Firstly of the summer season of 2020, it was unclear how and even when the WNBA might have a season through the pandemic. Then as soon as the league arrange its bubble in Bradenton, Fla., the query turned broadcast its video games with just one nationwide reporter on web site. The league tailored, because it at all times does, and the 2020 season as a substitute turned a 12 months of progress for the WNBA because it discovered new pathways to ship its content material to its followers, aided largely by the creativity of its broadcast companions.
LaChina Robinson was a kind of broadcasters, and she or he needed to put on many hats for ESPN in her ever-evolving function to assist cowl this monumental season. She was an analyst, a studio host, a podcast host, and one of many creators of the digital present WNBA Hoop Streams, demonstrating the non-traditional paths the WNBA content material suppliers had to soak up a completely unprecedented season.
SB Nation spoke with Robinson over the telephone to debate the challenges of broadcasting this WNBA season in addition to what the long run holds for overlaying ladies’s basketball and girls’s sports activities.
This interview has been calmly edited for readability.
SB Nation: I wished to speak concerning the specifics of this season overlaying the league remotely. I simply noticed on Twitter the opposite day, I feel you mentioned that you just needed to keep in Connecticut for all the season, and you were giving the tour of the apartment that the Sun set you up with.
Aside from clearly having to maneuver, I assume, for 3 months, what was that course of like overlaying the league remotely and never being on web site to really watch the video games in particular person.
LaChina Robinson: First I credit score our management at ESPN as a result of it was contact and go for some time of whether or not or not we’d actually have a season. And you must take into consideration the layers that the WNBA needed to work via by way of determining venue, ensuring that tv manufacturing would even be potential, clearly beginning with well being and security, at the beginning. However, I imply, it was a trickle down impact, so what are we gonna do with tv and the way are we going to broadcast? There wasn’t a whole lot of time to make these choices. So I credit score our management and Sara Gaiero who’s our coordinating producer. She made the choice that we’d name video games from studio in Bristol. Now, I’m unsure how a lot of that was influenced by what the league had accessible on web site, or if that was simply extra about ESPN’s resolution in determining how they may put one of the best product ahead.
However it was a technique of resolution making that I’d not have wished to need to make. There’s so many ranges of selections that go into that, beginning with well being and security. After which, you recognize, what can we do by way of manufacturing? Rebecca Lobo, Pam Ward and Ryan Ruocco all reside within the Northeast, inside driving distance of our studios in Bristol. Holly Rowe had already dedicated to being contained in the bubble, which was not only a main resolution for ESPN’s protection, however for the league general. It was very totally different from the NBA. The WNBA didn’t have a whole lot of media within the bubble. The truth is, Holly was the one nationwide reporter there, so her pulse on what’s occurring and her viewpoint and simply her being there day-after-day was essential to everybody who wished to maintain up with the WNBA.
So when the choice was made to broadcast the video games from Bristol, I used to be pondering okay, I’ll simply fly backwards and forwards when I’ve video games like I’d every other sport. Nevertheless, there have been a few developments that modified that. No. 1, the video games have been very compacted. And so, you recognize, having the ability to get backwards and forwards with a whole lot of video games gave the impression to be one thing which may be a bit of troublesome the extra we checked out it. However then, as a result of Georgia’s [where I live] coronavirus charges have been so excessive, we fell within the class of necessary quarantine for the state of Connecticut, you would need to quarantine for 14 days earlier than you’d have the ability to do something.
And with a condensed WNBA season, busy schedule, nobody has 14 days to take a seat of their resort room each time they need to fly again to Bristol from Georgia. So then my plan was okay, I’ll reside in D.C. with household, and it’s a neater commute, five-hour drive to Connecticut, and I’ll simply commute each occasionally. Effectively, then DC was added to the record of necessary quarantine.
So finally, and whereas that is all occurring, Sara Gaiero requested if I’d be all for internet hosting studio, and that’s one thing we had been speaking about alongside the best way. You recognize, clearly there are some limitations on who you possibly can have in studio, how many individuals primarily based on well being and security protocol, in order that was all of the a part of it. But in addition, I hold a pulse on the league. I name video games, so it could be a pure match to have me as a number as effectively, contemplating the truth that I used to be going to be spending a substantial period of time in Connecticut, and that ended up being what occurred. We made the choice that I’d keep in Connecticut throughout the season.
After I first bought there, I used to be staying at a DoubleTree in Bristol. And ESPN was keen to permit me to go and get your hands on lodging that I’d really feel snug with through the pandemic.
However it was in a dialog with Amber Cox, the vice chairman of the Connecticut Solar, I used to be calling her for suggestions for the place in Connecticut perhaps I might keep, and she or he mentioned, I’ve one thing for you. Mainly the Connecticut Solar participant lodging, which they provide the gamers in housing within the summers, was vacant as a result of the group was in Bradenton, Fla. So that they have these lovely furnished residences in East Lyme, Connecticut. And that’s the place I ended up spending my WNBA Summer time.
SBN: How do you handle to copy the power of being within the area whilst you’re all the best way in Bristol?
