MLB 2019 Preview: As Ink Dries on Disney Deal, Fox Sports Looks Ahead to a Strong Season
A grand total of nine games will be distributed in 4K HDR
Exactly five months after fans witnessed the Boston Red Sox defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers and hoist the franchise’s ninth World Series trophy, the gang at Fox Sports is shaking off the offseason rust, getting back on the road, and adjusting to life without the Fox Sports regional networks, which are no longer part of the production-ops equation following the industry-shaking Disney-Fox deal.
“Since this is happening, we have more [responsibility for] set-shoot-and-striking,” notes Francisco Contreras, director, field and technical operations, Fox Sports. “We can’t depend on the RSNs to do the games for us anymore so we will be doing the whole production. [The deal] makes it a bit more of a challenge, especially when you’re used to having the rights to doing those games. But we’re excited that baseball’s back, and, [even though] it’s a little bit more challenging for us since we’re doing these set-shoot-and-strikes, we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Since Fox Sports will no longer be leveraging its own Fox RSNs for MLB coverage, it will be the third broadcaster to pull into ballparks – after the two local RSNs – more often this year. With three productions going on at once, availability in the compound is often limited, and finding camera angles inside the stadium can be a tough task.
“We’re doing a lot of third-ins where we do the entire set-shoot-and-strike [for games on Fox],” says Contreras. “Normally, we’ve had one [per week], but now we’re doing two each week until we get to primetime [games] on May 18. Then we’re back to being the only network providing the game. That’s new for us. We haven’t done that in a pretty long time.”
Contreras adds that not having Fox RSNs in the fold could make it challenging to staff the production. “It’s harder to hire [freelancers] in the local market, so a lot of these people have to be flown in.”
More 4K HDR Than Ever: Nine Games To Get the Treatment
Contreras and the Fox team will be producing nine games in 4K HDR this season, including Bryce Harper’s home debut at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia.
“Our 4K games are going to be eight-camera shows,” he explains, “but, since [the Phillies-Braves matchup] is our first one [of the season] and Harper’s [debut as] a Phillie, we’re going to add an RF camera just to capture that to make it feel like a big game.”
All nine games will be produced in 1080p HDR and upconverted to 4K HDR for distribution on DirecTV. Mobile TV Group will provide trucks for seven of the nine 1080p HDR productions.
New Season, New Toys: Statcast and PitchCast Are Mainstays
After deploying its largest fleet of ultra-high-speed cameras at the 2018 All-Star Game in the nation’s capital, Fox Sports will use two super-slo-mo cameras on all games, running at 6X slo-mo. At this year’s Midsummer Classic in Cleveland, a MōVI wireless camera will return to the production, along with a Skycam system.
The newest of toys will accommodate fans of the analytical side of the game.
“We do have PitchCast and Statcast this year. Last year, Statcast was in effect only for the All-Star Game and the postseason,” Contreras says. “This year, we have nine games that we’re doing Statcast, and PitchCast will be on every game.”
Fox Sports’ primetime schedule of games will begin on May 18 with Cubs vs. Nationals, Astros vs. Red Sox, and Brewers vs. Braves at 7:15 p.m. ET. As is typical with A-level games, eight cameras and four EVS replay servers will bear the brunt of the heavy workload. For lower-level productions, seven cameras will be deployed. RF cameras will make appearances during some marquee primetime matchups, including the London edition of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry on June 29 at 1:10 p.m. and a World Series rematch on July 13 at 7:15 p.m.
Fox Sports will rely on a mixture of mobile-unit vendors across the country, including Game Creek Video, NEP, Lyon Video, and Mobile TV Group.
Despite the media-industry shakeup, as the baseball calendar flips to Opening Day, Contreras is focused on another successful baseball season.
“Everyone, including the teams [that we produce with], know us better since it has been three years straight with the same crews.” he says. “Communication has gone really well with MLB and the other networks. Productions have gotten a lot better and a lot smoother.”
Fox Sports begins its coverage of Major League Baseball with Braves vs. Phillies at 3:05 p.m. and Manny Machado’s first game in San Diego vs. the San Francisco Giants at 8:40 p.m.