MLB Postseason Preview: MLB Network Preps for First-Ever Game 1 Broadcast
The first two ALDS games will be exclusive to the network
MLB Network exploded out of the dugout a month before the regular season with the World Baseball Classic (WBC) and, with the MLB Postseason now under way, shows no signs of returning to the clubhouse any time soon. Tomorrow night, the network will broadcast its first-ever Game 1 in six seasons as a Postseason broadcaster when the Boston Red Sox take on the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“It was great to start the season off with the WBC because it got us into the swing of things a lot earlier,” says Susan Stone, SVP, operations and engineering, MLB Network. “It set the table for the start of the regular season, and it gave our team a lot of reps together to get familiar again with covering baseball. By the time we got to our [first regular-season] game, we had 15 games under our belt, including that incredible [WBC] game between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. We were in midseason form in April, so that was really great for us. It allowed us to focus on fine-tuning all of our workflows and getting ourselves well-established way ahead of time.”
Those reps will certainly pay off as the MLB Network team embarks on its Postseason plans, which include two exclusive game broadcasts: Thursday’s ALDS Game 1 between the Red Sox and Astros and Friday’s ALDS Game 2 at Progressive Field between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees, who clinched the AL Wild Card last night.
For both games, MLB Network again has partnered with Fox Sports. Conference calls began in late summer to ensure that the Fox Sports-booked trucks would meet MLB Network’s needs and to determine which networks would be responsible for which game productions. For Game 1 in Houston, MLB Network will configure NEP’s NCP 11 and Game Creek’s B1 for its show and build Fox Sports’ show into that configuration. For Game 2 in Cleveland, Fox Sports will set up Game Creek’s Yogi and Edit 3 and then incorporate MLB Network’s show — which is slightly more expanded than Fox Sports’ — into Yogi’s switcher and router.
“We have only the two ALDS games, so, for us, this is the most-watched programming on our air,” says Stone. “It’s a very big deal, and we’re so proud of the product that we put out.”
MLB Network plans to supplement Fox Sports’ 15 hard cameras and three robotic cameras with two MLB Statcast cameras and two Vision Research Phantom cameras. (An additional aerial shot will be available in Cleveland via the Goodyear blimp.) Unlike its regular-season MLB Network Showcase games, which were produced in 4K for the second consecutive year, MLB Network will broadcast its two ALDS games in 720p. However, the network’s verdict on this season’s 4K productions is positive.
“We started the season with the WBC and then went right into Showcase with 4K,” recalls MLB Network VP, Remote Operations, Tom Guidice. “It was our second year doing 4K, and everything went great this year in that regard. It seems like the season went fast.”
Statcast, MLBAM’s tracking technology powered by Amazon Web Services, will also include Pitchcast and will operate out of the B unit in both Houston and Cleveland. The network also plans to add enhanced audio at each base and additional microphones around each stadium (as well as incorporate the Dante audio gear it tested at this year’s All-Star Game). And, as it has done for its MLB Network Showcase slate, MLB Network will continue game coverage during pitching changes and selected mound visits by using a split-screen format in commercial breaks.
“Our show is more the scale of [Fox’s] League Championship Series coverage, so they’re really helpful in that they allow us to load our expanded show into their router and switcher ahead of time,” explains Jason Hedgcock, senior manager, remote technical operations, MLB Network. “On the audio side, we do some enhancements that Fox won’t see at least for another round. It’s nice because this gives us the flexibility to expand [our show], and it’s good for their crew as well, because it gets their hands on some of the stuff they’re going to see in the coming weeks.”
World Series Plans Include World-Feed Production
In total, MLB Network will air more than 175 hours of live coverage throughout the 2017 Postseason, including game previews, highlights, analysis, interviews, and press conferences across all studio programming. The network will send a correspondent and producer to every Division Series game and two correspondents to each Championship Series game (one for each team playing).
For the World Series, MLB Network will travel an onsite studio set and a contingent of staffers to each location and surround each game with live onsite programming. Game Creek Gemini and Discovery will support MLB Network’s onsite studio efforts in the two World Series cities.
In addition, MLB Network will once again be responsible for producing the world feed. The network will use Dome Journey and Unite in one of the World Series cities and Game Creek Webby and Edit 3 in the other and will deploy seven hard cameras to cover the game. At least six international rightsholders are confirmed to join MLB Network onsite.
MLB Network Welcomes NHL Back for Third Year
As the MLB Postseason gets under way, MLB Network has another iron in the fire: the beginning of the NHL regular season on NHL Network. The two networks are in Year 3 of their partnership, and, although the addition of another league eliminates any illusion of an “offseason,” the relationship continues to be seen as beneficial to both networks, both at home in Secaucus, NJ, and on the remote side.
“From an operational standpoint, it’s a terrific opportunity for us,” says Stone. “Not that there was a lot of downtime before … but we’re [now] in the same rhythm all year round. So some of our studio crews who maybe in the offseason didn’t get quite as much work [are] working. We have a whole lot of production going on here all the time, and it maximizes our efficiencies. We’ve taken things that we’ve learned on the hockey side and brought it over to baseball and vice versa. I think the more you grow and the more you expand, the better you get.”