MLB Returns: NESN To Produce ‘Red Sox-ized’ In-Market Broadcasts in Addition to World Feed

Safety protocols are high priority onsite and in the studio

In an effort to reduce production crew and facilities onsite for safety this MLB season, regional sports networks have been tasked with producing a neutral world feed for all MLB teams home games to be distributed to the away-team RSNs and national broadcasters. SVG is delving into how each RSN group is handling this new production model as part of its MLB Returns series to open the 2020 season.

Although the majority of MLB’s regional sports networks will rely largely on the world feed that they will be producing for their teams’ home games for in-market broadcasts, NESN is looking to take the extra step in customizing telecasts for New England fans.

In addition to having its primary production — led by director Mike Narracci and producer Amy Johnson in the truck at Fenway Park producing the world feed — the network will have producer/director Dan Aspan cutting a more Red Sox-focused broadcast from a control room at its broadcast center in Watertown, MA, where talent will also call the action for both home and away games.

NESN is producing its own in-market telecasts based on the world feed at its Watertown, MA, studio.

“We will be Red Sox-izing the world feed for our audience,” says Rick Jaffe, VP, programming and production, NESN. “The world-feed crew will provide the base line cut with all replays, and then Dan will be able to override it with customized elements. We can [insert] any enhancements that we bring to the table like miked-up players, fans via Zoom camera, or special guest interviews — here [at the PCR] and not upset the world feed.”

NESN expects this dual-production model to better serve baseball-hungry Red Sox fans in its own market but also sees it as a benefit to away RSNs and national broadcasters receiving its neutral/unbiased world feed.

“Our No. 1 responsibility from our truck is the world feed and providing a 50-50 narrative, but, downstream from the world feed, we can use the PCR to do customization,” says Howard Zalkowitz, director, production/senior coordinating producer, NESN. “I think our model of having the 50-50 world feed and then having our own home show customized downstream will actually provide a better show for the other [networks]. By separating it, we can still live up to all our obligations to the league and with the world feed and yet still do our own broadcast separately; it’s the best of both worlds.”

O’Brien, Remy, and Eck Call Sox Action From the Studio

NESN’s on-air trio of Dave O’Brien, Jerry Remy, and Dennis Eckersley will call the action from monitors at the Watertown studios for multiple reasons, including providing a safe environment for Remy as he continues to battle cancer, the close proximity to Aspan at the broadcast center, and the expansive space the studio offers for a three-man booth.

“We’re going to have a three-man booth,” says Zalkowitz, “and they all told us that eye contact between each of them was an absolute must. If we were to social-distance them at Fenway, they would have lost that eye contact because we would have to put them in separate booths. But now, in the configuration in the studio, they are in a horseshoe shape with plexiglass up in between them and are 8 ft. apart. This way, they have the same setup for home and road, and they can all see each other and communicate [non-verbally].”

NESN’s Jerry Remy, Dennis Eckersley, and Dave O’Brien are socially distanced while calling Red Sox games remotely from the studio.

At each announcer station, NESN has set up large monitors displaying a program feed, an “all-9” angle of the entire field, a multiviewer that includes the scoreboard and other POVs, and a routable feed so Aspan can route replays and other packaged content to them.

“We’re going to try to replicate their booth environment as best as possible,” says Jaffe, “and this does that much better than being in the booth at Fenway. We’re not going to shy away from where they’re calling the game from; we’re going to show them in the studio a lot with a two-box [frame] so that we don’t leave the field.”

NESN Retains Camera Complement, Adds LiveU for ‘Best Seat in the House’

NESN worked closely with the Red Sox to retain the same camera complement that it had last year at Fenway Park: eight hard cameras (seven for NESN and one dedicated to the away show), two robos, and five POVs. A LiveU ENG serves as “Best Seat in the House” camera.

With no fans in the stands, NESN is looking to provide viewers a new perspective during its “Best Seat in the House” segments throughout each game. The network has brought in a LiveU bonded-cellular IP transmission system that allows a wireless camera to roam the stands with reporter Guerin Austin.

“They will be showing views from different seats in the ballpark, so you get a chance to look at different locations in the ballpark where fans would usually sit,” says Zalkowitz. “It’s great because the LiveU circumvents the world feed truck and goes right back to our PCR, where Dan can integrate it into our show. And we have [comms] between our reporter Guerin and our talent in the studio, so they can interact. It’s a great integration for the NESN telecast that we feel also will protect the 50-50 world feed split.”

Odds and Ends: Miking players, Boosting Crowd Noise, Keeping the Crew Safe

NESN’s on-air talent has a variety of feeds to view when calling Red Sox games off-monitor in the studio.

On the audio side, NESN is working with the Red Sox to arrange for players to be outfitted with mics during games when possible. In addition, NESN is experimenting with enhancing the simulated crowd noise provided by the league in its in-market telecasts.

In terms of safety, NESN has instituted strict protocols in the studio and has worked closely with Game Creek Video, which provides its 94 mobile unit at Fenway, and the Red Sox to develop safety protocols for crew at the ballpark.

“We have less [staff] coming in since we’re having a lot of people edit remotely and work from home for our news shows,” says Jaffe. “So we’ve been able to take the space in this building to spread people out.”

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