Live From MLB on 9/11: Fox Sports Deploys 4K HDR, Postseason Tech for Emotional Subway Series
The broadcast also offered moments of reverence
Twenty years ago, New York City was a shell of itself: physically and emotionally hollow. Although the painful memory will never go away, the greater metropolitan area has been gradually healing over two decades of reflection and remembrance. This past Saturday, Fox Sports broadcast a special edition of the New York Mets vs. New York Yankees at Citi Field to honor the victims and the heroism of the first responders of Sept. 11, 2001.
“From the minute we knew that this game was going to be in our schedule, we knew that it was going to be special,” said Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports, before the game. “We also know how important baseball is to the fabric of America and what this day means to the country.”
Big Day for 4K: Four Games in 4K HDR for the First Time Ever
This unique game required a massive effort on its own, but it was also part of a bigger strategy that unfolded over the course of the day. Dubbed “4K Day,” Saturday was the first-time in the history of Fox Sports that four high-profile contests were televised in 4K HDR. Since college football is back, a trio of games across the nation — No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Texas A&M vs. Colorado, and Stamford vs. No. 14 USC — got in on the action. The lone baseball game in New York completed the quartet.
As is the network’s style, all these games were upconverted from 1080p HDR and available on multiple outlets: the FOX NOW and FOX Sports apps and linear outlets Xfinity, DirecTV, Dish, FiOS, Altice in New York, Fubo, and YouTube TV. Fox Sports has been broadcasting in 4K HDR for quite some time, but elevating its status to mainstream production format on this day was not a coincidence.
“This day was definitely planned,” said Cheney. “Our goal is always to bring as much 4K content to the fans as we can. When we had this baseball game, we were going to do this in 4K automatically, but, when we noticed that we’re also doing three college football games, we said, ‘Well, why can’t we make it the whole day on Fox?’”
4K Day was an example of Fox Sports’ commitment to the format and how it’s becoming more prevalent in the broadcaster’s tech toolbox. On the professional-baseball front, it was also seen during the 2021 MLB All-Star Game at Coors Field in Denver and MLB at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA. As the format becomes more familiar, it’ll begin to be used in more high-stakes regular-season games as time goes on.
“It’s great to see that our network is doing a lot of 4K games without waiting to do it in the postseason,” said Francisco Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “It’s a really exciting time here at Fox Sports.”
Postseason Mode: Playoff Crew, Equipment Play a Role at Citi Field
With the 2021 MLB Postseason around the corner, the network kicked into high gear with a full onsite crew in Flushing. More than 150 staffers were at the stadium, and to ensure that this game was produced with the utmost quality, the team that usually handles playoff games on Fox was in control.
In the compound, Game Creek Video’s Encore mobile units handled the production before heading out into the bulk of the network’s NFL broadcasts. The truck was also used in July’s Midsummer Classic and last month in Iowa.
For a Subway Series that garnered a lot of nationwide media attention, Fox Sports was working in a crowded compound. Friday’s game had been a local broadcast in New York, with crew members from SportsNet New York working at the stadium. Following that game, Fox Sports rolled in its infrastructure for its nationally televised game next to ESPN’s mobile unit handling the conclusion of the series for Sunday Night Baseball.
Inside the venue, a total of 26 cameras were deployed in various locations. Headlining the group was four super-slo-mo cameras, an RF MōVI that roamed the field during periods of downtime, and aerial shots of the city, including a camera mounted atop the main scoreboard at Citi Field.
Prior to first pitch, onsite studio programming originated from a studio set in the centerfield concourse near the famed Shea Bridge. Fox News broadcast an episode of The Five with the help of the set and Game Creek Video Encore. In addition, Tom Rinaldi hosted the four-camera Fox MLB Pregame with Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez, and David Ortiz.
A Different Kind of Storytelling: The Emotion of a City Conveyed 20 Years Later.
Using aerial shots of the city; the 9/11 sites in Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA; and locations around the nation, as well as the broadcast technology at his disposal, Lead Game Director Matt Gangl stitched together a telecast that tugged at viewer heart strings. Unlike MLB at Field of Dreams, which was a lighthearted production highlighting the cinematic environment, this assignment was not only to showcase a game featuring two teams fighting for a playoff spot but also to commemorate the lives lost in the attacks and highlight perseverance in the face of adversity.
“It’s a tough balance to find,” said Gangl before the game. “When we had our production meeting, one of the things that I brought up [was] that many of my colleagues were here when baseball came back to New York on Sept. 21, 2001. Now, there’s a game that’s important, but it’s also about showing the emotion in the crowd from the fans and seeing how the players are embracing that.”
Throughout the course of the day, especially in New York City, news stations spotlighted the events of 9/11, how it’s still affecting lives, and the annual reading of the names at the World Trade Center. The event has been felt within sports as well, and the crossover with the day’s news coverage was executed well by Rinaldi and his piece about Mike Piazza’s home run vs. Atlanta 10 days after the tragedy. That notion was continued by Gangl after the first pitch was thrown.
“We left the [retelling of the events on 9/11] to the news side,” he pointed out. “We’re focusing on how the day affected baseball and how the comeback of this sports gave everyone a sense of normalcy again.”
Gangl, a seasoned veteran with multiple All-Star Games and World Series under his belt, approached this game a bit differently than usual. From his perspective, this one night of baseball meant more than just the game played on the field.
“I woke up this morning and just started watching the news,” he said. “It really hits home and brings you back to a point of understanding the gravity of what happened. To be a part of a broadcast with two New York teams 20 years later, there’s a little bit of pressure because you want to make sure you’re delivering a product that is at the level it should be, but it’s also a very humbling position to be in.”
New York State of Mind: Fox Sports Concludes Summer of Big Apple Baseball
Saturday’s proceedings were an appropriate tribute to a city that lived through the events of 9/11 and is still, and may always be, in the process of healing. Whether it was the use of technological firepower or the dedication to showing respect for the victims and their families, Fox Sports closed the book on a busy summer of mainstage, regular-season baseball with a flourish.
“We love baseball,” noted Cheney. “To be able to provide events that draw in the entire country is really important to us. We’re glad to be able to bring this game to the people at home.”