World Series Preview: After Breathtaking NLCS, TXR Productions Generates Hometown Flair in Globe Life Field Bubble
Rays, Dodgers will leverage the Rangers’ in-venue team for a pseudo-remote production
Major League Baseball has rolled with its fair share of punches this season, including a delayed start date and multiple COVID-19 outbreaks, but the past three weeks of playoff baseball has surely made up for any misfortunes. In tandem with the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers production crews, TXR Productions will continue the fun at the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field with hometown, in-venue shows for the World Series.
“Brian [O’Gara, VP, special events, MLB] realized that a World Series wasn’t going to be played in home ballparks, so he wanted to find a way for home teams to feel like they were a part of [winning a championship at home],” says Chris DeRuyscher, senior director, ballpark entertainment and production, Texas Rangers. “Now the home team is responsible for a game log where they dictate what the in-venue show looks like from the time gates open until the end of the game.”
In the Cloud: Franchises Upload Videoboard Content Through Google Drive
Although this approach will kick into overdrive this week, the idea was put into place long before the final two teams qualified for the ultimate leg of the playoffs. When the league announced that Globe Life Field would host the National League Championship Series and the World Series, O’Gara and DeRuyscher pondered how a home-field advantage could be created in a neutral site.
“As we got closer to playing in a bubble,” DeRuyscher says, “Brian knew that the host bubble was going to be under a lot of pressure to produce and pull off these games. He wanted a show to be done without having multiple layers of producers.”
The production plan was put into place in theory, but, with many organizations fighting for the right to make it to Arlington, TX, the league and TXR Productions allowed all participating franchises — including teams that played in the Division Series without any fans — to submit content through a Google Drive folder prior to qualifying for the next round.
“All of the teams that we’ve hosted — the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers, and even teams that thought they were going to be [in the NLCS or World Series] — uploaded elements like headshots and hype videos,” DeRuyscher explains. “Phase 1 was the NLDS without fans, but players still wanted to get pumped up with their walk-up songs.”
The remote production has added an extra element to this peculiar postseason, but, with franchises’ production teams operating in different time zones and creating content before games have been played, there is a large margin for error. Each side is reducing that margin by following a relatively strict deadline.
“It has been awesome to work with people that know 100% what my team and I are up against,” says DeRuyscher. “We’re going to make every effort we can to get [a late submission in]. We at least get it into the system, watch it, and make sure that the audio and video are good. If I can do those things, then we’re good to go.”
Similar to the setup for these National League teams, the Petco Park bubble in San Diego also executed this tag-team production, especially for the American League Championship series between the Rays and Houston Astros.
Here’s a little behind the scenes look at my production setup producing Astros playoff “home” games out in San Diego while I’m still inside Minute Maid Park. Been so great working with the Padres amazing production staff executing all our elements! Excited for Game 5 today! pic.twitter.com/nKRjRQbhED
— Garret Young (@GarretYoung13) October 15, 2020
Virtual Collaboration: Teams Use Zoom for In-Game Communication
With tough COVID-19 protocols in place, there was no way of having both DeRuyscher’s crew and the acting home team’s staff in the same space. To overcome this logistical issue, both parties are synchronizing their run of show via the virtual workflow of Zoom. For example, the TXR crew will be in close contact with the LAD Productions crew of Executive Producer Greg Taylor; Game Day Producer/Editor Marty Messer; and Senior Director of Broadcast Engineering Tom Darin for Dodgers home games as well as Rays’ Director of Game Presentation and Production Michael Weinman and his staff for their home contests. DeRuyscher will be dividing his attention between the teams in their own control rooms and his own squad working alongside him.
“I’ll set up a Zoom call with those guys,” he says. “I’ll have them in one ear and my staff in my other ear. It’s stressful enough [to produce your own show], but there has been really good back-and-forth communication, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of consternation.”
Despite the distance between the two venues, both crews will take the time between innings to further harmonize the production and make any last-minute adjustments depending on the course of the game.
“We’ll take [the Dodgers’ or Rays’] run of show, put it in our format, and then, during the game, they’ll simply say, “This person is coming up so we have that great video that we downloaded and sent over.’ And we say, “Okay, we’ve got it,’ and then we roll it,” says DeRuyscher. “If they know they have a Will Smith video and the Dodgers know that it’ll be perfect in this situation, we’ll make that happen since we can adapt on the fly.”
A monitor in the production team’s control room feeds back a view of the field and the television broadcast and helps the team anticipate any instructions for content that needs to be shuffled DeRuyscher’s way.
“There’s a clock and a scoreboard feed being sent down [to us], and Chris has a camera on his Zoom call that’s facing the field,” said Scott Cunningham, VP, fan experience, Atlanta Braves, before Game 6 of the NLCS. “I have two different areas that I can look at to see exactly what’s going on and who’s next up. We’ve been in situations where there’s a video that we were going to play late in a game if we were losing. I didn’t want to play it, so I let him know, ‘Hey, kill that video in the middle of the eighth inning and replace it with this.’”
Hometown Cooking: Fans in Texas See Live Shots from Dodgers Stadium, Truist Park
In addition to the premade content being shown on the videoboard, the Dodgers and Braves offered DeRuyscher and company even more material with their own productions happening in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
During various intermissions in the action, TXR Productions went live to either Dodgers Stadium and Truist Park for quick looks at the socially distant gatherings happening inside and outside the ballpark.
“We’re in the ballpark [in Texas] ,” he notes, “but we were going live to these tailgates, and it was pretty cool. The Dodgers came up with some great live elements for their home atmosphere, but then the Braves caught wind and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing a watch party, so how about we send you a live Mr. Freeze Race?”
Along with the sponsor obligations fulfilled during this downtime, these updates from each ballpark added a new wrinkle that gave Dodgers and Braves fans in Texas a glimpse of home. Plus, it further leveraged a remote-production infrastructure that has become commonplace over the past few months.
“The technology has been absolutely mind-blowing,” adds DeRuyscher. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘That was cool that you did that prerecorded.’ I had to remind them that it was completely live.”
At Long Last: TXR Productions Looks Back on Uncommon 2020 and Its Fitting Conclusion
The concept of romance is heavily associated with the game of baseball. Whether it’s a dramatic comeback, an agonizing defeat, or a champagne-filled triumph, nothing is more romantic than the World Series. For DeRuyscher, though, the return of fans for the first time in 2020 on Oct. 12 was a surreal moment and a pretty good birthday present.
“When we were able to have fans in the building for the first time for NLCS Game 1,” he says, “they didn’t know we were opening the roof. We go to open the roof, and [Music Director] Michael Gruber starts playing the song from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ and all 11,750 fans that were allowed in start going nuts.”
This special night occurred a week ago, and now the production team and all inside the new stadium are hoping for one more week of baseball. When the title is clinched and a dog pile ensues, it’ll be a fitting finale to a tumultuous 2020 season.
“We went from potentially not having a season to opening the ballpark in a 60-game season to ‘Guess what? You’re going to be the bubble for the MLB playoffs,’ says DeRuyscher. “I can’t speak enough about our whole staff and the work that they’ve put in. This whole year has been about figuring out the new norm, but being able to host the World Series is going to be amazing.”
Game 1 of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers begins tonight at 8:09 p.m. ET.