MLB Network Covers All MLB Clubs, 1,800 Miles for ‘30 Clubs in 30 Days’
At MLB Network, spring training begins in December. At least, that’s when Susan Stone, SVP of operations for the network, begins the production planning for the network’s spring-training special, 30 Clubs in 30 Days. From Feb. 26 to March 28, MLB Network production teams visit all 30 MLB spring-training facilities, creating a 60-minute special that covers every ball club and airs on the network. Traveling nearly 1,800 miles throughout Arizona and Florida over the course of a month would be a logistical nightmare, except that Stone and her team have this production down to a science.
“There is an inordinate amount of coordination that goes into this,” Stone explains. “The thing that drives everything is the schedule, because you really need a club to be available for two days, the first day to do pre-interviews and ENG and the second to do all your live shots. The spring-training game schedule comes out relatively late, so we do a lot of planning, and then we have to tweak once the schedules are done. That is the hardest piece of the puzzle.”
In Arizona, the MLB spring-training sites are clustered in the Phoenix area, and travel is not an issue. In Florida, however, hundreds of miles separate some of the facilities, so the days become longer and production teams must spend far more time on the road.
Moving With Metrovision
To create the 30 in 30 episodes in such a short time frame, MLB Network relies on mobile-production provider Metrovision, whose two trucks, KU 5 in Arizona and KU3 in Florida, support the hopscotch production schedule as it winds through the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.
“We partner with Metrovision on a lot of events,” Stone explains, noting that, in the first year of the special, Metrovision had just one truck. “Once they had their second truck, they were willing to cover Arizona for us, too, and it was great to have consistency. With one company who understood our workflow and our show, it made it much more seamless.”
To capture all of the content required to create each 60-minute 30 in 30 episode, MLB Network uses four production teams, two in Florida and two in Arizona. Each consists of an ENG crew, producer, and talent, and every MLB ball club is visited by one of the four over the course of the 30 days. The first day that the production team arrives at a facility is spent taping B-roll and standups with players and coaches; the second, capturing additional B-roll and securing a player or manager to tape a talkback interview with MLB Network’s analysts in the Secaucus, NJ, studio.
“Team A will arrive on Day 1 at Kansas City, for example, with their camera crew and shoot a lot of the ENG,” Stone says. “On that same day, Team B is on Day 2 of their production at the Cincinnati Reds’ camp, doing live standups. That night, the Metrovision KU5 truck will go from the Reds’ camp back to the hotel. In the parking lot, they’ll meet up with Team A and feed back all the tapes from Day 1 in Kansas City to the studio, so the studio has a leg up for the next day, when KU5 will go to the Royals’ camp and do their live-to-tape show.”
Long Roads In the Sunshine State
The distance between camps in Florida makes the transition times a bit longer, but the same leapfrog production model is in place.
“It’s a little more challenging in Florida just because the production and talent crew have to drive a lot more,” Stone says. “They still do the feeds from the parking lot, but they come in a lot later because there’s so much more travel involved, especially for the Metrovision crew. The talent is hopscotching every other camp, but the Metrovision team has to visit every camp.”
Boardwalk Productions also visits every camp. Under contract to MLB Network, it provides the ENG crews that will visit every camp in both states. That way, all the shooters know exactly how MLB Network wants the shots set up, what type of ENG to capture, and how shots should be framed, and a consistency is bred across all of the episodes.
“That way, everybody gets the same treatment,” Stone says. “It makes it so much more seamless.”
MLB Network talent Greg Amsinger, Lisa Kerney, Hazel Mae, and Matt Vasgersian divide up the 30 MLB spring-training camps, and the network encourages fans to interact with the talent by submitting questions via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. One fan-submitted question is included in each episode.
An Air-Tight Schedule
Each 60-minute 30 in 30 feature is cut and edited overnight for air the following day. If the first ENG tapes are fed in by 5 p.m. on Day 1 of the production team’s visit to a site, the second set of content has been shot, fed, and edited by 11 p.m. on Day 2, ready to hit master control for air at 8 p.m. on Day 3.
“The timing is very, very ambitious,” Stone points out. “Production has it down pat. They get the content, edit the segments, get it transferred, push it to our FTP site for VOD; it’s a remarkably well-oiled machine. We’ve never had any issues where we haven’t been able to get the content back, but everything is reliant on sticking to the schedule. You don’t have the option of postponing if it’s raining; you just put up an umbrella, and you do your interviews.”
Each 30 in 30 episode is pushed to Video On Demand the day after it airs, so the network gets more use out of all this effort than just a one-time viewing.
If It Ain’t Broke…
When MLB Network launched in 2009, 30 in 30 was its first major remote production, and Stone has changed precious little since creating the original formula for the show.
“We’ve talked about expanding,” she says. “We’d love to add another talent and have a more substantial presence on-site, like how we do our pregame shows, with a desk and a couple of chairs. That would be the next step, but I think the franchise as it exists now has been hugely successful. We do a whole marketing promotion when MLB Network is on-site with your club, so it is a high-visibility project for us just from the on-site side of it.”
The lucky producers and directors who get to escape the New Jersey winter in favor of 30 days in Florida or Arizona do rotate, the way the 30 in 30 studio crew rotates among other projects.
“We’re a pretty small company, so everybody’s hands touch everything that we do,” Stone says. “That’s great because it really gives you versatility and gives some of our newer producers a chance to expand their knowledge base and skill set.”