|As the NHL heads to the next phase of the post-season, its “Return to Play” at the top of the month scored with fans and delivered some new records for the sport, offering fans a new presentation from the league and its broadcast partners, leveraging video, audio and lighting to vary the way each game looks. Instead of cardboard cut-outs filling seats, viewers saw LED screens, monitors and stages around the ice for a unique, television-friendly feel. The league tapped the talents of Undefined Creative, a creative partner of the NHL for over 10 years, to produce the extensive array of motion graphics required for its “Return to Play.” With over 1,000 individual deliverables, this package consists of 20 unique animations in three screen sizes for each of the 24 teams, as well as sets of generic NHL, Eastern/Western Conference and Stanley Cup elements.
Cynopsis Sports asked Maria Rapetskaya, founder and creative director of Undefined Creative about the task.
Rapetskaya on the challenge: In my opinion, the biggest challenge was the timeline, especially given the volume of work. We knew this was a possibility, but serious discussion really began just before July 4th weekend. At that point, the game dates were still being finalized. Our client team had no idea if the screens between the two cities would be the same sizes – thankfully they were able to standardize, otherwise the volume of deliverables would be near doubled. We started production on July 6, and July 20th was the original deadline, giving us two weeks to produce roughly 15 animated deliverables per team x 24 teams, plus NHL and Eastern/Western Conference elements and generic animations. Just managing renders, quality control and delivery in such volume over a short period of time is significant for a studio of our scale. For added stress, we delivered most of the package before it could be tested on-site. And of course we knew that the list of requests was going to evolve and grow as we got closer to the games, since there was no way to predict every need.
On delivery: I’ve never been afraid to say “no” when that is in fact the right (and sane) answer. We were selected for the project because we had been working on another animation package for the NHL which the League thought could serve as a great basis for Return to Play. That meant we got a head start with approved creative. Yet the existing project was not built to churn out content at this pace or volume. In our initial conversations we set realistic expectations and discussed the limitations of existing elements, especially since the creative needed to be reimagined to fit new content requirements and dimensions. As we progress through the games and evolve the project, we continue to remain honest about what we can and cannot promise. I think that’s critical for both maintaining a positive working relationship and delivering good results.
On transparency: Being very upfront with our client set up a great foundation. Transparency and honesty on a crazy job like this one makes all the difference. Once we come onboard, it no longer matters who’s the vendor, who’s the client. It’s about the bigger picture and greater responsibility. At some point, sitting in my home office, I thought: “We are working on this awesome event that will make people happy.” And from one point of view, given our current global situation, that can sound quite trivial. Yet, after months of stress, sickness, lockdowns, this is exactly what brightens people’s lives. It signifies some return to normal, a welcome distraction from this collective “Groundhog’s Day” we’ve been through. Not delivering or under-delivering and letting down a client is never OK, but this one felt especially high-pressure.
On creating the feel: We are working with 24 teams – that’s 24 unique brands, plus the NHL brand. Some have multiple colors and some have one, plus white. So how do we make this cool, flashy, fun, different while also a template that works well with each? Together with our NHL partners we had to decide from the start where to push the envelope a bit more and what types of treatments and animation were off the table. And, as I mentioned earlier, we had no idea of how this would actually translate to the arena. I’ve worked on scoreboards and live events for years, but usually there’s an opportunity for a site visit, or at least we’re working with people who have seen the setup and can speak to what works and doesn’t. Here, all we had to go on was our professional experience and best judgement. I couldn’t even propose the idea of flying to Toronto to review in person so I could send back adjustment notes to my team.
With its Florida-based MLS is Back tournament wrapping up, MLS revealed its plans to resume its regular season in home markets, with the first game set to take place on Aug. 12. The league also announced its playoff format, with 18 teams qualifying for the postseason, leading into the MLS Cup final on Dec. 12. Each team will play 18 additional games, for a 23-game regular season with the “majority” of games held without fans in attendance. “I would like to thank everyone involved with the MLS is Back Tournament — players, coaches, staff and partners — for their role in helping us recapture the momentum we had at the beginning of our 25th season and reconnect with our passionate fans,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said, per ESPN.
The Mid-American Conference became the first FBS conference to pull the plug on fall football, announcing that the league would postpone its entire fall sports season. The MAC is now looking at moving all affected sports, including men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball as well as football, to Spring 2021, if possible.
FOX Sports and Premier Boxing Champions unleashed the remaining televised schedule for 2020, anchored by five FOX fight dates, one Pay-Per-View as well as 11 FS1 telecasts. Highlighting the slate will be Errol Spence Jr. placing his unified championship belts on the line when he faces two-division champion Danny Garcia on Pay-Per-View on Nov. 21. FOX’s portion will take place on Aug. 22, Aug. 29, Sept. 6, Nov. 7, and Dec. 26.
ABC carries the NBA’s Western Conference play-in game on Aug. 15 at 2:30p where the conference’s eighth and ninth seeded teams will battle it out for a chance to play in the 2020 Western Conference Playoffs. If the eighth seed team wins Saturday’s matchup, that team will advance to the playoffs. If the ninth seed wins, a second game will be played on ESPN on Aug. 16 at 4:30p.
On the ratings front, ESPN’s live coverage of the third round of the PGA Championship on Saturday, averaged 2,028,000 viewers, for a 71% markup over third round coverage in 2019. The telecast ranked as the most-viewed PGA Championship third round on cable since 2005 and ranks as cable’s fourth most-viewed on record. ESPN’s entire PGA Championship coverage through three rounds is averaging 1,603,000 viewers and 382,000 within the Persons 18-49 category, up 30% and 49%, respectively, over last year, making it the most-viewed three rounds since 2010 and the second most-viewed in 10 years.
Speaking of golf, Ian Woosnam joins David Feherty on Feherty presented by Farmers Insurance tonight at 9p on GOLF Channel. Monday’s world premiere episode will continue the resumption of the series’ 10th season, as the first of four new episodes airing Monday nights on GOLF Channel over the next four weeks. Each interview was filmed prior to production for the show being suspended due to COVID-19.
Baseball’s return propelled YES Network to gains, with viewership of YES’ Yankees games this season rising 20% to hit 326,000 average viewers with the new season. Viewership of YES’ Yankees games is up 126% among millennials (Persons 18-34), according to Nielsen, with viewership of YES’ Yankees games also up 63% in the Persons 25-54 demo.
The Seattle Kraken hired Everett Fitzhugh to serve as the club’s first broadcaster, making him the first Black team broadcaster to hired by an NHL franchise, per ESPN. He has spent the past five seasons as the director of media relations and broadcasting for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL and was play-by-play broadcaster for the club.
A lineup of 26 different broadcasters signed on to take part in the new YouTube series My Top 5, with talent set to include Kenny Albert, Tim Brando, Ian Eagle, Andrea Kremer, Steve Levy, Curt Menefee, Chris Myers and more. Created by Eric Mirlis, author of the book “I Was There!”, the series opens Tuesday with 17 people naming their “My Top 5 Favorite Athletes Growing Up”.