BRISTOL – About a year into the global pandemic, ESPN continues to operate with an on-campus workforce that has been dramatically reduced in favor of creative ways to cover live sports from home.
Mike Soltys, a spokesperson for the company, told The Bristol Press “we have innovated to work from home. Some in the traditional sense like other companies, but particularly by creating a work flow that has even allowed events to be produced and called from people’s homes. We also have produced things in Bristol from the NFL Draft to the Australian Open.”
At the height of the pandemic, ESPN reduced its on-campus foot traffic to less than 10%. That number, according to Soltys, currently sits at about 20%, as live sports, which were abruptly shut down last year, were able to resume last summer.
Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said she believes ESPN reducing its on-campus workforce does not have much of an effect on the city.
“It really does not impact local businesses,” the mayor said. “They are pretty self-contained as it is and while we welcome them booking rooms at the Doubletree and frequenting local restaurants, I do not think it is detracting significantly. They are a great community partner and are working with us on several fronts.”
One of the most notable ESPN staffers who can work from home is longtime NBA announcer Mike Breen. The sports media conglomerate has been able to convert a room in Breen’s home to a television studio where he calls NBA games.
“All of the production resources ESPN talent would have on the road are provided, in real time, to their home,” said Chris Calcinari, senior vice president of ESPN and ABC Sports Remote Production Operations. “We continue to serve the fan with the highest degree of commitment and accuracy utilizing the latest in 'Live From Home' technology.”
Breen is able to call games using a remote camera, a laptop that gives him three camera angles of the game, an audio box that allows him to talk with production members and his game partners, a tablet with real-time stats and his handwritten notes.
Covering NBA games, ESPN also uses on-campus staffers who are required to wear masks and socially distance themselves. To do this, the company has collaborated with all 30 NBA Regional Sports Networks (RSNs).
ESPN takes the host RSN’s “clean” feed and adds various layers of production on top of the feed, including commentary, graphics and camera angles.
“We worked closely with every RSN heading into the season to learn what they’re able to provide, to communicate our expectations, and to understand each other’s goals and technical capabilities,” Calcinari said.
For this model, known as the Enhanced World Feed approach, ESPN’s full production team, including the game producer, director, audio personnel, graphics and replay teams, are located at company’s Bristol or Charlotte studios, fully masked and socially distanced.
Though the pandemic has encouraged creativity on the production side of things, it has also brought tough choices for top ESPN officials.
In November, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro informed employees the company would be laying off about 300 people and eliminating an additional 200 open positions. At the time, Soltys indicated ESPN had about 5,000 overall employees, including about 4,000 in Bristol.
The layoffs and position eliminations, which Soltys said were “across the board,” came after the Associated Press last April reported that about 100 on-air talent members and ESPN commentators were asked by Pitaro to take voluntary salary reductions for three months. Pitaro at the time indicated the cuts could help save other employees’ jobs.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.