MLB 2023: MLB Network Builds Off World Baseball Classic Success With New 26-Game Showcase Schedule
The broadcaster is also handling its second season of Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV+
After spanning the globe for world-feed productions of the 2023 World Baseball Classic, MLB Network is back on the road again for its 26-game Casamigos Tequila MLB Network Showcase slate. Coming off of an exhilarating 2023 World Baseball Classic, the broadcaster is excited to head into these productions with new elements like a refreshed graphics package and onsite studio talent and their steadfast, hard-working live events team.
“We have a veteran crew that’s working all 26 games this year,” says Tom Guidice, VP, remote operations, MLB Network. “Having that crew really helps us out with everything else that we’re doing our Showcase schedule.”
New and Improved: Showcase Unveils New Graphics, Umpire Analysis for Close Calls
From a production perspective, the crew is rolling out two new enhancements. First, the overall look and feel of the property received a facelift with a brand-new graphics package. First seen on Opening Day, the graphics package incorporates iconography like baseball bats and bases and blends them with new themes like stitching and reflective metal.
“It took almost a year of work to come up and developing this design,” says Chris Pfeiffer, VP, live events, MLB Network. “It looks really sharp, and I think everybody’s really proud about it turned out.”
In what began during the inaugural season of Friday Night Baseball last year, viewers watching MLB Network Showcase will hear from former umpires during the live telecast. In an effort to better explain the decision making of the on-field umpiring crew, these rules analysts will break down what goes into overturning a call or what umpires look for with border line pitches. Some of these retired officials will be Brian Gorman, Dale Scott, and Ted Barrett.
“They’ll be used during a replay review, but also during a game last year at Fenway Park, someone like Brian talked about why going over ground rules with the managers always takes 20 minutes longer at that ballpark than anywhere else,” continues Pfeiffer. “On Opening Day, Brian was also able to discuss how umpires are dealing with the new MLB rules.”
Finding a New Rhythm: Crew Adapts to MLB’s New Pitch Clock
Like all television partners of Major League Baseball, the biggest learning curve in 2023 is figuring out the nuances of the new pitch clock system. With only 15 seconds in between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with men on base, the window to show replays, scenics shot, and full-screen statistical graphics has become smaller. When you add producing all 47 games of the World Baseball Classic, who didn’t utilize the current MLB pace-of-play rules, into play, re-organizing and adopting a new run of show took a couple of games to get used to.
“A lot of those [WBC] games, especially in Japan and Taiwan, were close to four hours, but for Phillies vs. Yankees on April 3, it was only two hours and 38 minutes,” adds Pfeiffer. “We talk about finding that sweet spot for replay sequences or a breakdown, but you have to wait until a foul ball or after a batter. Since games are moving a lot faster, you have to feel prepare elements that are tight and concise, feel out the pace of the game, and pick your spots.”
One area of the broadcast that is experiencing the most constraints is the integration of sponsorship and sales. During previous seasons, these elements could be highlighted at the return of commercial break or during downtime in between pitches. With these moments being eliminated from the game, the challenge is now implementing the same number of obligations in a shorter broadcast.
“When you lose those 30 to 45 minutes, sales elements become really important to how we go about our business,” says Pfeiffer. “Our job is getting back from break faster to take care of our billboards, because once the train leaves the station, we don’t have time to go back and get those elements into the broadcast. It’s different, but I think we’re all starting to settle in and understand what’s there.”
Although these changes could have presented a myriad of obstacles, MLB Network Showcase has gotten off to a hot start. Anchored by 348,000 viewers who tuned into the out-of-market telecast of the San Francisco Giants vs. New York Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 30, the network experienced the most-watched Opening Day in their 14-year history. For added context, Giants-Yankees was +7% vs. the comparable time-period telecast in 2022 (326,000 viewers for Brewers vs. Cubs) and the best daytime Showcase game on MLB Network since 2012.
