At the Ballpark: Cincinnati Reds Use Unique Season To Learn New HDR Videoboard
Smaller staff means more production responsibilities for crew members onsite
Although Major League Baseball is continuing with a 60-game regular season, the pulse of what makes professional baseball exciting remains at home. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 30 in-venue departments are forging ahead with operations inside empty stadiums. SVG’s At the Ballpark series takes you behind the control-room door and examines what it’s like to produce a fan-less venue experience in 2020.
Unlike in other sports, the concept of time is irrelevant in baseball, but, for one organization, timing has been everything. The Cincinnati Reds are operating an HDR videoboard Installed during the offseason in Great American Ball Park. With the regular season delayed and fans watching from home, Cincinnati Reds Director of Productions Jami Itiavkase and her staff are becoming more familiar with these new workflows with every passing game.
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“We had to learn it from scratch,” she explains. “The biggest struggle is, we don’t exactly know how to do everything yet. When we did this control-room update, we switched almost every vendor, so everything is brand new. My team has been amazing, and all of the training has been great.”
Learning Curve: In-Venue Team Find Its HDR Groove
Adopting an entirely new infrastructure is hard to do during any season, but, when you add the complexities of 2020, it has made the endeavor a lot more difficult. The newly renovated control room, designed and installed by Diversified and WJHW, features a 1080p 60 3G system with HDR, powered by a Ross switcher and graphics, Sony cameras, an Evertz EQX 16 SDI router as well as Evertz replay with a Yamaha mixer and CatDV media asset management system. A lot of pressure comes with executing a flawless show, but, without fans in the stands, the crew is able to roll with the punches and gain additional experience.
“It has been nice to say, ‘Okay, now we’re going to try this,’” adds Itiavkase. “We’ve realized that It’s okay to make a mistake during the game because we don’t have an audience. We obviously don’t want to make any and want the best show as possible at all times, but this is the time to try to figure out everything and see what we can do to make our show better for when fans do come back.”
Moving forward with less stress and more conviction in the production philosophy, the team is able to make significant strides within this new setup.
“Our Productions Manager, Billy Johnson, has started to make headway on this new system, and he has really been the front runner in getting all of our stats on the board and making sure everything looks right.”
Versatile Crew: Staffers Assume Multiple Control-Room Roles
To stifle the spread of COVID-19, only the most essential of workers are permitted in the ballpark. In the case of Itiavkase’s team, the department has limited available control-room seating. Because fewer stations mean fewer bodies, a fair number of members perform two simultaneous tasks during any given game.
“When we first started our scrimmage, I was out on camera, so we had even less people in the control room,” she explains. “Billy [Johnson] was running our computer graphics as well as our crowd noise. We quickly learned that it’s a full-time job and they have to concentrate to react immediately, so we called one of our game-day DJs, Nick Wiget. He has been keeping all of our players happy.”
With no one to entertain at field level, the Reds fan cam has been eliminated, freeing Content Productions Specialist/In-Game Host Kaitlin Simcoe for a new role behind the scenes. “Since we’ve unfortunately cut our crew in half, she’s now our one replay operator,” says Itiavkase. “She has really embraced that job, and it has been fun to watch.”
Sense of Normalcy: In-Venue Show Features Cincy-Flavored Elements
With a smaller staff, fake crowd noise to produce, and new HDR techniques to learn, the production team’s to-do list is understandably full of tasks. Even so, the videoboard show is still playing crowd favorites that fans are accustomed to seeing between innings.
“We’ve decided to keep some elements, like our Skyline Chili shuffle, which is a staple here,” says Itiavkase. “We’re also playing our Scoreboard Stumper trivia question every day. The biggest thing that we’re not doing is all of our postgame features and fan contests to its full capacity.”
In addition, the franchise’s quartet of mascots (Mr. Redlegs, Rosie Red, Mr. Red, and Gapper) are adding a wrinkle to the videoboard show with multiple cameos in the empty stands. The Reds are one of the few teams still allowing their mascots into the stadium.
“We’re one of the few parks that have our mascots here during the games,” notes Itiavkase. “We’re still doing our mascot race. We want to give our broadcast some [additional] shots and give [our crew] some entertainment to make the games feel more normal.”
Curtain Call: Notable Names of Reds’ In-Venue Team
Along with Wiget, Johnson, and Simcoe, Itiavkase has a full staff of production all-stars to thank for a smooth season so far.
“[Video Productions and Technical Specialist] Nick Prince has been TDing and directing, which has been a crazy job,” Itiavkase says. “He has had to cut a show when we were streaming the [practice] games online. We also have [Video Engineer/Technical Manager] Brent Vinson, who’s handling all of the videoboard shading, which has been very different this year with the HDR aspect.”
As the Reds continue their 2020 campaign, the squad in the control room will continue to adapt, learn, and grow as a unit.
“Our crew has been awesome,” she says. “I’m very blessed to be working with these people. We’re learning a lot, but we’ll keep up the show and see what we can do.”
The Cincinnati Reds will host a four-game set against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park, beginning Friday, August 28 at 7:10 p.m. ET.