Globe Theater: MLB International Brings All-Star Game to the World
Baseball may be America’s Pastime, but the game is becoming more global by the day and Major League Baseball International (MLBI) is the league’s gateway to the world.
The Postseason, the World Series, the World Baseball Classic, and the All-Star Game; if someone is watching outside the borders of the 50 United States, they are seeing it through the lens of MLBI.
On Tuesday, SVG got the opportunity to observe MLBI in action as it executed its robust World Feed broadcast of the Mid-Summer Classic from Citi Field in New York.
It’s two hours prior to the start of the MLB All-Star Game and out beyond the left field stands at Citi Field in a 67-foot long production truck, the assembly line is running.
Ten different announce teams need to pre-record their six-minute opening segment that will hit air when the game goes live to more than 200 countries in nearly 20 languages at 7:30 p.m. ET, and the production team at MLBI is directing traffic.
Seated at the front bench, director John Moore, producer Pete Toma, and MLBI executive producer Russ Gabay are going down the checklist. First it’s the Japanese broadcasters from NHK and Fuji TV. Then Fox Deportes records its open for the domestic Spanish-speaking audience. Next it’s ESPN International with its welcome for the Latin American viewers. And the list goes on.
This is just the first element in what will be a full night of keeping, essentially, the entire baseball world on the same page.
“There’s this impression that we’re just taking the Fox feed, adding our own graphics, and retransmitting it,” says Gabay. “That’s the great misnomer. We’re doing our own game. It’s an independent feed that is catered to a strictly international audience.”
So while Fox Sports is broadcasting the game to viewers in the United States, MLBI is producing its own show for everyone else in the world. Equipped with a set of production trucks (NEP’s Corplex), eight Sony cameras inside the stadium, and an audio mix, MLBI boasts an All-Star team of its own with production professionals from across the baseball television landscape on its crew [the Yankees, Pirates, Blue Jays, A’s, Phillies, Orioles, Mets, Tigers, and Indians TV teams are all represented].
It’s a show that even with some of the best in the business, poses technical and creative challenges.
It’s a half an hour to first pitch and MLBI senior production manager Judy Acone is taking a stop by NHK’s massive production truck to make sure everything is ready to go.
Despite the fact that not a single Japanese player will make it into the game on this night, NHK is one of a couple of broadcasters who have decided to go all out and bring their own production truck and team. The remainder of MLBI’s on-site partners will simply provide announce teams.
Including the English speaking team of Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe, ten different broadcast pairings will call the game at Citi Field off MLBI’s production feed.
On-site there are two broadcasters from Japan (NHK, Fuji TV) and one each from Panama, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, French Canada (RDS), Fox Deportes (domestic Spanish), ESPN International (Latin America), and Fox Sports Cono Norte (northern Mexico).
Acone is responsible for being each of the broadcaster’s liaison with Citi Field and Major League Baseball. MLBI hires their trucks, provides catering services, and work with the technological staff of the stadium on their behalf to resolve any issues that may arise.
“We’re basically a full service production company for them,” says Acone.
The show is ready to go.
It’s the top of the 1st inning and Citi Field is a buzzing cacophony of boos and sarcastic cheers.
Young New York Mets phenom and National League starting pitcher Matt Harvey has just let loose a runaway fastball that catches New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano in the side of his right knee.
Moore – who is awfully familiar with Cano thanks to his regular day job as director of Yankees baseball on YES Network – knows he now has a major storyline for the Latin American audience.
“During the course of the game you’re always thinking about [those viewers],” says Moore, who has worked 21 straight All-Star Games for MLBI dating back to 1992 in Pittsburgh. “You’re thinking when Cano comes up, there’s a little country where the fans and the players there are going nuts. You have to be aware of that and tune in to a lot of different variables.”
Fortunately, Moore – thanks to shared resources with Fox – has specialty cameras to utilize in these circumstances. He quickly calls for a cut to a super slow-motion shot that Fox is using on its air to show the pitch striking Cano’s leg.
