By Sunni Upal for MailOnline 17:30 11 Nov 2015, updated 10:44 12 Nov 2015
Sportsmail went behind the scenes at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol
The 17-building campus is home for 4,200 of the company's employees
ESPN operates in 61 territories around the world in five languages
In the United Kingdom, ESPN operate in partnership with BT Sport
BT Sport also show up to seven live games from the NBA each week
Bristol, Connecticut. A small town in America's north east halfway between New York City and Boston. A town that has a population of little over 60,000 people, no train station and is a 45-minute drive from the nearest airport in Hartford.ADVERTISEMENT/amp-ad">>
It's not exactly the kind of glamorous location or well-connected hub in which you would expect to find the headquarters of a brand that markets itself as 'the worldwide leader in sports'.
But ESPN, a Walt Disney owned sports media giant, bases itself in this town a two-hour drive from New York City and has done ever since 1979 when a gentleman by the name of Bill Rasmussen began his venture.
Rasmussen was sacked by the nearby Hartford Whalers, a team in the World Hockey Association, before coming up with the idea of ESPN and building their headquarters in Bristol with the help of his son Scott.
Nowadays, ESPN employs 8,000 people worldwide with offices on all corners of the globe from Sydney to Sao Paulo, Mumbai to Mexico City.
Russell Wolff, an executive vice-president and managing director at ESPN, told Sportsmail: 'It is an amazing story of a father and son who were interested in the University of Connecticut and other local sports and they built it in their back yard effectively.
'From the day ESPN was started in 1979 we have stayed exactly in that place. It has become part of the community in Bristol. We have embraced what was once a building into a full on sports campus.'
One reason why ESPN have remained in their original home is due to the satellite signal they receive. Their 26 dishes, in all different shapes and sizes, sit in a satellite farm that has a clear view into the horizon of almost every satellite in the sky.
It was a location that was almost stumbled upon by accident (that's the unofficial line anyway) but one that ESPN has turned into one of the most advanced media facilities anywhere in the world.
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In 2015, the impressive 17-building plaza in a peaceful New England community spans 1.2 million square foot and is home to 4,200 of the company's employees.
In the United States, ESPN is the undisputed leader in sports broadcasting. Whether it be their live productions, their highly-acclaimed studio shows such as SportsCenter, Pardon The Interruption and Around The Horn, their extensive radio content or their digital media outlets, there is no stone left unturned.
Around the world, ESPN operates in 61 territories in five languages. In the UK, ESPN now operate in partnership with BT Sport.ADVERTISEMENT/amp-ad">>
'Our mission statement is to serve sports fans anytime, anywhere,' Wolff added.
'We spend every day seeking out sports fans and seeking to serve them and the 'anytime, anywhere' is a combination of geographic expansion, platform expansion and new products and offerings. Following our mission everyday guides us really well in terms of what we're doing.
'We continue to want to put ESPN in the palm of every sports fan in the world and we had the relaunch on April 1 of ESPN.co.uk. We are continuing to look for sports fans we don't currently serve.'
UK fans can enjoy a wide range of sports as part of ESPN's package from college basketball to Major League Baseball and even the X Games. Football viewers will remember a few years ago when ESPN held live Premier League rights in their first venture into broadcasting in the UK. Those rights have since been snapped up by BT Sport, but that didn't bring an end for ESPN on these shores.
Charly Classen, who overseas ESPN's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: 'The relationship we have with BT Sport in the UK is a real innovation for us.
'When BT won the Premier League rights a couple of years ago we wondered what the best way forward was for us. We looked at a range of options and decided to enter a relationship with BT Sport. We have just extended that relationship for an additional seven years and that's because ultimately both parties see the value in working with each other.
'We care about sport and our brand and our research tells us that two thirds of sports fans in the UK think that the ESPN brand is on the way up.'
From BT Sport's perspective, they are delighted to have ESPN on board, as their head of sport Simon Green told Sportsmail.
'The original partnership came around in early 2013 when we were preparing for the launch of BT Sport, which was due to start in August,' Green explained.
