YES Network Deploys Robotic Cameras, Remote Production for Yankees Summer Camp Intrasquad Scrimmages

Six robos, Stamford-based crew provide fans a new stream of content

While professional sports continue the uphill climb back into the spotlight, regional sports networks are striving to serve new material to content-hungry fans. YES Network, for example, is practicing social-distancing with six robotic cameras positioned inside Yankees Stadium to showcase numerous Yankees Summer Camp Intrasquad scrimmages.

On-air talent Meredith Marakovits (bottom right) chats with first baseman Luke Voit (bottom left) while shortstop Gleyber Torres (top left) and starting pitcher J.A. Happ warm up at Yankee Stadium.

“We’re a bedrock in the community, and sports play such a prominent role in our society,” says  John Filippelli, president, production and programming/executive producer, YES Network. “Right now, with all that’s going on in the world, people need some relief. Fans want to see the Yankees, and this is a way to get people excited again about the upcoming season.”

Behind the Curtain: Fans Get a Personal Look at 2020 Roster
Other organizations — Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox — have launched similar efforts, but the Yankees were at the beginning of this trend.

Since Monday, July 6, Yankees Summer Camp has provided a glimpse of what’s going on during these informal, six-inning scrimmages leading up to the start of the regular season. Before the Yankees’ first official game, to be hosted by 2019 World Series-winning Washington Nationals on Thursday, July 23, fans can speculate on who will be penciled into the Opening Day lineup. For some franchises, this might be a breach of privacy, but, with the team on board, this inside look only humanizes the players in pinstripes.

“We’re all on the same page, and they feel the same way that we do,” notes Filippelli. “The team understands why it’s important that we show and present whatever we can.”

A two-box featuring Bob Lorenz and Jack Curry in the Stamford, CT, studio and on-field batting practice

In addition to being an analytical tool, these scrimmages have provided other storylines that are worth keeping an eye on during the shortened season, including Clint Frazier’s decision to wear a mask while playing. No matter the reason, the initiative has gotten off to a good start. There has been a significant amount of traction, so the network has expanded the Summer Camp show to four hours at 5-9 p.m. ET.

Watching From Afar: Robos Provide Multi-Angle Telecast
With strict rules prohibiting non-essential staff in the stadium, the team at YES had to think a bit out of the box to pull off these broadcasts. With no camera operators allowed, a total of six robotic cameras — some permanent fixtures in the dugouts, on the backstop, and high above the structure’s famous façade — have become the eyes for fans watching at home. It’s the best way to adhere to guidelines imposed by the league, team, and medical professionals.

“Given what we’re faced with, [working with robos] makes all the sense in the world,” explains Filippelli. “We have to keep track of how many people are in the ballpark and keep it down to a base number because we have to respect this situation. It’s our way of helping to manage the pandemic.”

For a network accustomed to having multiple high-speed cameras at its disposal, simplifying a production may be difficult to do. Unlike during a chaotic and hectic regular season, Filippelli and his production team are using this time to hone their craft and make any changes as they go.

To spread out production personnel, an EVS replay operator works inside an enclosed office.

“We’re continuing to function at a pretty high level, but we’re learning a lot and getting some pretty interesting shots in places that we normally wouldn’t put robos,” says Filippelli. “Our robo operators have been tremendous. [Senior Coordinating Producer] Jared Boshnack is one of the very best in the business. [VP, Broadcast Operations and Engineering,] Mike Webb is making sure that we’re tweaking the things that we need to. And we’re getting enough interviews, features, and other packages together to make a pretty good presentation.”

Working Remotely: Crew in Stamford, Talent at Home Give Layer of Context
The hub of the network’s large lineup of studio shows, the production facility in Stamford, CT, is pitching in on the effort, providing a large yet socially distant production crew. Led by Boshnack and Webb, the effort also involved Director Mike Cooney, Lead Graphics Coordinator Sean Sullivan, Tape Associate Directors Mike Medvin and Megan Bagnulo, Broadcast Operations personnel Lenny Cherson, Robin Moore, and Anthony Licata, and many others.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, CDC guidelines are being followed at this facility as well. Some examples include plexiglass dividers between workstations, necessary face coverings, and separating teams in make-shift control rooms. In addition, on-air talent Buck Showalter, John Flaherty, Paul O’Neill, Michael Kay, David Cone, Meredith Marakovits, and Ken Singleton have been contributing via video conferencing while Bob Lorenz and Jack Curry supply commentary inside the studio.

“We have on-air talent and announcers who know the game, speak it well, and can talk to our fan base,” says Filippelli. “They’ve also been able to give context to these games, background information that [fans] need to get ready for the season, and address the state of the game as it is right now with some of these rules changes.”

All-Encompassing Positive: YES Network Sees Overall Value in the Strategy
The RSN has stayed quite busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began with the Yes, We’re Here digital campaign. The network has fared quite well since implementing this impromptu idea nearly a week ago: the first scrimmage peaked at 62,000 total viewers and, the next day, with ace Gerrit Cole on the mound, reached 57,000 total viewers.

Health guidelines like social distancing, face coverings, and plexiglass dividers are followed in the network’s control rooms.

This upcoming weekend, intrasquad will turn to intersquad when the Yankees and Mets participate in a cross-town home and home series (at Citi Field on Saturday, July 18 at 7 p.m. and at home on Sunday, July 19 at 7 pm.); the Yankees host the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday, July 20 at 6 p.m. All three of these preseason games will also be televised on YES Network. With more of these warmup games in the near future, the effort continues with support starting from the top.

Jon Litner, who’s our CEO, has been at the forefront of pushing the envelope with what we should be able to do,” says Filippelli. “Without his blessing, backing, and enthusiastic support, some of this may not happen, and it’s important to recognize that he has made a significant contribution to this.”

That support by Litner and other executives at the company has enabled YES Network to branch out and perfect new concepts that further enrich fans in the nation’s largest media market.

“We pride ourselves on delivering an engaging and award-winning program for the biggest and most passionate fan base in the country,” says Filippelli. “There will be challenges and things that we haven’t faced before. but we won’t know until we try different things, but it’s a good thing to do because everyone — the fans, the ballclub, and the network — are all served well by [these productions].”

YES Network’s first televised regular-season game will be the finale of the three-game series with the Nationals on Sunday, July 26 at 1 p.m. ET. The team’s home schedule will begin at Yankee Stadium vs. Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 29 at 7:05 p.m. ET.