From time to time, SportsCenter viewers will be treated to a segment with a newsmaker driving in a car while talking with an ESPN anchor or analyst either in the car or via an audio connection to the studio.
The “ride-a-long” segments, done in an informal atmosphere away from the playing field and locker room, often produce entertaining and enlightening content as the subjects relax and open up. This week, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and anchor Hannah Storm drove through Chicago to Wrigley field on SportsCenter, and Alabama coach Nick Saban is scheduled to talk with anchor Lindsay Czarniak on tonight’s 6 p.m. ET SportsCenter as he drives to the NFL Draft.
When the ride-a-longs started four years ago, Saban was one of the first subjects. The idea was spawned as part of “Inside the Program,” which takes ESPN cameras and reporters to a college campus for a full day’s look at a college football program.
“We’ve done close to 60 ‘Inside the Programs’ over the last five or six years,” said Jonathan Whyley, a news producer for SportsCenter. “And usually they’re in a lot of the same places so we’ve tried to push and push to come up with new and interesting things to do.
“So the genesis of the idea was, particularly with Alabama and Nick Saban, we had been there so much and done so many things with him,” Whyley said. “We’ve started in his office, we’ve walked with him as he comes in from his car, and finally we’re like ‘let’s get in his car and ride with him.’”
Whyley said typically a car will be set up with three GoPro cameras and an audio mixer. Sometimes a producer rides in the car, but “most of the time you have to just set the GoPros and just go, and you cross your fingers and hope everything works and nothing happens,” he said.
At the end of the ride, the video and audio are fed to ESPN for editing. The results are often fun and entertaining, like the time LSU coach Les Miles gave reporter Kaylee Hartung a white-knuckle ride through Baton Rouge that included running a red light.
“The funny part was his wife saw it so the next couple of years when we went back and tried to do it again, she forbid him from doing any more ride-alongs,” Whyley said. “But she did invite us over to have breakfast.”