Inside the Dodgers Sports Lab, Cooperation and Consistency Are King
By: Carolyn Braff, Editor
Monday, September 27, 2010 - 3:12 pm

The Los Angeles Dodgers brand is the team’s most important asset, so management would prefer to oversee every sign, ticket, and video that bears the Dodgers logo. To make that feasible, the team created a Sports Lab, where VP of Broadcasting Lauryn Lukin keeps a watchful eye over every piece of Dodgers media that the world sees — from team-created motion graphics and video production to in-stadium scoreboards, online content, game broadcasts, and event-printed banners, programs, and tickets. With a full-time staff of 12, plus full-time rightsholders’ staffers working out of the Dodgers Sports Lab, Lukin enables her team to achieve new heights, in both creativity and efficiency.

Last week, she hosted a meeting of SVG’s Women’s Sports Media Initiative at the Dodgers Sports Lab, offering a behind-the-scenes tour of an in-house broadcast operation with a single-minded focus.

“We opened our Sports Lab in February of 2009, and, before that, there was no production company, just a game-day producer and an editor,” Lukin says. “It took about six months of planning and deciding on equipment, but now all of the production is done in one place, and there is consistency all the way through.”

A Full Rightsholder House
That consistency shines through the content produced by every Dodgers rightsholder. Staffers from cable partner Fox Sports Net, video-on-demand partner Time Warner Cable, and online partner MLB.com work out of the Dodgers Sports Lab facility. Lukin’s staff consists of three video editors, two print designers, two motion-graphics designers, one engineer, one game-day producer, one broadcast and entertainment coordinator, one coordinator of video archives, and one executive producer. Inside an unassuming office trailer at Dodger Stadium, everyone works in one large room.

“Being in one open room actually helps creatively; print designers can talk to motion graphics and video editors,” Lukin says. “With our rightsholders here full-time, we all share the same server space, so we have access to the same photos and videos. Before we had the Sports Lab, they called every day to ask for specific footage, but now it’s on the shared server, so now they can just grab it.”

Un-Duplicating Resources
Previously, all Dodgers rightsholders would attend every press conference and come out with four different angles on the same interview. Since establishing the Sports Lab, however, a single representative attends each one and posts the footage to the server for editors to access and use as they see fit.

“There is no more duplicating of resources,” Lukin says. “It saves a lot of time, resources, and money if you’re not having different people work on the same projects and interviews. The editing part we do keep separate, so that everyone can take their own storyline or flavor to the piece, but we are now much more efficient, and everyone gets a lot more content out of it.”

Her team produces features not only for its Dodgers Media Network online media player but also for in-stadium use and for the rightsholders. Before each game, she connects with TV producers to offer them the features her team has produced, and often the networks will roll that content into their broadcasts.

Consistent From Print to Primetime
In addition to TV, radio, in-stadium, and online content, Lukin’s team also oversees print responsibilities for the Dodgers, and that is the most unusual piece of the Dodgers Sports Lab puzzle.

“Usually, the print piece is located in the marketing department,” Lukin explains. “But if it’s done up here, our graphics style guide can carry over into print. If print designs a logo, motion graphics can tell them if it will be difficult to animate, and they can redesign it. Anything that is printed with our logo originates out of here, because that’s the only way we can control the use of the logo. Otherwise, you’ll see it at the wrong angle or stretched or with the wrong color blue.”

The same fonts, for example, that fans see in on-air promos are used for in-stadium signage. Logos and colors are kept consistent wherever they are used, and, given the long tradition of the Dodgers franchise, team management takes that consistency very seriously.

“Now everything comes out of here,” Lukin points out. “That’s been a huge selling point of the Sports Lab, that everything is consistent from start to finish.”

Another selling point is that changes can be implemented instantaneously. After a player trade, for example, her team can remove that player from all promotions before that evening’s game, without having to wait for a third party to edit the promotions and turn the content around.

The Storage-Space Struggle
Lukin’s team captures all content on P2 equipment in HD, but, with the stadium scoreboard still SD, nothing is output in high definition. Storage is a constant struggle for the franchise, as all that HD footage takes up considerable space.

Archiving is another challenge, as the Dodgers have more than 20,000 hours of historical footage in every format from film and beta to ¾-in. tape and VHS, and the work of cataloging and digitizing that archive is a multiyear project. In addition, Lukin cannot make a final decision about a full archival strategy until she determines what format the content will be stored on, and that requires a different special discussion.

“We are currently working out of a temporary location, but we don’t know when we’ll move,” she says. “We have two possible options, one where the fans could interact with the space and one where we’ll have better access to the players. Without a studio space, we have to set up all of our lights and backdrops from scratch every time we do a shoot, so that’s something we’re trying to figure out as well.”

In the meantime, Lukin’s team will continue to produce consistent, unique content that breaks the traditional mold of the team-rightsholder relationship.

For more information about the Women’s Sports Media Initiative, contact Carolyn Braff at Carolyn@sportsvideo.org.

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