NBC Sports Chicago’s New Pitch-Type Graphic on White Sox Games Draws Fan Praise, Interest From Other Broadcasters
The RSN is first broadcaster to add type of pitch to strikezone graphic overlay
Although the pitch-tracking graphic over home plate has become a staple of the modern baseball broadcast, NBC Sports Chicago (NBCSCH) has brought a new twist to the overlay. In late April, the RSN debuted a “pitch type” element as part of the MLB PitchCast strikezone graphic overlay and it has drawn not only rave reviews from viewers but growing interest from other MLB rightsholders around the country.
Although pitch location and speed have been a fundamental piece of the virtual overlay of the strike zone for years, NBCSCH displays the pitch type in real time, offering the viewer a more complete picture of the pitcher/batter duel. Other RSNs, including YES Network, have displayed the pitch type as part of its scorebug graphic, but NBCSCH is believed to be the first to integrate it directly into the strikezone graphic overlay displayed above home plate.
“It’s the first of its kind, which we’re really proud of,” says NBC Sports Chicago Executive Producer Greg Bowman. “We believe It just allows the viewer to engage more with the game. It provides them additional information for the most important storyline, which is that pitcher and batter duel. With pitch type, you can see how a pitcher is attacking a hitter. Plus, all the information is in one specific area on the screen [over home plate] so it makes it more engaging and easier to watch the experience.”
The idea for the pitch-type graphic came up during one of Bowman’s regular morning calls with NBCSCH SVP/GM Kevin Cross at the end of March just before Opening Day. The two were pondering how to better engage viewers – especially younger viewers – in the pitcher/batter duel during the broadcast.
“We wanted to provide fans with valuable information during the game, as well as appeal to a younger audience and what they experience in playing videogames,” Bowman explains. “The league already provided pitch speed and location within the strike-zone box, but the one thing that was missing was pitch type. We started talking about putting it all in one location within the strike-zone box so that the viewer’s eyes didn’t have to go up to the scorebug in the upper left-hand corner after every single pitch.”
He quickly put together a mock-up of the pitch type graphic and sent it off to the league for feedback and approval. Since MLB provides all Statcast and PitchCast data at the ballpark, using dedicated optical-tracking cameras (capturing angle, spin rate, and speed of the pitch), Bowman knew the league would have to play a major role in developing the new graphic.
“[The league] had not been approached about this in the past, and they were very receptive to it,” he says. “They went to bat for us in working with their development staff and worked up a demo fit for their system. Then we went back and forth making some tweaks here and there and tested a couple of different versions.”
The pitch-type graphic premiered during the White Sox home game against Cleveland on April 30 and has been used in every home-game broadcast since then.
Originally, the pitch-type graphic was not available for away games (the RSN worked with vendor TV Graphics to incorporate a dropdown element in the scorebug). However, after working with the league and away-team broadcasters on the MLB’s current “enhanced–world-feed model,” NBCSCH was able to add the pitch-type graphic over the plate to its away-game broadcasts in early June.
“It’s great that now we’re consistent on both home and road games using pitch types,” says Bowman. “When Major League Baseball delivers the PitchCast [data], they deliver a home feed and a visitor feed. All we had to do was reconfigure some TD switcher setups for our own show since we provide a world feed to the visiting team. And then, when we’re on the road, we work with the home-team [RSN] to take the PitchCast visiting feed that they’re getting at their stadium and have Major League Baseball feed our pitch-type graphics look on the visiting PitchCast feed.”
He notes that, although fan reaction was about 50-50 after the first weekend of games, White Sox fans soon warmed to the pitch-type graphic and the feedback has been extremely positive in the weeks since.
In addition, several other MLB rightsholders have inquired about using the technology in their own broadcasts. NBCSCH did not want to limit other broadcasters’ access to the pitch-type graphic, Bowman says, adding that the league is free to grant access to the technology for other rightsholders.
“This further differentiates us from other broadcasts,” he says. “We’re all very proud, but we’re also happy to share it because it’s really an exciting addition.
“In my opinion,” Bowman continues, “we have one of the best production teams in the country, and we would put our game productions up against anybody. With innovations like this and all the other production elements we include in our games, I feel like we’re one of the best productions in baseball, and this is just one example of that.”