Three Games in Two Days Headline ESPN’s Coverage of National League Playoff Baseball

StatCast drives an alternative broadcast on ESPN2

The final stretch of the regular season has been a whirlwind for ESPN. After hosting the league’s first-ever tiebreaking doubleheader in separate cities (Los Angeles and Chicago) on Monday, the network will head back to Wrigley Field to wrap up its 2018 season with the winner-take-all National League Wildcard Game.

Divide and Conquer for Historic Double Dip
With an entire weekend full of uncertainties due to complications in the division standings, ESPN’s adaptability was put to the test with more than 2,000 miles between the two venues. Before the games took place, Senior Coordinating Producer for MLB Phil Orlins was prepared for any and all outcomes.

“The tiebreakers are more of a challenge for us because they happen the day after the regular season,” he says. “There are some decisions like ‘Do we use the main truck for the Wildcard, or do we use it for the tiebreaker?’”

With all possible scenarios in mind, ESPN decided to run with its B teams for Monday’s slate of games. Karl Ravech, Eduardo Pérez, and Tim Kurkjian called the 1 p.m. ET matchup between the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers. In the latter game, at 4 p.m., Jon Sciambi, David Ross, and Rick Sutcliffe were in the booth for the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Colorado Rockies contest.

NEP Group’s EN2 mobile unit was on hand in Chicago. The EN3 managed the production in L.A.

Fans Sit Front Row in the Postseason
Similar to the approach to last year’s Wildcard game at Yankee Stadium between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, Orlins and his team will put fans inside the action with Front Row Cam. Winner of the George Wensel Technical Achievement Award, Front Row Cam comprises a Sony HDC-P43 with super-slow-motion capabilities and is used to capture cinematic replays and tight close-ups of players from behind home plate.

Given the possibility of the Wildcard Game in one of two locations, ESPN’s Remote Operations Manager Paul Horrell had two potential venue-specific options for the Front Row Cam: “The Brewers have an existing low-home position that we would take advantage of. There was a scenario where it could be the Cubs, in which case we would use Front Row.

Cams and Mics Cover All the Bases
In addition to Front Row Cam, ESPN will deploy a large fleet of equipment to capture the sights and sounds of the elimination game. According to Horrell, the team will use more than 20 cameras: four Sony HDC-4300 6X-slo-mo units, one NAC Hi-Motion II high-speed, 17 Sony HDC-2500’s, two RFs (one handheld and one MOVI), mid-home and booth robos, four Marshall POVs, and an additional aerial system.

On the audio side, ESPN is deploying six in-ground microphones (four near home plate and two behind the pitcher’s mound) and an RF mic on each base. Parabolic mics will be used in the bullpen and to capture crowd sounds as well.

ESPN2 Gets the StatCast Treatment
After finding success with an experimental StatCast-driven broadcast of the 2018 Home Run Derby, ESPN2 will cater to fans interested in the analytical side of the game with an alternative broadcast.

“We just started looking at this and seeing how we could do it,” Orlins says. “It turned out that ESPN2 was actually pretty available. It was a great opportunity to give it wide exposure.”

Fans viewing this version of the Wildcard Game will see a mixture of new and traditional StatCast features usually seen on Sunday Night Baseball. ESPN was able to engineer a partnership with AWS regarding sponsorship and technology.

“For the most part, the main pieces that we have are the same things in play,” says Orlins. “Since it’s a StatCast-oriented alternative screen, there’s a handful of things that AWS is able to deliver to us in virtual form that we haven’t really broken out yet.”

One of these innovations is Steal Probability, a process that measures the likelihood of a runner’s being safe or out based on his lead and speed from first to second, the pitcher’s delivery, and the catcher’s timing and throw accuracy.

The traditional K-Zone 3D, a Sunday Night Baseball staple, will be placed in a new role. “We’re going to introduce K-Zone 3D as a dropdown off the miniboard,” says Orlins. “We’ll give that a bigger presence in a slightly subtle delivery.”

Although the K-Zone will not be placed within a 3D stadium, the graphic’s use will be increased. According to Orlins, the K-Zone will be used for 30%-40% of the pitches rather than 7%-10%. Other layers of the broadcast include newly created animations regarding ball path, estimated distance, and exit velocity for home runs.

With the Wildcard Game remaining in the Windy City, NEP’s EN2 will once again be on-site for Cubs-Rockies. Horrell notes that a separate mobile unit, the NCP10, will be responsible for the on-air graphics of the ESPN2 broadcast.

In terms of transmission, The Switch provided fiber support for the main ESPN broadcast with eight outbound paths to Bristol and four return feeds back to Chicago. The Statcast production airing on ESPN2 also required four paths out and a return feed. The Switch also provided data services for today’s game at Wrigley Field. In addition, The Switch also served as the main transport provider for yesterday’s NL tiebreakers in Chicago and L.A.

Evolution To Continue Into 2019
Looking back on the 2018 season, the team envisions more growth and progress. From an operational standpoint, Horrell and Orlins praise the current GREMI infrastructure, which allows ESPN to locate some graphics and replay operators at its Bristol, CT, headquarters rather than onsite. As a whole, the evolution of ESPN’s efforts on coverage of the MLB has created a sense of excitement moving forward to 2019.

Says Orlins, “We’ve created an environment that is loose, unpredictable, creative, and adds a fun flavor to everything we do.”