2021 World Series: Fox Sports Looks Forward to First Fall Classic With Full-Capacity Crowds in Two Years
The Houston-Atlanta series will also introduce new technologies
The 2021 MLB World Series will be a tale of two teams: representing the American League, the Houston Astros will be making their third appearance in five years; the National League’s Atlanta Braves, their first in 22 years. At the center of this highly contested series will be Fox Sports, which will complete its all-4K postseason with the implementation of new technologies and deployment of both onsite and offsite personnel.
“Fans have enjoyed 1080p HDR shows throughout the entire postseason,” says Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “[Providing them] involves new equipment and workflows. Each year has become more complex, and we’re continuing to push that effort moving forward.”
West Coast Ops: Remote Services Housed at the Vault, THUMBWAR Facility
Remote and cloud-based solutions have driven much of the network’s postseason programming, and this will be true for the potentially seven-game Series. These operations have been centralized in Fox Sports’ Pico facility in Los Angeles, and employees located in the Vault there will handle much of the productions taking place in Texas and Georgia.
While the remote operations teams are focused on the World Series, they’re also dealing with a high-profile schedule of both NFL and college-football broadcasts. At the height of the postseason, their workload increased significantly. For example, last Thursday was a travel day before Friday’s Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, but they were busy with the Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football.
“We have a lot of individuals supporting us from the Vault,” says Cheney. “They went from a three- to- four-day-per-week operation to a seven-day-per-week operation between us and the NFL.”
In addition to the Vault, a facility constructed by THUMBWAR near the Pico building houses essential staffers. This mini data center, spearheaded by THUMBWAR Founding Partner Brian Carr and VP, Engineering, Trevor Carlson, gathers content worked on by remote editors outside the Los Angeles metro area and funnels it into the main broadcast facility. This ancillary location handles the bulk of the workflows for other departments, such as promotions, marketing, postproduction, and daily programming.
“[These editors] have extremely low latency into their edit bays, which makes it feel like they’re editing on actual hardware in front of them,” Cheney says. “They’ll also dealing with the highest-quality footage.”
Logistical Puzzle: Network Plans for Possible Cross-Country Fall Classic
Every October, all of Major League Baseball’s television partners play a waiting game to see which cities they’ll be working in. Fox Sports figured out the possibilities for a day of multiple Game 163s and where to locate its technology for the American League Division Series. When the ALCS reached the late stages, the broadcaster faced one of three cities for Game 1: Los Angeles if the Dodgers made a comeback against the Braves and the Red Sox defeated the Astros, Atlanta if the Wild Card-winning Red Sox won the final two games on the road, and Houston if the Astros finished the job. The last of the trio became the real outcome.
A Series with the Dodgers would have shortened the distance to 14 miles between onsite teams at Dodgers Stadium and offsite teams at the Vault, but the current situation isn’t as bad as it could have been. A Dodgers-Red Sox tie would have put nearly 3,000 miles between the broadcaster’s AL and NL operations, but now, it’s only 800 miles between Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Atlanta’s Truist Park. Fox Sports worked closely with Game Creek Video (provider of trucks for the AL venue), NEP (truck provider for the NL venue), and SOS Global, which helped ship the equipment from city to city. Luckily, the team producing ALCS Game 6 last Friday were able to stay in Houston for tonight’s Game 1.
“It’s about [the infrastructure] that you have to protect and putting assets in place [ahead of time],” Cheney explains. “A lot of other parties — like ESPN, MLB Network, and MLB International — have to wait for us to show up and align things for parking and distribution.”
In Atlanta, NEP’s EN2 will handle game coverage, and NCP11 will handle the studio show. In Houston, Game Creek Video’s Yogi will handle the game; Northstar, the studio show. At the onsite studio desk will be Kevin Burkhardt, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, and World Series champions Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.
In the booth, Joe Buck and John Smoltz will call the game. Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci will report from field level. This will be Buck’s 22nd straight World Series and 24th overall, which ties his former colleague Tim McCarver for the most Fall Classics behind the mic.
Additional Tech: Second Megalodon, More Super-Slo-Mos
As the postseason progressed, Fox Sports increased the technologies deployed. The full playoff complement was quite extensive, including the return of DirtCam, the postseason debut of Megalodon, and dual PitchNinjas.
The World Series will provide fresh angles on the action with even more additions to the tech arsenal. Games will now run with two Megalodons (one for participants on the field, the other for shots of the crowd), two C360 cameras, and three super-slo-mo cameras at 6X. Two additional Sony HDC-4800’s will be running at 16X. As for lenses, Canon is supplying three of UHD-DIGISUPER 122 box lenes and the CJ20ex5B.
One piece of hardware that has made a huge difference has been an RF Flycam. With two at their disposal, Fox Sports has been able to showcase each stadium to its fullest extent, as well as the excitement of fans enjoying postseason baseball.
“The Flycams were outstanding in the oldest ballpark in baseball,” says Cheney. “With the way Fenway Park wraps around in right field, [the views] were spectacular.”
Full Team Effort: All Departments Pitch in on World Series Coverage
Besides the familiar physical equipment that made a difference on the telecast, other broadcast technologies improved the overall aesthetic of the playoffs. Most notable was implementation of a now one-month-old graphics package and increased audio to bring the sound of the sport to fans at home.
“[Senior Audio Mixer] Joe Carpenter and the audio team have done a phenomenal job,” adds Cheney. “They were able to mike things like the Green Monster to hear all the sounds of the baseballs coming off it.”
Overall, vendors Game Creek Video, NEP Group, Fletcher, CP Communications, THUMBWAR, and CAT Entertainment Services and every individual on the crew have helped take the broadcaster’s coverage to new heights. The game-operations crew has been led by Director, Field Operations, Francisco Contreras; Operations Managers Nick Utley, Judy Acone, Nicole Perrin, Ashley Cox, Pam Chvotkin, Bernadette Wells, and Jennifer Freud; and Technical Managers Tom Lynch, Sid Drexler, TJ Scanlon, and Patrick Karayan. The studio crew has been led by Manager, Remote Studio Operations, Amy Burns; Operations Managers Melissa Zimmer and Matt Wasilco; and Technical Managers Doug Fuchs, Michael Vaughan, Kory Scudder, and Tim Kennedy. In the final series of the season, both departments are looking to finish the year on a high note.
“Our team is firing on all cylinders to produce really compelling television,” says Cheney. “We couldn’t do this without the operations and technical-management teams that are with us on the road. Everyone’s willing to push the limits of technology to help us make an amazing product.”
Coverage of Game 1 of the 2021 World Series begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.