Cutting a show that is being seen in more than 200 countries comes with its obvious dilemmas, most notably that of transmission. According to Acone, MLBI worked closely with MLB Network to set up a fiber mux to MLBN’s studios in Secaucus, NJ. From there the signal is sent out via satellite or via fiber to the laundry list of broadcast partners around the world taking in the game. Including those now holding their breath in the Dominican.
It’s the top of the fourth inning and the American League is threatening to break the scoreless tie.
Baltimore Orioles power hitter Chris Davis has just reached on a single to put runners at the corners with no outs. Play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne, who calls Orioles games for MASN during the season, is reveling in the opportunity to talk about his club, who are 10 games over .500 and in the thick of the American League race.
As Moore cuts between Davis on first base and rising star Manny Machado in the dugout, Toma quickly gets on the mic into Thorne’s ear.
“Hey, those No. 4 patches on their jerseys,” he says. “The international fans are probably wondering what that is, so why don’t you go into that real quick?”
Without skipping a beat, Thorne takes the reigns: “You can see on the Orioles jerseys, an orange patch with the number 4 on it. That’s for former Orioles manager Earl Weaver who passed away during the offseason…”
“It’s a huge balance,” says Moore. “It’s not only the different languages and knowing that we’ve got different broadcasters on-site doing the game, it’s being aware that you’re doing the game for them too. You can’t always go with just what our announcers are saying. Your audience is such a range of new to the game…to those who know the game very well.”
It’s the bottom of the fifth inning and MLBI is coming back from commercial break.
Toma is cueing up a package to showcase some of the great Mets All-Stars of all time. Gabay immediately flips a tiny, grey switch of the console in front of him.
“Alright, guys, out of this, Mets All-Stars package,” he says, relaying the message. “Coming back in 30.”
Gabay is communicating not only with translators for broacasters across the compound but around the world too for those who are taking the MLBI feed and calling the action from their home countries. This level of coordination is crucial for a smooth broadcast.
“The challenge is how do you produce a broadcast that everyone understands,” says Gabay, who has worked the last 18 All-Star Games in this role. “Someone’s got to drive the boat. [The international broadcasters] have to follow us. They can’t call replays; we call the replays and tell them what’s coming.”
That all-inclusive strategy makes even seasoned vets like Moore and Toma have to change their everyday baseball strategy.
“When you’re doing 150 games a year, you’re used to an announcer saying something and you’re used to making a decision based on what they’re talking about,” says Toma, who directs Pittsburgh Pirates games for ROOT Sports. “That’s the toughest thing. You can’t just go off on a tangent or flip a package up there without realizing someone else is out there watching this in another country going, ‘what in the world? Why are we seeing this?’”
It’s the end of the top of the 8th inning, and you can be certain there won’t be a commercial break this time.
Legendary Yankees closer and Panamanian Mariano Rivera is trotting in from the outfield for what will be his final appearance in an MLB All-Star Game [he’s retiring at the end of the season]. MLBI executes the moment with class. No commercial, no graphics, no special effects. Just a clean shot of Rivera as he tips his cap to the roaring crowd.
The MLBI team prides itself in its old school approach to a baseball broadcast, free from advertising clutter and true to the action of the field.
“We’re not about the Kiss Cam,” cracks Gabay.
Even the score bug is only on the screen when Camera 4 (the standard shot from center field) is up.
“The great thing about doing an international broadcast is it’s really about the game itself,” says Toma. “We’re not tied to sponsors. We’re not tied to having certain elements that really drive a broadcast now, like Twitter. It’s a true baseball lovers broadcast because we’re able to really just concentrate on the game.”
For those on staff, it’s a welcome departure from their every day approach to directing a baseball game.
“It’s unique when you watch television sports in this country now,” agrees Moore, “because everything is so jam packed with stuff that’s not baseball production. We get to do baseball production.”
So on a night where virtually everything has a corporate logo on it, MLBI brings the world simply baseball. The great game and its midsummer celebration. A broadcast that baseball purists love and one that its production team can be proud of.
“I would put our show up against any other broadcast,” says Toma. “In a heart beat.”