ESPN Leads Off MLB Season With Pair of Chicago Cubs Openers

The World Series champs are getting the Sunday Night Baseball treatment twice this week -- first, for their season opener last Sunday, and next, their home opener this Monday.

Five months after the Chicago Cubs clinched their first World Series title in 108 years, ESPN hit the ground running last weekend, wasting no time in capitalizing on the reigning champions. The network broadcasted seven games in two days, placing particular focus on the Cubs’ season opener in St. Louis on Sunday night. Next week, ESPN will give the Sunday Night Baseball treatment to its Monday game, which happens to be the Cubs’ home opener at Wrigley Field.

MLB Opening Night on ESPN, in which the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs 4-3, was the highest-rated Opening Night telecast since 2010.

“MLB agreed to grant us exclusivity for that Monday-night game, so we’re treating that one as our Sunday-night game,” explains Senior Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “It’s the Cubs home opener against the Dodgers: a huge, huge opportunity for us; their first home game since they won their first World Series in 108 years. We’re optimistic that Monday-night game is going to be our most-viewed of the season.”

In addition to the Cubs’ season opener — a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals — ESPN broadcasted six other games over Sunday and Monday. On Saturday, NEP EN2, NCP14, and NCP7 were rolled out to cover three matchups; the following day, NEP NCP10, SS16, Mira14, and TS2 handled the remaining four. In total, ESPN will deploy more than 80 truck cameras to cover the seven games, plus two POVs, six NAC super-slo-mos, five Sony HDC-4300 4K super-slo-mo cameras, one IMOVIX Phantom ultra-slo-mo camera, 14 robos, and two RF handhelds, including a MōVI system.

This season, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball complement will include an IMOVIX Phantom ultra-slo-mo camera that runs through an Evertz DreamCatcher; at least three HDC-4300 super-slo-mo cameras; and two RF handhelds, one of which has been moved to a MōVI rig. For games at which Baseball Tonight is onsite, approximately 14 cameras will be deployed to the stadium; for all other games, the complement will top out at 12.

“We move [the specialty cameras] around ballpark to ballpark. We certainly keep the Phantom low and close; it has to be low and close. Depending on batters and matchups, we usually decide whether it goes on the first-base side or the third-base side,” explains Orlins. “We’re pretty solid that we keep one [HDC-4300] on the opposite side of the Phantom, so we have essentially a super-slo-mo on one side and an ultra-slo-mo on the other side … to follow the ball anywhere. And we usually place another one where it can see pitch spin and pitch isolation, which typically is centerfield.”

ESPN also plans to introduce win probability into its coverage, a factor that Orlins acknowledges might garner a mixed reaction from fans: “I think some people are going to be fascinated by it, and I think other people are going to find it annoying, [but,] honestly, I do think it is compelling. You get into a game, you got a one-run lead in the ninth inning to start the inning: that translates to an 85% win percentage. If you get runners on first and third, it [may go] from 85% down to 61%. It’s pretty hard not to pay attention to as a fan if you’re rooting for one team over the other.”

As for integrating the remote production with at-home efforts, ESPN plans to expand its use of REMI this season, applying a new workflow to its Opening Day, Sunday Night Baseball, and weekday baseball broadcasts throughout the season.

“We were able to prove the concept last season by applying it on several games,” says Operations Manager Paul Hornell. “And using available fiber and IP-based technologies, we will be integrating machine control, monitoring, and comms for graphics and EVS operators from Bristol into the hardware and communications of onsite production teams.”

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