Spectrum SportsNet has unquestionably done a fantastic job covering Los Angeles-area sports, including the Galaxy, Sparks, Dodgers, and of course, the Lakers. They offer insightful coverage with a production value that goes well beyond what one would expect from a regional sports network, but their shows, such as Access SN: Lakers and Backstage Lakers, also have a warm, endearing quality to them.
I’ve long wondered exactly what that special ingredient is that allows them to capture Los Angeles-area sports so well, particularly now that longtime beat reporter Mike Bresnahan and legendary Lakers guard Derek Fisher are on board, so I was thrilled to receive an invitation to go to Spectrum SportsNet studios in El Segundo, CA to get a closer look.
The event was called Blogger Night, and it was an opportunity for those of us who primarily work in the digital world to get an up-close, behind-the-scenes glimpse at Spectrum SportsNet as they covered the Lakers taking on the Houston Rockets.
Walking into Spectrum SportsNet studios, I was immediately greeted by a case of Emmy Awards in the entryway and hardwood center court emblazoned with the Lakers logo, which together set the tone for excellence. The entire building hummed with energy as people moved about from one space to another, the air filled with conversations about different players, teams, or on this particular day, smack talk about a staff ping-pong tournament.
In many ways, it’s nirvana for anyone passionate about sports.
Myself and the seven other Blogger Night invitees (including Lakers Nation colleagues Corey Hansford and Ryan Ward) were brought back to the room that would become our Blogger home base, where we ran into Lakers legend-turned TV personality James Worthy. His booming voice and broad smile welcomed us, and it was an early indication that we had stepped into a whole new world.
Coordinating Producer AJ Ponsiglione gave us a tour of the building and the rundown of everything that the company covers. Pictures of major Los Angeles sports stars adorn just about every wall, like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and of course, plenty of Kobe Bryant.
Given the star power in most of the photos, I found it odd that we stopped in front of a fairly unremarkable one: a simple wide shot of a mass of people flooding the Lakers practice floor on Media Day with the Spectrum SportsNet booth in the foreground.
Ponsiglione had an extra bit of determination in his voice as he explained that the picture is indicative of how extensive Spectrum SportsNet’s coverage is. The second the Lakers’ season begins at Media Day, they are there providing analysis, interviewing players, coaches, and providing inside access to fans. Every game the Lakers play is televised, including the preseason, which even the Golden State Warriors and their star-studded roster can’t match.
The message communicated by Ponsiglione is clear: Spectrum SportsNet is committed to providing the absolute best to Lakers fans, and that means treating everything, whether it be Media Day or the NBA Finals, with the same dedication and care.
With the point made, we moved on, visiting the control room as they filmed pregame coverage for Access SportsNet: Lakers. It takes nearly a dozen people just in the control room carrying out a variety of tasks in concert to put the show together. I have just enough of a video production background to appreciate how difficult it is, but the staff made it look easy, relying on teamwork and chemistry that isn’t all that dissimilar to what the Lakers themselves are hoping for.
From there, we hopped into the studio itself and got to watch Worthy, Fisher, and Chris “Geeter” McGee in action. Once again, we saw excellent teamwork, with McGee naturally tossing questions to Fisher and Worthy that they knock out of the park while Jaime Maggio set up segments with unflappable poise.
The studio itself is gorgeous, with eye-popping displays everywhere that show just as beautifully on television as they do in person.
They brought in Mike Bresnahan via satellite from Houston, and the banter perfectly walked the line between information and entertainment. With numerous Lakers injury updates to discuss, Bresnahan forgot to address Fisher and Maggio, and Worthy jumped all over the miscue. He turned his back to the camera to feign outrage over the slight, razzing his new teammate with a smile. The result was a classic unscripted, light-hearted moment that is part of what makes the show so enjoyable.
Still, I felt I was missing something; part of what makes it all so successful hadn’t been revealed yet.
As the game started we made our way into the Spectrum SportsNet War Room, which is set up with a pair of large TV’s to watch the Lakers on, as well as a few small screens tuned to other games taking place around the league, and food was brought in to munch on.
Again, sports nirvana.
Our blogger group was joined by both the on-air talent consisting of Worthy, Fisher, McGee, and Maggio, as well as part of the control room staff. Each person brought their own to-do list to the table, accomplishing individual goals while still enjoying some group togetherness.
The control room staff sifted through stats that could be used for graphics, and on this particular night, turnovers were the focal point (the Lakers would finish with 27). Fisher, meanwhile, took a moment to discuss defensive principles in help situations, making it clear why Phil Jackson tabbed him to coach the New York Knicks.
Worthy, still wearing a Cheshire-cat grin, was unable to sit still, following the action from the edge of his seat (and sometimes out of it). He may be retired from the NBA, but his competitive nature hasn’t waned.
Then there was Geeter, who treated the game as though it were a college lecture. He scribbled furiously on a legal pad, noting various talking points that could be brought up on the air. McGee makes it look effortless when the cameras are on, but he is able to do so because of the work he puts in when they aren’t.
Watching the game & talkin' shop. 🏀 pic.twitter.com/dtXxSzvgl9
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) December 8, 2016
As the game went on, I couldn’t help but notice that whenever things would go south for the Lakers there was a collective groan (there were a few times when I swore Geeter was in actual physical pain). Conversely, positive moments brought about head nods and exclamations of approval.
For all of the talent and pedigree in the room, it wasn’t unlike what one would expect from any regular, everyday group of Lakers fans.
It was in that moment that all of the pieces of the puzzle came together for me. The energy that was almost palpable when I walked in, Ponsiglione’s unwavering determination and pride about their coverage, the teamwork of the control room, and the chemistry of the on-air talent, it was all part of a bigger picture.
Spectrum SportsNet, like a lot of companies, has talented individuals that work very hard at what they do, but what sets them apart, the intangible that brings it all together is their passion for their subject.
In their own way, each staffer wants to see the Lakers, and more broadly, Los Angeles sports, succeed. They may not have all grown up as Lakers fans, but they celebrate victories and bemoan the agony of defeat just as the legion of purple and gold supporters do, and that allows them to connect to their audience through shared experience.
It’s a connection not unlike the one we strive for at Lakers Nation, just in a different medium.
There is no question that the quality that Spectrum SportsNet produces is top-notch, second to none. From the control room, to the on-air talent, even the Social Media manager, all of them are professionals through and through. But that only gets you so far.
Spectrum SportsNet strikes gold every night because they are real and therefore the product is real. They tap into the heart of the Southern California sports fan, giving voice to the passions that drive us.
As the night wrapped up empathetic looks were exchanged over the Lakers performance in a blowout loss to the Rockets. Yet, just like with the Lakers themselves, there was optimism in the air.
Just as the Lakers are constantly looking to grow and improve, so too is Spectrum SportsNet, and the future is getting brighter by the second.