MLB 2022: MLB Network Plans 1080p Workflow for 26 Showcase Games, Spruces Up Studio 3 Set
The broadcaster also has two new studio shows: Off Base and Pregame Spread
After a silent couple of months and an abbreviated Spring Training, the first weekend of the 2022 Major League Baseball season is finally here. MLB Network is returning in full force to once again entertain fans around the nation, and production plans include 26 MLB Showcase games in 1080p, two new studio shows, a new look to Studio 3, and a new streaming partner.
“It has been both wonderful and hectic to get ready for the start of the season,” says Susan Stone, SVP, operations and engineering, MLB Network. “We were always optimistic that baseball would be played [this year], but we’ve had a compressed schedule over the last couple of weeks to complete what we would normally do in three to four months.”
Dedicated Trucks: Four Game Creek Units Will Be Deployed for the Regular Season
After working through the 43-day MLB lockout and waiting an extra day after a postponement yesterday, MLB Network begins its 26-game Showcase schedule with the New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox today at 1 p.m. ET. The biggest change from last year is the introduction of 1080p with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. After years producing games in one flavor, the crew is working to blend the new workflow on broadcasts with the 720p for studio shows.
“The biggest difficulty is combining 720p on the studio side and 1080p on the game side and how our archival elements are going to work,” says Stone. “[VP, Engineering,] Jacob Soto and [Senior Director, Engineering,] Steve Rittenberg have done an amazing job with figuring out how to route, transmit, and either upconvert or downconvert all these signals.”
Although 1080p is the focus this season, the crew plans to deploy the same camera complement used in 2021 for the time being. When more productions are added, more cameras and technologies will be implemented.
“Ultimately, for Showcase games later in the season, we’ll be adding an HDR layer,” says Stone. “We’re happy to be going in that direction.”
Having returned to onsite production for the postseason in 2021, the network will be onsite for the full slate of regular-season games. Four Game Creek Video mobile units — Celtic, Bravo, Madison, and Columbia — will be used throughout the year. This is important since the 26 Showcase games will be played in different regions of the country.
“These dedicated units will go all over the country and will have identical gear,” says Tom Guidice, VP, remote operations, MLB Network. “In the past, we’ve done a lot of East Coast and Midwest games. Since we’ll be going on the West Coast, this is one way we can get all of these games covered geographically.”
The past two years have been a far cry from what Guidice has been used to in his career. With COVID-19 restrictions easing, he’s really looking forward to working on the 26 MLB Network Showcase games, along with other responsibilities.
“From not doing any games in 2020 to doing roughly 91 games with our partners,” he says, “it’s going to be great to be working again onsite with the veteran team that we have in remote operations. Being heavily involved on all of these games is hugely important to everyone here.”
New Programming: Shows Added to 2022 Lineup Target Younger Demo
The remote-operations team has a lot to be excited about with the return of full onsite teams for all productions, but studio operations are heading into 2022 with a lot of momentum. After the first full weekend of games, two shows will join the schedule on Monday, April 11: Off Base at 3 p.m. ET and Pregame Spread at 5 p.m.
Targeting a younger and more engaged demographic, each show has its own driving force. Off Base will be discussing a lot of the out-the-field topics surrounding the game, such as player fashion, personality, and life away from the diamond; Pregame Spread will offer a sports-betting angle on the day’s action.
On Off Base, host Lauren Gardner and analysts Hannah Keyser and Xavier Scruggs will dabble in some of the more light-hearted aspects of the game. Guests will be rotated for each episode, but the show will have three core segments: covering the latest storylines in “Moving The Needle,” highlighting pop culture in “Show Sauce,” and finding ways to grow the game in “Wild Pitch.”
“I don’t think we’re going to do in-depth breakdowns of Mike Trout’s swing,” says Josh Bernstein, VP, production, MLB Network, “but we might talk about what he’s wearing that day and his bat flip. It’ll be something different, but it will be a celebration of the fun that baseball has to offer.”
Pregame Spread will feature a recognizable voice that has been featured on the network for many years: Matt Vasgersian. Like Off Base, Pregame Spread will have a handful of prominent segments: an opening monologue in “Set the Table,” current sports-betting trends in “Hot and Cold Spreads,” former players and celebrities making predictions in “Back It or Attack It,” and putting a sports-betting twist on the previous day’s action in “Hook’s Highlights.”
“Vasgersian will combine his quick wit and sense of humor, incredible knowledge of the game, and great interviewing style, which not many in the business can do,” adds Bernstein. “The show is going to be much more than betting because we want to give him an hour-long platform to do his thing.”