'At that time, ESPN were holders of Premier League rights and they were coming to the end of their term. They had a team of people and they also had a number of rights deals, many of which are US content.ADVERTISEMENT/amp-ad">>
'They were prepared to allow us to purchase their UK television business and it seemed like an obvious partnership. We had a lot of heritage in other areas but not any sports broadcasting heritage and having that association with ESPN helped us. It gave us some identity for our US sports and allowed us to build our credibility very quickly.
ESPN ON BT SPORT
- BT Sport show up to seven live NBA games per week, including every game of the conference finals and NBA Finals
- BT Sport’s NBA coverage includes every ESPN-produced game
- BT Sport’s partnership with ESPN will also see NBA Tonighttelevised in the UK
- BT Sport receive over 5,000 hours of content a year from ESPN including coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series, NCAA College Football and Basketball
- ESPN content on BT Sport also includes studio shows, such as ESPN FC, College GameDay, Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption, plus the Emmy Award-winning ESPN Films 30 For 30 series.
'In the deal, because we realised the value of the ESPN brand, we had an agreement that we would license the brand ESPN and that we were able to use that valuable asset as a channel.'
That brand is something UK viewers see in many ways, one of which is on ESPN's innovative, slick, in-depth live coverage of the NBA.
Under a separate agreement to their deal with ESPN, BT Sport also show up to seven live NBA games per week. That live coverage is then complimented by some of ESPN's finest studio shows such as NBA Tonight.
The 2015-16 NBA campaign marks the 14th straight year of the relationship between ESPN and the NBA. The company currently broadcast 90 regular-season games a season in the United States as well as the play-offs.
Their first live Friday night match of the season was a cracker. The Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that reached the NBA Finals last season, hosted the Miami Heat in a sports-mad city in Ohio. A lot was expected of this Cavaliers side, while LeBron James also came up against his former team where he won back-to-back NBA titles.
In the hours leading up to tip-off, Cavs fans were partying in the streets to mark their first home game of the season. The superstar that is LeBron was going though some intense warm-ups, which involved a lot of back stretches after the injury problems that plagued him in pre-season, and rapping along to hip-hop music that was being blasted out of his speaker in the Cleveland dressing room. It was quite an experience standing that close to one of the greatest players the game has ever seen as he psyched himself up for the game and the start of another long season.
Tucked away somewhere in a corner of the Quicken Loans Arena were ESPN's four trucks preparing to broadcast the game to the world. This particular contest was also shown live on BT Sport in the UK./amp-twitter">>
While James was busy going through his pre-match routine and fans were bracing themselves for a special evening, ESPN's on-site crew in Cleveland of 60 staff were also preparing for another big night.
Senior coordinating producer Tim Corrigan has worked on ESPN's NBA coverage since the relationship began 14 years ago and he is the man responsible for pulling everything together into a live production.
But to produce a broadcast to the standard that ESPN expects to deliver their sports fans takes more than just a few hours at an arena, as Corrigan explains.
'Our early crew call at the building is at eight o'clock. Our staff and technicians will start the day 11 hours before the broadcast comes on. That operation is happening at the arena, meanwhile this morning we also went out to the Cavaliers practice facility to interview Kevin Love.
'Everybody then goes back to the hotel and gathers themselves, gets organised and generally about three hours before the broadcast the talent (commentators Mike Breen and Hubie Brown and sideline reporter Doris Burke) will come to the arena.
'At the end of the broadcast there's always a post-game hit of some sorts for SportsCenter and then we wrap it up. It's probably 10 o'clock about then, so it's a full day.'
During the game, Corrigan sits in the middle seat in the production truck. He has over 100 monitors in front of him and has to intricately select the best shots, action replays, stats and graphics while also communicating with the commentary team and sideline reporter Burke.
NBA ON ESPN
- 2015-16 marks the 14th consecutive season of the relationship between ESPN and NBA
- Immediately following the 2015-16 season, ESPN and NBA will commence its new multi-platform rights agreement, which was announced on October 6, 2014.
- Currently 90 games are broadcast annually. This which will increase to 100 starting next season under new rights agreement.
While the game is being played at breakneck speed in an arena where you can barely hear yourself think, Corrigan and his team remain calm to deliver viewers a stunning experience and make them feel as if they are in the moment.
