Live From MLB All-Star: Fox Sports, Game Creek Ready for First Pitch

The 2011 MLB All-Star Game has already set at least one record before the first pitch has even been thrown: most air-conditioned sports event ever. Not only is the inside of Chase Field kept at a reasonably cozy temperature, but, outside in the parking lot, auxiliary HVAC systems have been attached to nearly all of the TV-production units to pre-cool the air before it hits the HVAC air intakes of the production units. For Fox Sports, MLB Network, ESPN, and other,s the units have made the difference.

“It was a logistical twist,” says Mike Davies, Fox Sports, VP of technical operations. “But folks aren’t complaining.”

The systems bring a different feel to the MLB All-Star compound, introducing a visual element that makes the production units look as if they have giant Habitrail tubes connected to them as the tubes pass the air directly to the production-unit HVACs.

As for the game itself, Davies says the show is pretty straightforward, although, this year, the Fox team does not have a 3D broadcast going on at the same time as the 2D.

Four mobile units, Game Creek’s Fox A, B, C, and D units are on hand with HD gear that includes a Grass Valley Kalypso production center, EVS replay servers, and two Chyron HD Duet graphics generators.

“The Fox trucks really don’t have any packages between the end of our NASCAR coverage and the start of football, so we slot it in here, which is great,” says Daviea. “It’s our most powerful truck, and we use it for all events like this.”

Twenty-one HD cameras, including traditional long-lens, handheld, wireless, super-slow-motion (180 frames-per-second), robotic, and a blimp-cam will be on hand. Inertia Unlimited will provide a Fox X-MO that will be used behind home plate and shoot at up to 500 frames per second.

“We are using more robotic cameras from Fletcher this year, and they are very useful,” explains Davies. “We will have two in each dugout, one in the batting cages, and a robo at the standard mid-home shot and in the booth. There will also be one on the cat walk above the field.”

Audio, as always at Fox, will be a priority, with approximately 80 field and crowd effects microphones positioned around the ballpark. Many of these effects microphones are pressure-zone mics that pick up the sound of baseballs hitting outfield walls, the crack of the bat, and other natural sounds of the game. Additional microphones are put near the stands and dugouts and even in the bases. In addition, 15-20 microphones are available for managers, coaches, umpires, and players to wear during the broadcast.

The biggest challenge for any MLB All-Star Game is the fact that ESPN and Fox Sports take over the stadium for consecutive nights, with ESPN getting first crack for the Home Run Derby. That means Monday night can be a late one for the Fox Sports team as the ESPN team takes out its cameras and Fox Sports drops in its cameras.

“When one entity is technically in control one night and another the next, it affects cable infrastructure and camera setup,” explains Davies. “This event is an absolute side-by-side event in every respect, and there is an awful lot of duplication.”

Thankfully, CP Communications is handling fiber infrastructure and most of the wireless camera systems for all the entities, creating a central point for all the broadcasters.

“We brought one of their trucks to be the fiber headend, and we have a scaled-down version of what we did at the Super Bowl last February,” says Davies.

CP Communications is also coordinating the wireless frequencies; something that Davies says will make a big difference.

“They’ve done a fine job, and it has been a big cooperative effort as the [broadcasters] have agreed on the vendors and method to put these kind of things in place,” says Davies. “And they benefit us all ergonomically and financially.”

When the final post-game interview is completed tonight, the fans and players may head off for a night of celebration. For team Fox and its vendors, though, the breakdown begins, and the trucks hit the road tomorrow.

“Then [on Wednesday night], we will rip out the fiber and start thinking about the postseason,” says Davies.

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