Harold Hits the Road: MLB Tonight Features Onsite Presence at Each Showcase Stadium
While the Showcase game is the central piece of that day’s schedule, a host of studio shows will surround these live broadcasts with wall-to-wall coverage. Three important shows — MLB Central with Robert Flores, Mark DeRosa, and Lauren Shehadi; High Heat with Christopher Russo and Alanna Rizzo; and MLB Now with Brian Kenny, Bob Costas, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman, Hannah Keyser, Sarah Langs, Dan O’Dowd, Steve Phillips, Joel Sherman, and Jayson Stark — start the day from 9 a.m. ET to 12 p.m. ET. In the middle of the day, Off Base with Lauren Gardner, Ariel Epstein, and Xavier Scruggs and Intentional Talk with Kevin Millar and newbies Ryan Dempster and Siera Santos take over at 4 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. ET. As the heavy hitter in MLB Network’s stacked lineup of programming, MLB Tonight will set the table for each Showcase game in a new way. Hitting up different ballparks in various cities throughout the season, fans will get a chance to see inside the ballpark before first pitch with analyst Harold Reynolds travelling to each Showcase stadium for onsite coverage. Joined by the network’s famous Ballpark Cam, Reynolds and host Adnan Virk will conduct player interviews and demos during pregame at 6 p.m. ET.
“I think it’s great when we can have guys from the studio, especially someone like Harold, at the stadium,” says Pfeiffer. “He has a great relationship with a lot of the current players, so having him onsite is going to add [a new layer] to this studio show.”
Throughout the year, games will be called by the main broadcast team of Matt Vasgersian, Costas, Tom Verducci, and Jon Morosi. After the final out, MLB Tonight will return with Greg Amsinger, Dan Plesac, and others for live look-ins into the later games on the west coast at 10 p.m. ET. Wrapping up the day, Quick Pitch with Keiana Martin and Kelly Nash recap the action of each game at 1 a.m. ET.
Tech Backbone: Host of Game Creek Video Trucks Handles Nationwide Schedule
Stretching out to cities like Los Angeles in the West, St. Louis in the Midwest, Houston and Atlanta in the South, and New York City and Boston in the East, the operations footprint has to account for a host of locations. A trio of Game Creek Video’s A units — Bravo, Larkspur, and Maverick — will be joined by two dedicated B units — B5 and B3 — this season. Based on the geography of each city, as well as the location of productions for Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV+, these trucks will be mixed and matched to handle thee cross-country assignments.
“We’ll have a rotation where the two B units work all of our games and the three A units will rotate with games on the west coast, east coast, and in the middle of the country,” says Guidice.
In terms of equipment, each Showcase broadcast will leverage a total of eight cameras including one in super slow motion. On some occasion that home-team regional sports network supplements their regular broadcasts with a certain specialty camera or RF handheld, MLB Network can fold in those video feeds into their show.
More to Come: MLB Network Preps for Mexico City and London Series, MLB Draft
Always covering the biggest headlines and games throughout the season, MLB Network will be doing a lot more than their Showcase schedule. For example, Major League Baseball’s International properties will be on display over the next two months in two separate countries. In less than three weeks, on Saturday, April 29 and Sunday, April 30, the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants will head south for a special two-game series in Mexico City’s Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium. On Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs head to England for two games at London Stadium.
Back in the United States, MLB Network will be at the center of a handful of initiatives during the summer months: the MLB Draft Combine at Chase Field in Phoenix will be broadcasted from June 20-25, and in July, the 2023 MLB Draft will take place during MLB All-Star Weekend in Seattle along with the accompanying Red Carpet show. Despite the influx of productions throughout the year, the operations and production teams — including the front bench of Senior Director Jason Lobb and Producer Bill Boland; Senior Remote Technical Manager Zaac Christopher; Tech Manager Kelly Bournes; and Production Managers Ryan Delaney and David Beun — will forge ahead with a unified goal in mind for live telecasts or ancillary coverage of the league’s biggest events.
“Visually, these productions might look a little different but the overall philosophy is the same,” adds Pfeiffer. “We’re there to document the action.”
Following tonight’s San Diego Padres vs. New York Mets at 7 p.m. ET, MLB Network Showcase will have one more game in April — the Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. ET.