There are two things that Corrigan looks for in ESPN's coverage of the NBA - innovation and access.
'ESPN has always been about innovation on every sport we have done,' he explained. 'That's part of what we do. Innovation has always been a priority in our company and we work a lot with the NBA on that kind of stuff.
'We are constantly testing technology and trying to evolve and I think it's a great thing that we have an eye on what we can do to make the experience better. The focus isn't on gimmicks, it's on things that are going to be long lasting and truly valuable.'
One innovation that is intented to provide viewers with even more access than ever before is players wearing mirophones during the game.
'It's an interesting thing,' Corrigan said. 'Our fans can't get enough of access, they love access. They love when we're in the huddle doing shots and getting interviews with coaches during the game.
'Players wearing microphones have been a partnership with the league. In the last couple of years, LeBron has worn a mic during NBA Finals games. I don't think it's the players' favourite thing, but I also think they recognise it's a huge opportunity for a fan to get access. We all want to put on the best show.
'We're always looking for anything that is bringing us more access to the game and court. One of the things we have done in the last few years is that we started mounting these cameras to the backboards that shoot through the glass. As a player is attacking the basket, they are literally coming right at you. It's incredible.'
Sideline reporter Burke is one of the most respected journalists in the basketball world and it is her job to interview coaches at the end of a quarter. Burke is allowed to ask two questions and the results can be varied.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for not giving anything away during his in-game interviews. But there was one particular exchange that Burke remembers vividly. It came during the 2013 Western Conference finals when the Spurs were playing the Memphis Grizzlies.
The game was evenly poised. San Antonio were looking to surge into a 3-0 lead in the series while Memphis were hoping to claw their way back in. Popovich walked over to Burke, and this is how the interview went:
Burke: 'Gregg Popovich, what happened offensively in that period?'
Burke: 'What about on the defensive end, they had their most productive quarter, what did you see there?'
'I almost cried,' Burke admitted as she reflected on that interview.
'As a sideline reporter, you get a limited window in which to try and enhance what we're trying to bring to the viewer. I was walking back to my seat, blinking back tears and was just devastated.
'Gregg Popovich is terrifying. It takes me about five minutes when I get back to my seat to breathe.
'Some coaches are far more willing to divulge information than others. Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat head coach) will tell me absolutely nothing, but he will do it in the most polite way possible.
'What I find fascinating, and ESPN does a great job of this, is research. They are constantly asking their fans "what do you like about what we do?" We have debated over and over whether it provides enough value for us to do this and, from a fan's perspective, it's a yes.'
The Cavaliers beat the Heat 102-92 and the majority of the fans in the Quicken Loans Arena went home happy. ESPN's crew began to derig, ready to move onto their next venue and do it all over again. Back at HQ in Bristol, though, the night was still young.
SportsCenter, the iconic news programme that has been broadcasting since 1979, would analyse the game long into the night.
So, too, would Cassidy Hubbarth, the presenter of ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast and NBA Tonight shows.
Coast to Coast, which aired a couple days before that game for three hours, cuts from game to game as the action unfolds with Hubbarth talking viewers through all the action.
In the early hours of the morning, she then presents the 30-minute NBA Tonight highlight show, which also airs in the UK, wrapping up all of the best action from the league that evening while discussing the main talking points with her studio guests.
'I've done everything from 30-minute shows to five-hour shows and the 30-minute shows can be the most challenging because there's so much to fit in,' Hubbarth said. 'On a 14-game night, we might have to drop a highlight and just put a stat in instead.'
The day ends for those in Bristol around 2am. Come the following morning, the SportsCenter crew will be back to reflect on the night's events in the NBA, as well as all the other big sports news and stories.
There is no rest for a company like ESPN with their eight domestic channels, comprehensive digital products, and their operations abroad.ADVERTISEMENT/amp-ad">>
In the words of Classen: 'ESPN is a company that never rests on it’s laurels. The industry changes so quickly and we can never afford to do that. We constantly evolve. It’s an ongoing revolution and we will probably change again in the next year.'
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-3314003/amp/Inside-ESPN-scenes-American-sports-media-giant-aiming-serve-fan-world.html3770