MLB Opening Day 2021: Fox Sports Builds on Last Year With EVS Extra Motion, Megalodon, 1080p HDR
Pandemic effect remains in a mix of onsite, remote production
When Fox Sports’ coverage of the 2021 MLB season takes to the mound this Saturday, the core production philosophy from last year will — unsurprisingly — again be on display, and there will be a couple of notable regular-season productions, new toys in the production arsenal, and even some 1080p HDR productions.
Restrictions are still in place, notes Fox Sports SVP, Remote Production, Judy Boyd, to limit the number of people onsite. That means that games on FS1 will rely heavily on the home team’s production, which will serve as a world feed for both Fox Sports and the visiting team’s TV partner.
“We will take the home feed and add graphics and announcers for our cable shows,” she explains. “When we have three games in primetime, we will [have] announcers Joe Buck and John Smoltz [onsite for one game] but do the other two from L.A. as a true Home Run Production. We’ll bring back seven to nine cameras and have the producer and director in a control room in L.A.”
According to Fox Sports VP, Field Operations and Engineering, Brad Cheney, two unilateral cameras will be added to the world feed. The biggest change from last year may be that the Fox Sports team is working alongside a new partner for some of the world feeds: the Bally Sports networks, which were formerly Fox Sports RSNs.
“We’re really excited for our friends who are now at Bally’s,” he says. “It’s going to be what we call ‘world feed plus.’ We will take the home RS feed and enhance it with two cameras for every game. A couple of shows will also be done as Home Run Productions, which we started off with last year.”
Local camera operators will be onsite to man the two cameras, and all the feeds will be brought together with the mobile vendor, who is onsite for the game.
“The big thing about baseball for us is, it really is a giant family affair,” says Cheney. “We’re working with everyone from Game Creek Video and Mobile TV Group to NEP on the mobile-unit front. And CP Communications is with us again, providing all of our audio gear, and Fletcher will handle robos. It’s a great group of people that have been doing baseball with us since we started. We’re always excited to have them back along with us.”
Boyd gives a shoutout to MLB, EVS, ChyronHego, and Vizrt as great partners for what looks like another unique season.
“Last year was not easy, and the postseason was a bear, but MLB worked with us,” she says. “We were able to make the NLCS and World Series production at a level that we do every year, and that’s thanks to MLB. And then there are vendors like EVS, Vizrt, and ChyronHego that have helped set up the HRP process and have now accelerated it. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Shows To Be Produced Onsite
Cheney does say that some of the Fox national shows will be produced onsite, a welcome return for an industry still looking for a sense of pre–COVID-19 normalcy.
“Those shows will utilize the Vault technology that we built [in the Pico facility] for NASCAR, the NFL, and college football,” says Cheney. “We’re excited to continue along the technological pathway that we built during the past 12 months.”
For the HRP shows, a small transmission unit with proprietary HRP kits will take signals from the onsite unit producing the home show and will provide cameras, super-slo-mo replay on a couple of cameras, and replays from EVS.
“Those feeds will go back to Los Angeles for production integration,” says Cheney. “Our announcers will be everywhere, with some working in their homes and others in the studios at the network or the Big 10 studios in Chicago.”
Also, EVS Extra Motion technology will be used during the HRP games, giving the production team the ability to take any feed and turn it into a super-slo-mo replay. Says Cheney, “We expect to get a lot of use out of that this year.”
May 22 will be highlighted by three regional games distributed simultaneously across the U.S., along with a primetime game marking the return of primetime baseball on Saturday nights.
“We’re also pushing towards All-Star, where you’ll see things like the Megalodon make an appearance on baseball, as well as dirt cams back in action,” says Cheney. “And we’ll produce those jewel events in 1080p HDR.”
One highlight of the regular-season schedule will be the Field of Dreams game, which will be played in an Iowa cornfield on Aug. 12. That game, between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, was originally slated for last season.
“We’re very excited and think that is going to have something special for everyone,” says Cheney. “We’re pulling out the plans and dusting them off and will look at them with some fresh eyes. We’ve got a lot of great ideas.”
Adds Boyd, “We’re super-excited to do that game as it was scheduled for last year. It will be a great night with lots of nostalgia, and the field will be only 500 yards away from the original house and field that were used in the movie.”
A second regular-season highlight will be a game between the New York Yankees and New York Mets at Citi Field on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“It will be produced in 1080p HDR,” notes Cheney. “We’re awed to be able to do that game for the people in New York and the country at large.
For now, the focus is on this Saturday’s doubleheader between the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies at 3 p.m. ET and the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers at 8 p.m. It will be the first two games of a record 40 regular-season contests that will be seen on Fox and FS1.
“As the year goes by,” Cheney adds, “we will continue to bring the best product to the viewer. We’ve got an amazing team led by Francisco Contreras, with Nick Utley, Nikki Perrin, Sid Drexler, Tom Lynch, TJ Scanlon, and Rob Brotzman. It’s a great group of people that have been at this for a good number of years, and it’s a fun team.”