Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Phone Booth

The Phone Booth, the Sea of Red, the House That Ovechkin Built, the Red Army H.Q.

Call it what you want, but Verizon Center is THE place to be for 41 nights in Washington, D.C.

While fans rock their red and players dazzle on ice, the mainstream media produces the television broadcast below the 100 levels and writes the stories above the 400s.

On Jan. 6, during the Capitals' 2-1 win over the Flyers, we here at CK got a behind-the-scenes look at how the mainstream media conducts business on game day -- and the chance to be another pesky blogger in the press box.

We begin under the 100 levels...

The Press Room
Underneath the 100 levels of Verizon Center, members of the media gather in this break room to phone in stories, call their editors or grab a snack. According to our guide, the room isn't always filled, but during the playoffs a reporter would be hard-pressed to find a seat or phone.

The Press Conference Room
Expecting a larger room? Capitals post-game press conferences are held in this room. One thing you might notice: There is only one microphone. Usually coaches/players are surrounded by multiple mics. The Verizon Center has a small box in the back of the room that allows reporters to plug in their iPods, cameras or audio recording devices and receive a direct feed from that single mic.

Intermission Interview Wall
Al Koken and Lisa Hillary's intermission interviews are held here, just outside the entrance to the Capitals bench. On television, it may look like a special setup or room but in reality it's just a wall.

1500 AM's Post-Game Interview Desk
I'm not kidding. Jonathan Warner sits here, in a small room outside the Capitals locker room, to conduct player interviews on the post-game show. Rather than have players ride to the press box, they can instead walk around the corner from the dressing room. Our guide says this set-up, though meager, results in better interviews from the players.

The Tunnel
A great shot of the red-clad crowd here though not really media-related. The tunnel is where the Zambonis, Mites on Ice and other intermission entertainment enter the rink. The crowd noise resonates, creating a sound blast as you stand inside. It made me wonder how anyone on the ice hears anything when the crowd is cheering.

The Comcast Production Truck
Beneath the end-zone seats sits the Comcast broadcast truck. The show's producer sits in here with four other people who produce the television broadcast. The producer calls out what cameras he wants on screen, tells the cameramen what shots he wants and chooses which replays/graphics will be shown. A statistician sits close by to feed the staff with information to put on the screen. I was stressed out hearing the producer bark orders, but the staff was cool and composed, carrying out the producer's demands in a split second. If you thought your day job was stressful, try keeping track of nearly 30 different monitors at the same time.

The Press Box
Moving to the top of the Verizon Center, we now enter the press box. Here, the local and visiting print and news media watch the game. For the Flyers game, the press box was near capacity, with only a few seats taken by bloggers that night. PuckDaddy, a favorite of mine, was in the box at the time, but I didn't get the chance to bug him.

Notice the televisions in front of the desks: They show the broadcast of the game. What is interesting is that the televisions alternate which broadcast is being shown. One has the Comcast D.C. version, while the other carries the Comcast Philadelphia version. You can tell a difference between the two production crews. When Alex Ovechkin crushed a player against the boards, the Philly broadcast replayed the hit footage, while the D.C. broadcast opted to promote "family night."

The Comcast Booth aka Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin's room
I don't think this needs much explaining. Just a few notes: Joe Beninati stands up during the entire broadcast, according to our guide. The man off to the left side of Joe B. is a statistician. He feeds Laughlin and Beninati with stats to mention during the broadcast. On the right of Laughlin is another man (not pictured) who wears a headset that is connected to the production truck. His job is to inform the two of when the broadcast will be loading replays, graphics or cutting to break.

The Tellestrator
Not much to say here, just that Laughlin is wearing glasses and is playing with his favorite on-air toy.

Well, that wraps up our tour of the Verizon Center media areas. We ended up sticking around the press box for the remainder of the period, then we resumed our duties as Caps fans.

I want to say thanks to Kurt Kehl, who was our guide; Ted Leonsis, who helped set this up; and JP of Japers Rink, who helped me get in touch with the right people. I hope to bring CK readers more from the Verizon Center press box in the future.


  1. Really cool. Congrats on the tour. And I thought Beninati was a Philly announcer for some reason; I apologize thoroughly for that!

  2. How tight security there is? = If I had money for plane ticket, could I smuggle myself into the arena?

    Seriously, that must've been really cool.

  3. @pgh Joe B. covers just about every sport these days for many different towns. He's Vs. go-to-guy these days.

    @sleza Buy a ticket to a game and don't worry about smuggling yourself in!

  4. Very interesting report, CK! Interesting to see how small the spaces are for the interviews and the post-game press conference. We have tickets near the tunnel - last night it was a total media scrum down at the end of Sec. 119 - Al Koken, Lisa Hillary, Channel 4, and the (I assume) Philly Comcast guy were all vying to do stand-ups. We couldn't take our seats b/c Dave Feldman was doing a stand-up and the camera was at our seats. We looked over at Sec. 120, and there was Channel 7 doing a stand-up - haven't seen that much media at a Caps game all year. Glad to see the media is getting on the bandwagon. (I had to bite my tongue not to say something to Feldman about his interview with Fedorov when Feldman stated that DC is not a "hockey town" and Federov disagreed with him!)

  5. The plane ticket would cost from 900 to 2000 euro, so buying a ticket or anything else wouldn't be an option... For the following 10 years:)

    And if I flew over Atlantic, I want to see those cool places too...

  6. @pgh - Maybe it's just me listening as a Caps fan, but I think Joe B. is one of the least biased announcers I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. And if that's true, it would make sense to be hard to pick out his primary team. :) I'm glad we have him. At least he can pronouce Varlamov's name right.

  7. Great post. One minor flaw though, they're not Zambonis, they're Olympia Ice Resurfacers. It's like calling any tissue a Kleenex. Oh, and little known fact: The Caps are the only team in the NHL without a genuine Zamboni.

  8. @anon yeah I know they are Olympia's but like you said a tissue is often mistaken for a kleenex but at the end of the day, they both do the same job. Good catch though.

  9. Kleenex and Zamboni would disagree with you :)

  10. i sit up in section 420 and having them tv's above my head is awesome..get some looks the jumbo screen doesn't always show..Some games the lovely lisa hillary sits above me :-D....Great pictures by the way...Never knew how the BTS looked like..


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