MLB International Sends the World Series to the World
By Carolyn Braff
Five weeks out of every year, an international team of broadcasting talent reunites to bring baseball to more than 200 countries around the world. For the past 10 years, Russell Gabay, VP and executive producer of MLB International, has worked with the same veteran group to produce an independent international feed of the All-Star Game, ALCS, NLCS, and, this week, the World Series, producing a show far more complex than a generic clean feed.
“We don’t take the Fox feed and add a camera; that’s just not what we’re doing,” Gabay explains. “We use Fox sources to enhance our broadcast, but we do our own production. We try to get the MLB brand out to the world.”
F&F Productions and NEP Supershooters help MLBI do so, F&F providing its GTX 15 truck for games in Tampa and NEP rolling its SS17 unit into Philadelphia. The A unit in each city is MLBI’s master control; inside the B unit, Gabay’s staff of 65 builds individual control rooms for each country on-site, for a multilingual experience.
Even within the A unit, Gabay’s team has plenty of international flair.
“A lot of my tape-room staff is from Canada,” Gabay explains. “With pro football and college football, it’s hard to [find staffers because everybody’s working], but the nice thing about this crew is, we’ve been together for almost 10 years now.”
The productions vary slightly between the two stadiums, with nine Ikegami cameras in use in Philadelphia and only eight in Tampa, but three six-channel EVSs and a set of effects microphones in each city make for a consistent production.
MLBI works in concert with Fox to augment the cameras with some Fox feeds as well” mostly from places where it is illogical to add a second camera.
“It doesn’t make sense to have two blimps, two handhelds,” Gabay explains. “We share robos, we share super-slo-mos. There’s no question about it, the partnership with Fox and TBS [for the ALCS] helps enhance our show. We have a great relationship with Fox, and this was the first year that we worked with Turner, and everyone works really well together.”
The international feed also incorporates four times the virtual signage that Fox utilizes.
“We use PVI to do country-specific virtual signage for Canada, Japan, Latin America, and Mexico,” Gabay says, noting that Fox, which does not need multiple signs, uses Sportvision. “Combining the virtual signage behind home plate with the fact that the MLB brand is out there, it’s much better for us to do our own broadcast.”
Seven video feeds leave the broadcast compound nightly, in a combination of HD and SD, along with 28 audio paths, along fiber and transportable uplink facilities provided by Hearst USA and Intelsat. Remote Transmission Management (RTM) handles all of the encoding on-site.
Broadcasters from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Singapore, and Venezuela set up their own announce booths at each stadium, so Gabay’s team mixes their audio with field sounds and sends that out; other broadcasters add in voiceovers in their home country or run the English-language feed. Fox Sports International and ESPN International also call the action live from both stadiums. All the MLBI graphics are in English, but the lineup incorporates country-of-origin flags and, when each team takes the field, the players come on-screen to say what country they are from.
In all, the MLB International broadcast, in 13 languages, reaches 229 countries and almost 1 million U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces personnel through the Armed Forces Network.
“It’s a big show,” Gabay explains. “We do a customized first segment for the foreign broadcasters on-site, and then we also do a world feed of the game itself.”
The misconception about that world feed, Gabay explains, is that the world is seeing the Fox broadcast with an additional camera tacked on. In fact, Gabay and his staff work hard to build an entirely independent show.
“Nearly a third of MLB players are born outside of the U.S.,” Gabay explains. “Sometimes, we have to show [Akinori] Iwamura when Fox is showing Chase Utley, because Iwamura has more clout to the Japanese, or [Carlos] Pena at first base, or [Carlos] Ruiz behind the plate. There are foreign-born players that we are here to focus on.”
Gabay’s team, therefore, may put together a replay package of every at-bat by Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, even if he is 0-for-3 in the game, because a broadcaster from the Dominican Republic is on-site.
“We are conscious that there are hometown heroes playing in the game,” Gabay says. “We try our best to showcase them once in a while so the viewer at home in the Dominican Republic can see their guy’s every swing. We sometimes tailor coverage to fit the foreign player.”
Gabay always tailors the coverage to accommodate the non “baseball-savvy viewer.
“When a double-switch occurs in the game or a 6-4-3 double play,” he explains, “we’ll make sure we explain it in basic terms for the viewer who doesn’t really understand baseball, because, in some cases, we’re going to places where they’re just starting to learn about the game.”
To help those viewers better understand America’s pastime, any international viewer can send e-mails to the MLBI staff during the game, and Gabay and his team will answer them.
“We get 75-100 per game, from all over the world, where it’s all different hours of the day,” Gabay says. The questions range from basic tenets of the game” like the infield-fly rule” to complex pitching-rotation queries to well-deserved compliments for this complex international broadcast.