Live From MLB All-Star 2021: Fox Sports To Spotlight 91st Midsummer Classic With 4K HDR, Dual Megalodons and FlyCams, Offsite Help From the Vault
The production will also comprise 75 field microphones, in-game interviews
Whether it’s the star-studded roster of players or the fact that this game was missing from the MLB calendar last year, the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will be one of the more highly anticipated exhibitions in recent memory. Fox Sports will once again be at the center of this crown-jewel event, with 65 cameras (including two Megalodons and two FlyCams), 4K HDR workflows, a crowded truck compound, and offsite resources from the Vault in Los Angeles.
“A show like the MLB All-Star Game is always a huge team effort,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “This will be one of the bigger onsite shows that we’ve had [in quite some time].”
Change in Location: Planning Offsets the Sudden Shift to Denver
Soon after the beginning of the season in April, Fox Sports was ready to go full bore with new technologies and workflows developed during the pandemic. Unfortunately, when Major League Baseball decided to move this year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver, the broadcaster faced a bevy of production and logistical challenges. Adapting on the fly and making important decisions quickly, Fox Sports shifted to a new production plan.
“The team that we have out here have done a remarkable job with planning within a short period of time,” says Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “We started in May, so we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.”
A lot of the trouble was mitigated by physically traveling to Denver to check out Coors Field. With so many production elements happening at once, it was imperative to construct a foundation that set the crew up for success.
“We had a total of three site visits [in Denver],” says Tom Lynch, lead technical producer, Fox Sports. “We try to push the idea that we’re going to be extremely organized for our shows.”
Fox Sports used this trio of site visits to plot out their camera map as well as to work with local and state officials to solidify a COVID-19 safety plan for employees in the compound.
“The challenge with any All-Star Game is finding those special camera spots and where we’ll be able to best showcase the ballpark we’re in,” says Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “We worked within a condensed timeline and with ever-changing operational awareness from the state and the league.”
Tech Additions: Pair of Megalodons, FlyCams Promise Engaging Shots from Coors Field
Shallow–depth-of-field cameras have taken the sports world by storm, deployed at almost every sports event since their introduction last December. Fox Sports calls its rig Megalodon and tonight will deploy two simultaneous systems. One, a Sony α1, will work on the field to capture the customary images of the players. The other, featuring a Sony A7R IV with a Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens and DJI Ronin-S gimbal, will be used in a relatively new capacity within the crowd and concourse to show cinematic shots of the surrounding areas.
“We want to show off the game’s pageantry, and, while we won’t use these Megalodons for every single shot, we find that they’re really good for certain situations, like player introductions,” says Davies. “We also think that the second one can get a really cool Fan Cam out in the stands.”
Above the field, Fox Sports will debut two FlyCam systems: one traversing the foul line on the first-base side from home plate to the right-field foul pole, the other covering the other side of the field. These aerial systems will feature a Sony HDC-P50.
“Dual FlyCams is something that we haven’t done at an All-Star Game,” notes Contreras. “We had it for last year’s postseason, but we figured we could try it out here in Denver.”
CP Communications will be handling the RF needs for the Megalodons, FlyCam, other handhelds around the stadium as well as the wired POV cameras in the batting cages. The company’s crew of 23 onsite staffers, located in their HD-21 mobile unit, is also being tapped for connectivity for Fox Sports slate of studio programming at Coors Field and the main game broadcast.
Best of the Rest: 50 1080p HDR Cams, RF MōVI, Virtual Eye
Although the two Megalodons may steal the tech headlines, there are other gems sprinkled around the 65-camera show. At the top of the list is the broadcaster’s presentation of Tuesday night’s contest in 4K HDR. A total of 50 cameras will be set at 1080p HDR, including the Megalodons, FlyCams, a Sony HDC-P50 on an RF MōVI camera rig, and another RF handheld.
“We want to deliver a state-of-the-art type of signal and make sure the audience that’s getting SDR is getting a great product as well,” says Davies. “We have a pretty good system; it’s not the science experiment it used to be several years ago.”
The rest of the cameras inside the venue also bring significant firepower to the linear broadcast. Ten super-slow-motion cameras operating at 360 fps and two Phantom cameras at 2,000+ fps will be located at the high-home and low-third-base positions. Fletcher will be on deck for robotic cameras. On the graphics side, Fox Sports is bringing back its Virtual Eye package for colorful and insightful displays of home runs, spray charts, and pitch types.
