As the NBA and the NHL gear up to begin their seasons inside their respective living “bubbles” to thwart the spread of the coronavirus, ESPN is wrapping up its nearly two- month bubble experiment in Las Vegas surrounding its summer boxing series.
The network restricted more than 40 production staffers — as well as numerous fighters and their camps — to a specific area of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as it produced more than 50 fights across 12 ESPN-televised cards since June 9. Its July 21 event is the final fight card before the production staff can officially leave the bubble and go home.
ESPN boxing production director Aladdin Freeman is currently living in the bubble, and recently talked to B+C about his experiences working and living in MGM Grand’s highly restrictive confines. An edited version of the interview appears below.
B+C: How are you holding up in the bubble?
Aladdin Freeman: It’s going well. I’ve been here since June 6, but we’re almost done. The thing I miss the most is exercising and using actual weights. We do have cardio machines, but you have to be creative with regards to weights. And obviously you miss the family.
B+C: Are you cordoned off in a specific area in the hotel?
AF: Everyone who is on the ESPN side of it is on the 12th floor of the MGM Grand hotel, and we have a couple of wings. The fighters are on the same wings, too, but [the network] tries to keep us separate. We have a service elevator that we take to the other areas available to us. That’s where our meals are and we go there three times [a day]. If you want to get a meal beyond that you can order something and they can drop it off, but I haven’t done that yet. For me, I try and limit the exposure I have around people in general.
B+C: How often are you tested?
AF: Every Sunday, you’re given a time to take the test. The first day we got here as soon as you got tested, you had to go to your room for the rest of the day. On Monday, you get a band that says we’ve been tested and that you are negative. You get tested again on Wednesdays.
Have there been any positive tests among the production crew?
AF: No. There have been positive tests within the fighters’ camps. I feel most comfortable when I’m at the [arena] site, as well as the actual place where we eat and where we do everything.
B+C: Have the restrictions within the bubble affected your ability to effectively do your job?
AF: Doing the job is fine once we all got into a groove. We have had some issues, like a camera guy may have broken the bubble so they left. We’ve had people with different issues outside of the actual COVID-19 that had to leave the bubble, but on the whole it’s been pretty successful for the most part.
B+C: What would you recommend to those players and production people at the NBA and other sports entering a bubble environment?
AF: It’s going to be a lot harder with team sports, but I think for all those people the easy part is doing the actual work. If you’re a director or a camera guy, doing your job is going to be the easy part. It’s all the other stuff. I’m not going to lie … you lose sleep on the nights when you test, because you’re kind of worried and anxious. That’s something that you have no control over. You also don’t have control over the people around you. You have to have faith and trust that everyone is going to do the right thing.
You also have to find time to do something that gives you an escape. My escape, believe it or not, has been walking about a mile around the garage at night, no matter what — I don’t care if it’s 120 degrees. You have to kind of have some sort of escape, whether it’s books, whether it’s Face Time-ing your family. You need that part of it so you don’t go stir crazy.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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