MLB Draft Broadcast Is a Total Team Effort in Transmission
There once was a time when the MLB Draft was no more than a glorified conference call — no different from one the average American office employee might struggle to stay awake through on a random Monday morning.
Today, it’s a television and Internet behemoth that utilizes nearly all the media assets under the Major League Baseball umbrella. From MLB Network to MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) to the Commissioner’s Office to the team video coordinators, the baseball-video world plays a role in the production, which aired on MLB Network last night and will continue today through Saturday on MLB.com.
Coordination Across the League
The best example of the magnitude of the coordination that goes into pulling off this broadcast lies in MLBAM’s Remote Operations Group.
Twenty-six of the league’s 30 clubs have given MLB Network and MLBAM access to their draft rooms. With each venue offering a different level of connectivity, MLBAM Production/Technical Coordinator Krista Heritage faced unique challenges.
According to Heritage, most of the setups are done through relationships with the organizations’ video technicians and scoreboard operators. The production team will deploy its own in-house camera within the draft room.
To transmit the signal, in most ballparks, MLBAM has existing infrastructure used during game days. In those instances, the signal travels over the MLB.com MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), the same network that brings games back from the ballpark.
“I am very thankful to the tech guys we work with at the ball clubs,” says Heritage. “There’s a lot of feeds for us to handle, and the teams are great when I reach out to them. They take care of it and make my life really easy.”
There are a few cases when things are not that cut and dried. In those instances, MLBAM is deploying LIveU and TVU Networks transmission backpacks. According to MLBAM Senior Director, Remote Operations, James Johnson, the teams were asked for a 10-meg pipe to allow a high-quality transmission in three venues where fibering to the MPLS was not practical.
The Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks are not drafting at their stadiums but instead are at their shared Spring Training facility, Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, AZ. There, MLBAM was supplied with two 10-meg pipes to which it hooked up a LiveU and a TVU backpack. The remote also deployed a LiveU at Milwaukee’s Miller Park and a TVU in Detroit’s Comerica Park.
“We’ve been doing it for several years. I don’t want to say it’s the same thing every year, because it’s not, but we know what to expect, and Krista knows how to work with the teams,” says Johnson. “It’s a very delicate situation as you would expect. [The Draft] is their organization, and it is their future. It’s not so much the planning as it is the relationships with the scoreboard operators and Bexel and TVU and LiveU.”
All remote signals — which include a small handful of camera feeds at players’ homes — are sent to the Transmission Operations Center (TOC) at MLBAM’s Chelsea Market facilities in New York City.
Who Are These Guys?
While the production value of the MLB Draft is on par with that of its more mainstream counterparts at the NFL and NBA, MLB deals with challenges those leagues don’t face: primarily, viewers — for the most part — have had little to no exposure to the players being selected.
“This is the challenge we have because baseball players aren’t seen as much as the college players in football or basketball, where games are on all of the time. And a lot of the guys being selected [in our draft] are in high school,” explains Marc Weiner, MLB Network’s coordinating producer for the MLB Draft. “The challenge that we accept is, who are these guys? So we have to find that out and tell their story.”
With just 73 picks made last night, MLB Network was prepared with B-roll and graphics for more than 400 prospects. The network’s graphics team began creating graphics as early as February, and video from college athletic departments and scouts was aggregated and compiled throughout the year.
“Our guys really dig deep and take a look at the video and talk with scouts and coaches. That’s how we tell who are these guys, why are they relevant, and why, if I’m the fan of a team, am I interested.”
There’s no Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg in this year’s draft class, so Weiner and the MLB Network team will hang their hats on names like Stephen Rodriguez and Michael Wacha, two of the five players who were drafted last year and have already made their Major League debuts.
“It’s not like it used to be, where it took five, six years before you saw any of these guys,” says Weiner. “Sure, five isn’t a big percentage, but, if I’m a Cardinals fan and I see them take Michael Wacha and now he’s already making his debut as a starting pitcher in May, that means something. Let me know more about this guy. That’s our job. That’s our challenge. Let the fan know who these guys are.”
A look inside MLB Network’s Studio 42 in Secaucus, NJ, on Thursday night suggests how big this event has grown.
“If there’s a capacity in Studio 42, we have to be close to it,” laughs Weiner, who is overseeing MLB Network’s draft broadcast for the second year.
Each MLB club and nine draft prospects were in attendance for the broadcast. To cover the festivities, MLB Network had a studio set for on-air talent and deployed a small arsenal of remote cameras and a jib to sweep through the studio capturing the various guests representing each team (legendary names like Frank Thomas and Tommy Lasorda were on hand).