YES Network Reflects on 10 Years
The 2012 Major League Baseball season is filled with anniversaries. Fenway Park is celebrating its 100th birthday. Dodger Stadium turns 50. And the YES Network marks its 10th anniversary as the home of New York Yankees (and New Jersey Nets) action.
While Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium give fans the chance to relive history, the YES Network gives fans a chance to see a broadcast that encapsulates the history of the game. And that’s for good reason: one of its primary architects, President of Production and Programming John Filippelli, spent 18 years working for the legendary (and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer) Harry Coyle on NBC’s Game of the Week, oversaw day-to-day operations at The Baseball Network in 1994, and then helped launch MLB on Fox coverage in 1996.
“The Baseball Network was the best preparation because you had the chance to see how every entity covered baseball, as every club had a carrier,” recalls Filippelli. “So, from my end, it was a chance to take disparate regionals and combine them and make a network out of it. The philosophy was to have uniformity.”
It also gave him a chance to see, firsthand, how different producers, directors, and other production staffers approached game coverage. So when the time came to help launch MLB on Fox, his Rolodex had all the right candidates.
“The local entities begot The Baseball Network, which begot MLB on Fox, and then that begot the YES Network,” he explains. “And, at The Baseball Network, we really took the blueprint Coyle had and gave it some nuance.”
Topping the list? The mandated use of normal-speed replays.
“When you want to show speed, why would you slow it down?” says Filippelli of that visionary approach. “When you show a runner going from first to third or a great running grab, you want to show the speed. You get no sense of that if you just show it in slow motion.”
Gone but Not Forgotten
Although The Baseball Network was short-lived (primarily because of the MLB strike in 1995), its influence remains. Many of the regional networks that participated incorporate some of its production philosophies in their broadcasts, including full-speed replays and defensive graphics and statistics.
The Baseball Network had a heavy influence on the YES Network. For example, Filippelli’s first hire was Ed Delaney. The two worked together at The Baseball Network, and Delaney was brought on to set up and then run operations for the YES Network.
Filippelli began work on Sept. 10, 2001, and it was his job to pull together a team that could launch a network in five months during a challenging financial and emotional time. Delaney recalls the call from “Flip” asking him to put together a budget for a network that would cover 150 Yankee games, 75 Nets games, and studio operations and would be on the air 24 hours a day seven days a week. And he needed the numbers the next day.
“I spent all night putting the budget together, and I started a month after 9/11,” says Delaney, now SVP, broadcast operations and engineering. “The pace of starting a network in 4½ months was outrageous. It was just doing deal after deal and hire after hire. It was pretty exciting.”
Senior Director of Broadcast Operations Mike Webb recalls the accelerated hiring schedule. “In a four-month time frame, there was no time for a vetting process. So we would look for people we knew, and then Flip would identify people at the production-assistant level who would see it as an opportunity.”
At the Forefront in Technology
From a technical standpoint, the network’s master-control operations were located at Ascent/Encompass in Stamford, CT; they’re still there. Game Creek Video’s Eagle truck handled Yankee remote operations at Yankee Stadium and beyond. After Eagle came the Yankee Clipper, an HD unit that, in 2004, made the YES Network the first full-time HD regional network, and then Dynasty, which hit the road in 2010 and is capable of broadcasting 1080p.
The move to HD isn’t the only first that YES Network can lay claim to. The network was the first regional to use a super-slow-motion system, first to offer in-market streaming of MLB games, and first to experiment with 3D. In many ways, that commitment to innovation reflects not only the personnel at the YES Network today but also the late George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees.
“George was iconic and a visionary, and he went against the grain when he felt like it,” recalls Filippelli, who worked closely with him. “His attitude was, what better brand extension can there be than a TV network? And everything was about furthering the Yankee brand. He wanted to raise the bar and make it as good as it could be, and quality has to be a constant in everything we do.”
The most obvious way that commitment to quality is seen day in and day out is through the number of cameras used for Yankee broadcasts. Regular-season games match anything done at a national level, and, during games against the Boston Red Sox and other top opponents, the number of cameras can exceed those used for MLB playoff games by Fox and Turner.
And then there are the exceptional events. In 2004, the New York Yankees played two exhibition games and two regular-season games to begin the season.
“We didn’t use a local feed with announcers thousands of miles away,” says Filippelli. “We sent a crew and did it ourselves.”
The Viewing Experience Is Everything
So what lies ahead? Filippelli envisions more super-slo-mo, although the units don’t come cheap and don’t always travel as easily as other gear.
“But it’s a standard we believe in, and, as time goes on, the technology will become more affordable, and you will see more usage of it,” he adds. “Everything evolves, but sports will always hold its value as it is almost DVR-proof. And, for us, the viewing experience is paramount.”
Technology provides some new chapters for the YES Network; so do the players that take the field for the Yankees.
Baseball has dominated YES programming, so it is easy to forget that, in the early years, the New Jersey Nets made the NBA Finals two out of the network’s first four years. Next season, the team will move to Brooklyn, a change that will hopefully reinvigorate the franchise, create a new fan base, and bring solid ratings to YES Network NBA broadcasts.
“It’s a new chapter that has yet to be written. It is a huge population center that is a hot bed for basketball,” says Filippelli. “And Brooklyn itself is a very interesting culture that has a lot of history. So everything is working in the Nets’ favor. It’s very exciting.”
For now, though, the focus is on year 10 at the YES Network, the new Yankee season, and a continuing commitment to excellence.
“The mandate is always to be the best, and we’ve always embraced any new technology,” says Delaney. “The bottom line is always the same: if a tool is the right thing for the audience, management will support it and find the money to do it. It’s all about the Yankee brand.”