LR: Effectively, I feel it begins with the right audio and visible, and main props to the ESPN crew, as a result of all the pieces I heard in my headset was precisely what I’d hear in my headset if I used to be courtside. The producer, the squeaking of tennis sneakers, all of the sounds that I’d usually hear have been pumping via my ears.
After which from the visible standpoint, we had a number of screens, very massive screens, that just about allowed us to see all the court docket. We had just a few screens that targeted on the shot clock or participant benches. However we simply had nice administrators that bought us superb pictures. Our manufacturing crew was unbelievable. Even in a standard broadcast scenario, it takes a crew of individuals that may set you up for achievement. And I simply felt like we have been in an excellent place and studio to really feel like we have been on the sport, despite the fact that we have been 10 states away.
SBN: The WNBA clearly noticed this dramatic improve in viewership this season. Do you ever attempt to determine steadiness your protection for the newer viewers who’re simply tuning in whereas additionally nonetheless serving the individuals who have been common followers of the league?
LR: So that may show to be a bit difficult, proper? Since you’re at all times instructed in broadcasting to repeat your greatest stuff, since you do have new viewers, new folks becoming a member of, and so that you you need to be sure that they know that Sue Fowl’s in her 17th season, and that they know the massive image parts, however on the similar time, sure, you do need to be offering insider info for the WNBA followers which have been there and the little particulars round how the bubble goes and issues they only might not know. So there’s a very delicate steadiness. However I give all of the credit score to our crews, whether or not it’s Holly bringing in perception that nobody is aware of, or the best way that you recognize Pam and Ryan launched story traces all through, starting from the historical past of the league, all the best way as much as bubble, that is essential in a steadiness of a broadcast.
However it’s one thing that I feel in ladies’s sports activities particularly, and for me in ladies’s basketball, usually face as a result of we don’t have the publicity of different main sports activities. If a ton occurs between Sunday and Friday, proper, however there’s just one WNBA sport [on television] that week, you’re not gonna have all the hits on tv or, you recognize as many social media runs for no matter information is going on within the WNBA. So you bought to get lots into that one broadcast and be sure that individuals are in control. That’s one motive why we began the Hoop Streams present this season, Rebecca [Lobo], Holly and I, in order that we might give a few of that in-between info and we might have simply normal debates round what’s occurring within the WNBA, all of these issues that join the dots in between broadcast.
SBN: I used to be listening to your final episode of Across the Rim with Rebecca, and also you guys have been speaking concerning the potential of a WNBA and even only a ladies’s basketball studio present, and I assume you form of alluded to that. What might that do by way of serving to your broadcast?
LR: That’s the explanation why I began that podcast is to deliver extra conversations across the sport as a result of the grievance we regularly get from folks have nowhere to go as soon as a sport ends. Apart from, the writing that occurs, whether or not it’s ESPN or different shops, folks need to hear and watch and hearken to discussions.
In case you’re gonna speak about is Michael Jordan higher or LeBron James? I imply, they need to speak about Sheryl Swoopes or Cynthia Cooper or Diana Taurasi. That’s why we began Across the Rim. And that’s why we began WNBA Hoop Streams.
SBN: You talked about this earlier as effectively about how ESPN had talked to you about internet hosting studio even earlier than the season began. How do you end up navigating between these two roles of calling the video games at instances after which additionally internet hosting these reveals. What totally different views do you attempt to present in these totally different positions?
LR: So it’s attention-grabbing you requested that, as a result of I’m nonetheless digesting form of what all of it meant to only sit in a special seat this 12 months. It’s actually onerous to host, as a result of it’s so totally different from being an analyst, like as a number, you might be driving the visitors. You’re making choices about timing. You’re doing the ins, you’re doing the wraps. You’re the voice that’s form of carrying the dialog versus being an analyst and the place you might be responding. I say the identical factor about play-by-play, how I feel it’s one of many hardest jobs to have since you’re juggling so many various issues. You bought to have details straight. However this 12 months particularly, I felt like my function as a number was very related to the social justice motion of the WNBA and really related to attempting to broaden the voices of the league and so forth our halftimes, you might even see me intro-ing a chunk on the social justice motion that was occurring in Bradenton, and what’s the most recent on the WNBA round “Say Her Identify” and Breonna Taylor.
After which in that very same vein, you recognize, throughout a number of the broadcasts at halftime, we’d have present gamers or former gamers are available in and function analysts or simply to listen to from them on their perspective on the season. And it’s extraordinarily essential, as you have been mentioning a minute in the past, to proceed to re-introduce folks to who these gamers are and never simply as gamers, however who they’re of their lives, as advocates, and what are their hobbies and what companies do they personal? Permitting them to share their motive for sitting out of the season, if that be the case. So I assumed my job as a number this 12 months was in all probability very totally different than it could be in one other season. And that as a Black lady, there have been conversations that I felt like I might add worth to across the social justice motion that I hope benefited the general dialog.
SBN: That’s so attention-grabbing as a result of my subsequent query to you was going to be about the way you have been capable of deliver social justice into the dialog as a result of it was such an essential a part of this season. However I assume that is sensible that a great way so that you can transition into being a number was by shining a lightweight on these tales and giving an perception into the campus after which additionally the individuals who have been opting out of the season by utilizing that platform.
