TV hockey is returning without fans sitting on seats and teams competing against each other on bright, cheeky ice rinks as in an entertainment show on shiny floors.
The National Hockey League is restarting its 2020 season in the pandemic era. Grammy winner Michael Buble sings the national anthem for the New York Rangers’ opening game against Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
But beyond that, NBC, NBCSN and viewers of the NHL network in the US, as well as Sportsnet and CBC audiences in Canada, will see games never seen before as the Pro Hockey League is one of the COVID-19 Wants to save the public health crisis afflicted season.
This is a big challenge because the rumble and roar of the fans who gather behind their teams every year during the Stanley Cup playoffs account for a large part of the energy and hype that crosses the screens to keep in touch with the television audience to kick. The NHL will also not obscure empty seats in Scott’s Scotiabank and Edmonton’s Rogers Place arenas with virtual fan walls or cardboard cutouts.
“With all due respect to my Korean friends, we would never put stuffed animals on the seats,” says Mayer about Korean baseball, which fills empty stands with soft toys. The NHL, which has ended a four-month pandemic break, has instead read the Hollywood playbook and developed giant TV sets to bring fans in over 160 countries closer to the action.
With games played behind closed doors, EA Sports will pump in the noise of the crowd, and the lower levels of both arenas will be surrounded by mega-graphics panels, six LED screens that rise 30 feet into the air, and stages. “We want to give them a show,” Mayer said of team fans who are watching from home, surrounded by friends and family, or connected to other fans through social media, zoom, and other platforms.
On these giant arena video screens, viewers can see enlarged videos, replay, recorded portions of their NHL heroes, team logos and Undefined Creative graphics from super fans of the respective teams cheering at home. “We brought in a lighting director for a Hollywood awards ceremony. We brought in the entertainment and Broadway sets. We saw this as an event for television,” emphasizes Mayer.
In addition to additional cameras for new perspectives on the game action, the bubble shows Team Cheers, Songs and Torhorns will be included as audio by every NHL team. And rink-level microphones enhance the game’s natural sounds – stopping metal ice skates on the ice, hitting shots, and player collisions on the boards.
However, the NHL TV shows will have a slight delay to bring out the colorful language of the players on the ice or on the team benches, which is an integral part of the traditional game. “We know that children and families are watching, that’s important for the league,” says Mayer.
Returning this weekend to start the NHL playoffs in major cities is vital for the NHL, as like other pro leagues, it would lose millions if it had to make do with the off-season game without TV revenue .
Mayer, as a sports fan, has seen European football and now Major League Baseball and the NBA are restarting their 2020 season in the midst of the pandemic, insisting that the NHL has not deliberately chosen a different path with its lively television programs that resemble brilliant talent shows.
“It’s amazing that the sport is back and we haven’t tried to be different at all. We just felt that this was the right approach for us,” he says. Complicating preparations for restarting the NHL in 2020 was all that had to be done on the fly.
In early May, the NHL knew that a season relaunch was planned, but the league did not know in which hub cities. The NHL viewed ten cities in North America as possible tournament venues and efforts across North America to combat the spread of the corona virus.
“When you saw what was happening in areas of the United States and Canada, it was a pretty easy decision. We went where COVID was not a big problem,” said Mayer when he selected Toronto and Edmonton as hub cities. Then the Pro League opted for a strict ban on all NHL team players, coaches, and employees, demanding that everyone never come out of hotels and ice rinks hidden behind cement blocks and black curtains to interact with the outside world.
“There is no messing around. Our protocols are so strict and strict. I wear a mask. Everyone wears a mask and social distance. Everywhere,” explains Mayer. And to create the TV events, the NHL decided against telephone calls and construction drawings lasting weeks with their set builders under the direction of Hotopp Productions and quickly switched to 3D modeling and construction.
After the relaunch of this weekend, Mayer and his team are already rethinking how they will broadcast the most authentic TV tradition in the NHL – the increase in the Stanley Cup by the playoff winning team – without shouting and applauding the fans in the team colors in the arena .
“We know that we have to give something special to this moment that is due and make it unique for this year, for what we all go through, and make it unforgettable, because in 20 years everyone will be talking about this period of time. This playoff is so different, “he emphasizes.