“We’ve got a new tracking experience that rivals what you’ve seen in other sports,” says Cheney. “We’re excited to use it in a ballpark that allows the ball to fly a bit with the altitude and show fans what’s happening in the game.”
Immersive Audio: 75 Field Mics, IFB Communication Spice Up the Sound Profile
It wouldn’t be an MLB All-Star Game without a large dose of immersive audio. More than 75 microphones will be located at field level, including 13 strategically buried in the grass and dirt. In addition, the broadcast will highlight the players’ charm and personality through live in-game interviews. As on a handful of the network’s regular-season telecasts, players will be outfitted with microphones and an IFB device to hold real-time chats with the broadcast team of Joe Buck and John Smoltz.
“This is the same miking setup that we use for the World Series,” notes Cheney, “but we get to enhance it with mics and IFBs on players that we’ll be able to talk to live during the game. We’ll also have [sports journalists] Ken Rosenthal, Tom Rinaldi, and Tom Verducci on the field to interview players. It’s always a cool experience to stand out in the on-deck circle and talk to somebody right before they go up for their first at-bat.”
Similar to the wireless cameras, CP Communications is supplying support for 60 wireless microphones
At the Pico Facility: L.A.-Based Vault Supplies Remote Replay, Graphics Services
During the pandemic, Fox Sports’ Pico facility in Los Angles played an integral part of the broadcaster’s Home Run Productions. More specifically, the Vault has become the go-to location for these remote contributions. Led by VP, Field Operations and Engineering, Kevin Callahan, the centralized operation will once again pump out important pieces of the production puzzle.
“We’ll have 10 replay operators, two graphics operators, editing, and a lot of other resources in Los Angeles,” Cheney explains. “The beneficial part is that we’ve got people that are able to work in their normal workspaces, and it’s a collaborative back-and-forth.”
Onsite in Denver, the television compound will have four mobile units dedicated to the telecast. Game Creek Video’s Encore is the main truck, with A1 Joe Carpenter and his audio team in the A unit, key production personnel like Technical Director Paul Harvath, Game Director Matt Gangl, and Game Producer Pete Macheska in the B unit, and onsite replay in the C unit. Game Creek Video’s Edit 4 will handle Statcast and Pitchcast elements. With the weather expected to be in the mid to high 90s, CAT Entertainment Services is controlling the temperature through onsite generators.
Hat Tip to the Crew: Stellar Team Celebrates MLB’s Midseason Mark
After the unfortunate cancellation of the 2020 All-Star Game, which had been slated for Los Angeles’s Dodger Stadium, it has been a whopping 734 days since the league and Fox Sports celebrated the game’s best players. A lot of technology has changed since the 2019 edition in Cleveland, but one thing that the pandemic didn’t take away was the broadcaster’s passion for onsite operations. The production crew in Denver includes Technical Producers Sid Drexler, TJ Scanlon, Carlos Gonzalez, and Lynch; Lead Operations Manager Lindsay Waine; Operations Managers Nick Utley, Nicole Perrin, Tami Eiserer, and Ashley Cox; Studio Technical Producers Mike Vaughn and Kory Scudder; Lead Studio Operations Manager Amy Burns; and Studio Operations Manager Melissa Zimmer.
“Having crews onsite makes for a better production,” says Lynch. “It brings an authentic feeling to our efforts, and, with fans [in attendance], there’s an energy that hasn’t been present over the past year.”
Besides the technological innovations, this production will be the first of many highlights under the Fox Sports MLB umbrella. Among those upcoming are the Field of Dreams game on Aug. 12, a special matchup between the New York Mets and New York Yankees on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and a full slate of postseason play.
From Davies’s perspective, getting the crew back together is something to treasure.
“We have a lot of tentpole events,” he notes. “So it’s great to come back to a compound that’s very similar to what it looked like before the pandemic. We’ve certainly been able to take advantage of technology to make things more efficient. But, if you look back at where we were when sports returned, any of us back in May 2020 would have felt really happy to be in the environment that we’re in right now.”
Fox Sports coverage of the 2021 MLB All-Star Game at Denver’s Coors Field will begin with a pregame show at 7 p.m. ET.