LR: Yeah, I feel the most important instance of that was August 26. I imagine was the day that the WNBA didn’t play within the wake of Jacob Blake’s taking pictures. I used to be in studio that day, and the variety of textual content messages I had acquired from former gamers, present gamers and simply an appreciation of getting variety of perspective was actually really overwhelming. I used to be so nervous, I used to be far more nervous for that than I used to be ever for a sport simply because it’s a fluid scenario, you need to do it justice, and also you need to be a voice for the gamers and never as a participant, however as a Black lady who was clearly impacted by what had occurred with Jacob Blake and all that was occurring in our nation. In order that was a extremely essential second for me professionally.
SBN: You talked about how you recognize you’ve bought to have the present gamers and even former gamers on these halftime reveals to deliver that further perspective. Do you suppose that was only a operate of getting all of these present gamers accessible as a result of that they had opted out of this season? Or do you are feeling like that’s one thing that ESPN might do going ahead?
LR: Through the common season, It was clearly a lot simpler as a result of to seize gamers that have been sitting out. I don’t suppose gamers usually like to touch upon the continued season as an analyst, however we did have a really particular dynamic in that, let’s imagine, hey, Kristi Toliver, or Kelsey Plum’s out with an harm: Be a part of our broadcast.
However for the playoffs, I assumed it was actually distinctive, as a result of we’d usually herald a coach or a previous participant. And I imply, the present gamers weren’t afraid to come back on at halftime and provides their opinions and ideas concerning the X’s and O’s of the sport, and issues we have to step up and all these issues. And I assumed they did an incredible job in exhibiting their basketball IQ, how charismatic and entertaining they are often, which once more can add a special stage of fan to the WNBA that takes the viewer past the participant the place they begin to actually, actually benefit from the particular person.
SBN: One of many segments that I assumed was so attention-grabbing was when Kristi Toliver was on through the the Sparks/Solar playoff sport. And you chop to her at halftime, the Sparks have been simply getting their butts kicked and it’s her group. She was saying the issues that you’d hope they have been saying within the locker room about what they may enhance. I want she was in Bradenton with them saying this stuff, but it surely was actually nice to have the ability to hear that.
LR: Yeah, she was trustworthy and that was one of many moments that form of left me pondering, ‘Okay, that is gonna be enjoyable.’
SBN: The WNBA was clearly working actually onerous to develop its following and introduce new followers. Do you are feeling such as you’re working with the WNBA form of to assist promote the league as the published companion? And the way does that present itself?
LR: I assume there may be technically a partnership with the ESPN, however as a broadcaster, we don’t really feel like essentially we’re working with the league to put it on the market, however as a substitute, extra informative and academic across the issues that we take pleasure in concerning the league. In all honesty, it’s virtually just like the dialogue you usually hear concerning the NBA and WNBA. And so they’re like, ‘Oh, they made them say that they benefit from the WNBA.’ No, nobody made them say something. They mentioned that on their very own as a result of they honestly benefit from the sport. And so, although it could come off to folks typically like we’re companions within the WNBA and perhaps advertising for them, which we’re by doing our jobs effectively, by educating the followers. However we actually benefit from the product on the court docket. And we like the place the league is headed, and I do know personally, I actually thought that the league did some actually good issues this 12 months explicit whether or not it was the Faucet to Cheer or, you recognize, the orange hoodie. I simply thought they did some actually good issues. So, yeah, we speak about them as a result of there are issues that we take pleasure in as basketball followers. And I feel that’s what folks have to recollect is that we’re not simply commentators or broadcasters. We’re followers of the sport. And when the basketball is dangerous, we’re gonna say the basketball’s dangerous. However, we’re additionally going to share what we take pleasure in about concerning the league and the sport and its gamers as effectively.
SBN: One very last thing I need to go away with is there something that you just hope to see in the way forward for your profession broadcasting the WNBA or simply how ESPN as the entire covers the league?
LR: There can by no means be sufficient WNBA video games on tv for me. In order that’s at all times primary in my e book, as a result of the product is the factor that’s the story, proper? These gamers are actually, actually good. However I want to additionally proceed to seek out methods to showcase them away from the sport. So simply issues the place we’re capable of hear from them immediately, persevering with to market them and their social media so followers can join with them that method.
However for me, personally, I’d love a present. I’d love a present that comes on each week that discusses WNBA information, brings in friends. One factor that involves thoughts for me was free company, you recognize on this previous offseason, which was the craziest free company perhaps that we’ve ever seen. And I do know we’d have wished to have a present on linear (word: on tv) the place we might speak about these issues and what’s occurring and replace folks on the WNBA, as a result of there must be some continuity year-round on the protection of the league and and, clearly we do an awesome job from starting to finish each summer season. However I feel that for me, along with the writing and the podcast, I simply need to debate somebody on a present concerning the WNBA each week.
I’d like to see a present and when you consider what a present will be, it may very well be a lead-in to a sport, it could actually occur after massive video games in the summertime, however a weekly present or some form of branded present the place you recognize you possibly can anticipate to get the most recent on WNBA is a dream of mine.