Live From MLB All-Star 2023: Fox Sports Pushes Aerial-Camera Boundaries To Showcase Baseball’s Brightest
Live drone flying overhead, hard cameras in dugouts offer new angles at pitcher and batter
The Pacific Northwest takes the sports stage tonight when Fox Sports delivers its 24th Major League Baseball All-Star Game. As has become the hallmark of MLB on Fox tentpole events, added emphasis has been placed on aerial cameras capturing the star-studded imagery from T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
Fox Sports will be flying a pair of live drones in partnership with Beverly Hills Aerials. One has MLB permission to fly over the field of play, a first for a Major League Baseball game.
Additionally, Fox Sports has not rigged up its own cabled aerial camera here but will be using the two-point cabled Dactylcam Pro from Defy that was permanently installed in the ballpark in 2020 by Seattle Mariners’ RSN partner ROOT Sports Northwest. The show will also deploy a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft.
“The big thing for us this year is cameras in air,” says Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. “It’s a much different workflow for us here than it has been anywhere else. It’s more aerial coverage than we’ve ever had at an All-Star Game so we’re really excited.”
Drones Over the Field in a First-of-Its-Kind
Live drones have become an increasingly popular tool in Major League Baseball game productions. Fox Sports had tremendous success with them the previous two seasons at the MLB at Field of Dreams game, and ESPN has made it a point to fly drones for eye-catching exterior shots at selected ballparks, such as Fenway Park.
Never before, though, has a drone been able to fly over the field of play. The plan is to allow that at this All-Star Game.
Fox Sports has entrusted longtime live-drone partner Beverly Hills Aerials to execute a plan with two drones: one on the exterior of the stadium and the other, a fully customized in-house FPV drone with a small camera on a gimbal, flying over the field of play.
The FPV drone is a similar model to the one used by Beverly Hills Aerials and Fox Sports on coverage of the USFL. It features a dual-operator setup with pilot Evan Turner flying the drone and Aerial Director, Photography, Chase Ellison handling control and focus of the camera itself.
“You get the best of both worlds on this one, with the dynamic, fast action of an FPV and the smoothness of a gimbal,” says Ellison. “You end up with a much smoother image and experience.”
Fitting into the intricate RF setup at this event, Beverly Hills Aerials is working with CP Communications to deliver the signal in real time to the Fox production trucks — Game Creek Video Encore — parked across the street from the ballpark.
This is undoubtedly a milestone step in allowing live drones over MLB game action. However, Fox Sports and Beverly Hills Aerials are treading lightly and playing things carefully to continue to prove the value of the shots and the safety of the devices.
“It’s a slow process making sure people feel good about the safety of what we’re doing,” says Cheney. “It’s not just about whether or not there’s a big open space like a baseball field to fly around. It’s about understanding what’s going to happen in the game. It’s about talking through shots that would be compelling not just to us as TV people but to the viewers at home.”
Ellison concurs: “We’re dipping our toes in, which is nice, because this is a first-of-its-kind in a lot of ways. You’ve got to get everybody comfortable and show what’s possible and the kind of shots available to you. As everybody gets more comfortable and we do this more and more, we’ll be able to get lower and deeper and introduce some more exciting stuff. But this one is about survival and proving that the technology is there. Now we just have to get the people there.”
“Our team at [Beverly Hills Aerials] has been integral in working with Major League Baseball on different events like the Combine and Field of Dreams,” says Cheney. “There’s a sense of professionalism and safety that they have delivered for a couple of years to get us to this point, and the goal is to take another small step here and, hopefully, continue to see these small steps grow into other applications down the line. The beauty of the drone is, it can go anywhere; it just has to be allowed to. That’s what we’re doing: taking those steps each year and doing a little more, finding those things we want to do, and making it happen.
Fox and Beverly Hills Aerials don’t have free rein to fly wherever they want. There are still restrictions on flying close to players and at player level, and the pilot has additional visual observers providing feedback over comms. It should, however, be exciting to see just where the result of the effort during the broadcast.
