It may be difficult to convince the league that it is in their best interest to allow such access, but all you can do is ask.


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