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How sports fans get their moment in the video-board spotlight

If you want to be seen on the stadium's Jumbotron screen, it helps to cut loose and get a little crazy.

June 14, 2013|By Andrew Gastelum
  • Dodgers fan Jameson Moss serenades the crowd with Journey's raucous "Don't Stop Believin'" during the 8th inning against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers fan Jameson Moss serenades the crowd with Journey's raucous… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

It starts with a funny dance, or maybe just a kiss. Sometimes it's a clever hand-drawn sign, or some awkward downtime. Then it's gone.

The proverbial 15 seconds of fame is reduced to five, after the camera operator chooses you to fill the Jumbotron screen during an inning break or timeout. In a stadium or arena filled with upward of 20,000 people, the video board showcases no more than 75 people a game. At that rate, you have less than a 1% chance.

But to camera operators and game-day producers, there really is only one surefire way to increase that chance of getting your five seconds.

"Do something a little crazy. Really it's the first thing that catches your eye," Staples Center cameraman Jonathan Dietrich said. "Usually it's little kids waving their shirts over their heads, adult men looking stupid and attractive women."

While the Kings are on the ice, the production crew deploys camera operators to scour the crowd for the next target to feature during television breaks. And although there are no go-to sections, there are two main stipulations for fans seeking the limelight: Wear team gear and let loose.

"We like getting some laughing action from people," said Danny Zollars, the Kings' senior director of game operations. "Don't show any inhibitions. Just get up there, and have fun with it. We're going to find you at some point."

Every stadium features a control room similar to a television production truck, with flat-screen monitors that have access to five to 10 video feeds from cameras throughout the venue. Of the 10 feeds, the director in the control room chooses one to display on the video board. Throughout a game, nearly 100 employees have a role in creating, producing and maintaining the video board and its content.

Recent renovations at Dodger Stadium added a state-of-the-art control room to the press box area, along with two hexagonal full-color video boards that fill the gaps between innings.

"We're basically putting on two different shows," said Tom Darin, who is in his 16th season as the Dodgers' director of broadcast engineering. "A lot of times we are cutting two different cameras to the two boards, as in one set of cameras on the left-field board and another set on the right-field board. That's really unique to hear because no one really has two full color screens."

However, being on the video board has no effect on your making the home TV show. The two feeds are separate, but you can still become a star in a matter of seconds.

In fact, the Dodgers have two. Jameson Moss, an aspiring actor, became a Chavez Ravine cult figure in 2010 for his lip-sync renditions of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" during the eighth-inning of Dodgers games. Meanwhile, Deuce Mancha has turned into the latest video-board celebrity, dancing up a storm between innings and most recently playing catch from his left-field pavilion seats with Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Both caught their break by flagging down camera operators.

"It wasn't fake; a lot of people thought it was," Darin said. "Jameson was just a Dodgers fan who came to a lot of games. Just by doing that on his own, it turned into a phenomenon.

"And Deuce was easy to find. He's always out there dancing. It's just about finding people who are willing to do their own thing and sometimes make fools of themselves."

As for the real celebrities, Darin said video crews are told beforehand where A-listers sit during games, but sometimes the celebrity refuses the video-board time.

Video boards aren't just about the fans, they are a major factor in business and help pay for stadium and team operations. Nearly every segment is sponsored and shown to a crowd fixated on nothing other than the video board during breaks.

Occasionally, the on-screen content catches nationwide attention. Last month, the Fresno Grizzlies kiss cam caught a full-fledged breakup on the video board, which began with a couple arguing and ended with a drink poured over the "boyfriend's" head. The scene soon went viral, corralling more than a million views and grabbing headlines and airtime before the Grizzlies admitted it was all staged.

But sometimes, the best gems arrive unscripted.

"Recently, we had an elderly couple on the kiss cam. But they just sat there because they didn't know they were on," Angels assistant producer Danny Pitts said. "We had them up for 15 seconds, which is an eternity. Then just out of the blue some young guy just pops into the shot, gives the old man a big fat kiss and walks away."

With the fun and spontaneity also comes the obnoxious and distasteful. Although video boards may feature the occasional inappropriate gesture, camera operators and directors are trained to profile potential subjects, with any hint of doubt sending their cameras elsewhere. Peter Bull, the Angels' manager of entertainment and production, said live television with no delay is all part of the thrill.

"The fact of the matter is it's a live feed to a video board and you can't control what people do," Bull said. "There is a little bit of a trust factor there, that the people you show are going to play nice.

"It's about making individual moments for those people who are on the board. It's not about hoping they do anything. If they are having a good time, it encourages other people and it has a domino effect."

In arenas and stadiums, exhibitions and championships, and even in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Zollars said fans are the focus for unscripted, engaging entertainment, much like the game they watch. And it's his and other producers' job to dramatize that.

"Our fans are the show and the theme is to really showcase them," Zollars said. "We don't have jobs if it wasn't for them, so why not feature them. They're the best entertainment. They are the real stars."

andrew.gastelum@latimes.com

twitter.com/andrewgastelum

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