On-field RF MōVIs, Camera Platforms in Dugouts Highlight Arsenal
There are approximately 43 cameras dedicated to game coverage at this year’s Midsummer Classic, including a pair of RF MōVIs running onto the field, seven robotics, eight high-frame-rate models, and UmpCam.
Fox Sports has also received MLB permission to erect hard-camera platforms in the center of each dugout. The benches on the front steps have been removed to allow the broadcaster to position Sony 5500 cameras with 95X lenses there for a more immersive angle from a unique vantage point. Fox Sports also expects to get some fresh looks at both the pitcher and the batter from those angles.
“We’re excited about having two MōVIs on the field and an RF camera,” says Cheney. “A lot of our camera coverage is focused on grabbing the atmosphere of Seattle and the excitement that these fans here have for baseball.”
Most of the camera lineup consists of Sony cameras — predominately 5500’s (of which there are seven) and 4300’s (13). Most are outfitted with Canon lenses.
A1 Joe Carpenter will be working his magic with 45 field microphones embedded around T-Mobile Park, in addition to multiple packs for placing mics and IFBs on players and coaches to communicate with play-by-play announcer Joe Davis and analyst John Smoltz.
It will all offer a load of exciting options to the game’s front bench of Producer Pete Macheska, Director Matt Gangl, and Technical Director Paul Harvath.
Fragmented Compound Requires Robust Connectivity
As usual, the operations behind this year’s game production have been extensive. The compound has a tricky layout: multiple partners (ESPN, MLB Network, NHK, and others) are located here, with trucks across essentially three split compound areas.
The compound housing the main trucks — Game Creek Video Encore — is parked across the street on the south side of T-Mobile Park. Trucks from multiple broadcasters are parked between there and the ballpark, as well as on the north side of the stadium near Lumen Field, where the MLB Draft and other key fan activations, such as MLB PLAYBALL PARK, are located. “It is a giant hub of baseball,” says Cheney. “It’s great to be a part of.”
Connecting it all is certainly helped by the all-IP infrastructure of GCV Encore. Additionally, Fox Sports has rolled out more than 8 miles’ worth of fiber cable with more than 800 connections. Fox Sports is also prepared for more than 1,300 hours of 4K and HDR video storage during the time in Seattle, and interconnects to Fox Sports Network Centers in Los Angeles and Tempe, AZ, push along 3 Gbps of data and 2 Gbps of live video. CES Power provides critical compound power and backup generators.
It’s a complex plan being executed by SVP, Technical and Field Operations, Mike Davies; Coordinating Technical Producer Tom Lynch; Technical Managers Sid Drexler, Brian Obert, and Taihe Miller; Director, Operations, Francisco “Paco” Contreras; Operations Manager, Lead, Judy Acone; and Operations Managers Nick Utley, Hunter Acone, and Erik Guyton.
On-Field Studio Set Introduces Analyst Derek Jeter to U.S. Audience
Not to be outdone, the Fox Sports studios group is here with its Filmwerks Power-developed “Rover Set,” which rolls quickly out to the third baseline, expands up, and seats up to five guests at its desk.
Four studio build-up cameras (Sony 4300’s) will shoot the stage featuring host Kevin Burkhardt and analysts Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and Derek Jeter, who is working his first MLB All-Star Game for Fox Sports after making his on-air debut on Fox’s coverage of the MLB London Series in England last month.
“We’re trying to position [our set] in a way to enhance this beautiful stadium,” says Anil Leatherwala, senior operations manager, lead, Fox Sports. “We’ve got a great shot. Plus, we are excited for the domestic debut of Derek [Jeter] with us. This is his first All-Star Game with us, and we’re looking forward to showcasing not only our desk but him.”
The desk was on-air with Live at the All-Star Game for two hours on Monday afternoon on FS1. The studio goes live Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET prior to the All-Star Game at 8 p.m.
Pre/postgame studio coverage is led by Producer Jonathan Kaplan and Director David Faller. Operationally, the execution is made possible by Director, Operations, Rob Mikulicka; Tech Managers Michael Vaughn and Brady Polansky; and Operations Manager Pam Chvotkin.
The 93rd MLB All-Star Game airs Tuesday, July 11, at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fox, Fox Deportes, and the Fox Sports app.