ESPN finds itself in quite an enviable position going into the NBA Playoffs tomorrow. The network’s staple NBA studio show, Kia NBA Countdown, is produced just a stone’s throw from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where two of the most high-profile contenders will be chasing a championship ring in the coming weeks. ESPN believes this close proximity will give Countdown a valuable leg up in covering the Lakers and Clippers at the nexus of the Western Conference playoff race.
“Being in L.A., our guys will often run into a player just walking to the hotel next door or to the arena,” says ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Mark Summer. “And [analysts Michael] Wilbon and [Chris] Broussard can just pop over to the Staples Center to talk to a few players after a game. The ability to just walk across the street and have access to players and coaches at the Staples Center has been a huge advantage for us and will be key [during the playoffs].”
Countdown, which this year converted to a host-less format primarily featuring Wilbon, Broussard, and Magic Johnson, will play a key role in ESPN’s and ABC’s sprawling coverage of the playoffs this year. In addition to the pre- and post-game and halftime shows for up to 44 playoff games, Countdown will provide a variety of content to SportsCenter and all of ESPN’s digital platforms.
“This year is our first year without a true host for Countdown, and we think it’s been very successful. The feedback has been very positive,” says Summer. “Not many pregame shows have done it without a host, so it’s pretty unprecedented. We’re very proud of that and think the dynamic will continue to work well [during the postseason].”
ESPN and ABC will look to build on a wave of regular-season ratings benchmarks (ESPN ratings were up 7% over last year while ABC delivered its highest-rated and most-viewed NBA regular season ever), by launching its playoff coverage with a bang this weekend, covering a total of five games between the two networks. In addition to star-studded matchups like Knicks-Heat and Lakers-Nuggets this weekend, ABC has brought aboard actor Samuel L. Jackson to voiceover all its pregame teases.
“We are doing some sales initiatives with his new movie, The Avengers, so we figured we wanted to work him into the teases for the ABC windows this weekend,” says Summer. “We’ve never really done anything like that before, and it should add some excitement and drama.”
In addition to the linear coverage, all ESPN games will also be available on ESPN3 and ESPN Mobile TV and via the WatchESPN app.
In all, ABC and ESPN network are set to televise up to 44 games, including exclusive coverage of the NBA Finals, and NBA Countdown will be there for all of it.
“With all the great matchups and storylines, [the postseason] really promotes itself,” says Summer. “But our goal in the studio is to inform, make the viewer smarter, and entertain. The viewer needs to understand the storyline and get invested in the game and players before the game begins.”
ABC tips off its coverage of the NBA Playoffs on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET with Kia NAB Countdown followed by Game 1 of the New York Knicks at the Miami Heat at 3:30 p.m. ESPN follows with the Orlando Magic at the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m.