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Volume 21 No. 30
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Change didn't come quickly for 'Around the Horn,' but it will be hard to miss starting next month

“Around theHorn” launched in 2002 as one of the most technically advanced studio shows on television, seamlessly using remote video feeds from five locations.

In the ensuing 16 years, the show’s producers considered changing its look and feel, but they never made any adjustments because of concerns about making the technology a focus rather than its content.

That’s about to change.

Starting Nov. 5, “Around the Horn” will move to ESPN’s Seaport studios in lower Manhattan and will use a new graphics package that will employ augmented reality for the first time. The show still will be produced from Washington, D.C., but its set will be based at Seaport, with a new logo, animation package and color scheme.

Changes also are coming via a dedicated website, which will allow viewers to score the show on their own and watch behind-the-scenes video that did not make the air.

ESPN producers described “Around the Horn” as born on new technology, even as they credit the show’s success to relationships among the host and four reporters.

Host Tony Reali and the reporting crew are shown during a rehearsal Oct. 11 at ESPN’s Seaport Studios in lower Manhattan. Augmented reality will play a role in the show’s new look, which makes its debut Nov. 5.
Photo: espn images

“It’s all about the talent and the relationship with the talent, but the infrastructure was high tech and like nothing else that was on the air at that time, and it’s pretty much stayed that way,” said Alex Tyner, ESPN Production’s senior director of original content. “‘Around the Horn’ was such a perfect opportunity to get into virtual technology because it was already [host Tony Reali] in a room by himself with this remote talent.”

In April, the show’s producers had a brainstorming meeting in D.C. where they talked about ways to update the show’s graphics. They were not confident they could agree on a new package.

Two years earlier, Tyner had taken an idea to executive producer Erik Rydholm that used virtual graphics, and Rydholm hated it. Tyner described Rydholm as a content purist who had little interest in making change for change’s sake.

“Around the Horn” host Tony Reali on finding panelists

      “I had to track Bomani Jones down from a station in Raleigh that was being aired on The Score in Canada. That’s how I heard his voice the first time. And he cut videos as well. And that’s where I saw him. I was attracted to Pablo Torre from Sports Illustrated, found out his Twitter page and saw how he was putting tweets together. Kate Fagan had a speaking engagement when she wrote her book, and I asked her, ‘Do you think you would want to do something like ‘Around the Horn?’ Her first answer, of course, was ‘No,’ which is perfectly Kate. She got back to [coordinating producer Aaron Solomon] a month later.”
      “I love scouting. Go back and look for the people who are getting incredible reps on ESPN or elsewhere now. The greatest compliment you can give any of us — it’s like that knock on the door in ‘Good Will Hunting’ — is that we can’t use Bomani and Pablo right now because they have their own show filming at the exact same time. I’m happy to be Ben Affleck in that moment, showing up at a house and not having a door opened up.” — J.O.

“Two years ago, the proposed changes made too much use of the virtual technology,” Tyner said. “It was a little too far-flung. And really the goal was always like at the core it’s got to be about Tony and the four people. It has to be about their relationship. We can’t get caught up in the virtual world and getting pulled away and all this stuff.”

“Around The Horn” coordinating producer Aaron Solomon agreed.

“You don’t want the show to grab you or assault you,” he said. “You want it to be added to the editorial stories that the guys are telling and have been telling for 16 years.”

The show has gone through three weeks of rehearsals to get it right.

During a rehearsal on Oct. 11, in the middle of the show’s first segment, Reali wanted to have a one-on-one discussion with Frank Isola about New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Without even pressing a button, Isola’s image came out in the middle of the studio and Reali started a conversation with Isola about the Giants’ mercurial wide receiver.

Later in the show, another panelist — Woody Paige — started using too many statistics to bolster one of his arguments. Reali pressed a button from his console and Paige’s screen filled up with mathematical equations.

“I feel like we’re driving a Ferrari now,” Solomon said. “Before we were driving a Honda Civic.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.