Managing 'Kiss Cam' is a science
CHICAGO -- Vanessa Kluth and Scott Cummins were just an unassuming couple enjoying a Bulls-Knicks game from the comfort of their courtside seats when in an instant, they became the stars of the show at the United Center.
"It was fun. It was a great time," Cummins said with a laugh.
Unwittingly, the couple became the latest stars on the "Kiss Cam", America's longest-running unscripted romantic drama that unfolds in front of tens of thousands of sports fans on JumboTrons across the country every night.
Over the past 20 years, it's become one of the most popular in-game promotions by putting couples on the spot -- literally.
"In general, it's hard to really tell for the camera people who's a couple with the way everyone's sitting," said Sergio Lozano, senior director of scoreboard operations at the United Center. "Sometimes we have two people and they're not there together, they're there with the person to the left or the right of them."
Lozano is the man behind the curtain of the Kiss Cam, calling the shots from his perch high above the court and determining what couples get to show their affection -- or lack thereof -- for one another on the big stage.
His staff consists of five cameras located throughout the crowd. His charges all have two simple instructions.
"Be safe and pick some interesting couples," he said. "It is somewhat of a family audience so we try and be kind of safe with the couples that we're displaying up there and just in general to have a good time with it."
Preparation for the big moment during the first break in the fourth quarter begins long before show time.
Lozano says he and his camera operators are constantly scanning the crowd, searching for couples who will bring the crowd to their feet. Cameramen we spoke with say they try to have a handful of couples in mind so it's only the couples -- and not camera operators -- who are caught off guard when the music starts playing.
With 20,000 people all together under one roof, it's not easy to pick out the couples from the non-couples, something Lozano says has caused some awkward moments drawing laughs instead of cheers from the crowd.
"That's just part of the trial and error of live TV -- just not knowing what's going to happen," he says.
Nobody -- not even Bulls legends -- are off limits.
"Last year we put up Scottie Pippen and his wife," Lozano said. "He was kind of surprised we put him up. They kissed and he kind of did the finger and pointed at us and did a nice little smile, so that was a good one."
And so with the strains of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" pulsing through the arena, the camera focused in on Kluth and Cummins in their seats in between the basket and the Knicks' bench in early November.
In an instant, the pair went from ordinary couple to TV stars -- kissing as the crowd roared their approval.
Did they ever expect to be on such a stage?
"Absolutely not!" Kluth said laughing. "It was crazy. It was amazing. I would do it again."
It's a feeling Lozano himself knows well.
During a game a few years back, his crew returned the favor, training the camera on he and his wife.
"For me it was weird because I'm always behind the scenes so the one time I was at the game it was odd and interesting just because I'm never in that situation," he said. "It was fun. I just got to experience what others experience."
Matt Lindner is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.