Both shows tap into a newer side of the game, but they’re being produced in different ways. Located on a new set in Studio 21, Off Base will deploy five cameras and, for remote guests, video conferencing, a carry-over from productions done since March 2020. In the one-year-old Studio G, Pregame Spread will have two robotic cameras and a free-flowing, flexible setup suitable for Vasgersian.
“It’s a great example of how all of our departments are coming together for the sake of these shows,” says Michael Herbert, director, studio operations, MLB Network. “Our creative-services team is developing new graphics, and our studio-operations team is building fantastic digital backgrounds and set pieces for Off Base while keeping Matt at the focus of Pregame Spread.”
Now expanded to eight shows, the studio-programming lineup also includes MLB Central at 9 a.m. with Lauren Shehadi, Mark DeRosa, and Robert Flores; High Heat at 1 p.m. with Christopher Russo; MLB Now at 2 p.m.; Intentional Talk at 4 p.m. with Kevin Millar and Stephen Nelson; MLB Tonight at 6 p.m. with Greg Amsinger, Harold Reynolds, Dan Plesac, Carlos Peña, Bill Ripken, Sean Casey, and contributors Cliff Floyd, Yonder Alonso, Ron Darling, Al Leiter, Mike Lowell, Pedro Martinez, Gardner, and others; and Quick Pitch at 1 a.m. with Siera Santos and Keiana Martin.
New Studio 3: Crew Revamps Set With LED Walls and Flooring
With the pandemic reaching well into its second year, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the virus put a lot of dreams and ambitions on hold. MLB Network is a prime example: it was in the process of upgrading some facilities prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. One project that was top of mind was improving Studio 3, one of two spaces that date to the channel’s launch in 2009. After more than a decade on-air, the space was deploying antiquated technology, such as projectors. Heading into the 2022 campaign, this task is officially off the to-do list after extensive work in the offseason.
“Over the years, we’ve upgraded different parts of it,” says Stone, “but this project came out even better than we anticipated. It has given us more real-time functionality and versatility and has changed what we can do in that studio.”
The improvements are immediately noticeable and were significant enough to bring MLB Now from Studio 21 to Studio 3. After years of stationary signage, Studio 3 is now adorned with four LED walls to allow analysts to dissect pitching mechanics or a hitter’s approach at the plate with live video. Another addition is the on-deck circle, a circular-shaped LED screen on the floor that can be used as batter’s box or pitcher’s mound.
“We still love going to Studio 42,” says Herbert. “But we don’t have to wait for our talent to go down the hallway, so this set is a little nimbler.”
A curved LED screen has been installed for an added dimension to sit-down interviews and conversations among the studio team. Including a new LED desk as well, the large amount of LED real estate provides ample opportunity for sponsor displays. Multiple partners made this renovation possible: Avid Maestro 4K engines for graphics, Clickspring Design for set design, Dimensional Worldwide for materials, Grant AV for set electronics, and Eastern Lighting Design for lighting.
Entertaining All Fans: MLB Network Capitalizes on New Opportunities
Despite the lockout, Major League Baseball is seeing unprecedented expansion into live streaming and live events throughout the regular-season calendar. Whether it’s another year of MLB at Field of Dreams, seven more City Connect uniforms, or new media-rights partners, the game of baseball is gradually entering the digital age. At MLB Network, the production team will be at the helm of the new Friday Night Baseball package on Apple TV+.
Doubleheaders — starting today with New York Mets vs. Washington at 7 p.m. and Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Angels at 9:30 p.m. — will feature both high-quality technology and a star-studded broadcasting crew. The former will comprise Phantom cameras, a Megalodon, and probability-based graphics. The latter will offer multiple MLB Network on-air talent: Gardner, Peña, Floyd, and Alonso on the pre/postgame shows and Melanie Newman, Chris Young, Keyser, and Nelson on the call.
Given a new streaming partner, new studio shows, and the infusion of 1080p, the staff is more than prepared to tell the story of the season over the next six months.
“You really appreciate something when you go a few months without it,” says Stone. “We all missed baseball an awful lot, and we realized how much we all love this sport. We’re really excited to present the game in new and different ways.”
After today’s Yankees–Red Sox matinee, MLB Network will produce five more Showcase games this month: Mets vs. Phillies (4/12 at 6:30 p.m.), Blue Jays vs. Yankees (4/14 at 7 p.m.), Braves vs. Dodgers (4/18 at 10 p.m.), Dodgers vs. Padres (4/23 at 8:30 p.m.), and Cubs vs. Braves (4/28 at 7 p.m.).