MLB Postseason 2023: MLB Network Remotely Produces Division-Series World Feed From Secaucus Facility

Seven games will be produced: four on the BBC, two domestic Spanish-language, one for India

MLB Network, after being consistently busy throughout the regular season, faces one of its toughest tests of 2023 beginning tomorrow. For Saturday’s packed slate of Games 1 in the American League and the National League Division Series, the broadcaster’s headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, will remotely produce the world feed of seven games at once: all four matchups on the BBC in the UK, two Spanish-language games on MLB Network in the U.S., and one for Disney Star in India — as well as pre/postgame studio coverage on MLB Tonight.

“We’ve never done anything like this before and are super-excited about it,” says Susan Stone, SVP, operations and engineering, MLB Network. “We’re tapping every single control room and studio in our facility, working with some cloud-based workflows for the first time, and bringing in a mobile unit from Game Creek Video Game Creek to help with these efforts.”

Control-Room Capacity: Six Spaces To Handle International Games, Domestic Studio Shows

At this time of year, the production facility in northern New Jersey bustles with activity. Not only will Saturday’s slate of responsibilities push its resources to the limit, but duties for the NHL Network will be tested with the start of the 2023-24 regular season just three days later. With production and operations for both the live game and the studio show fielding a combined total of 250 people on their respective staffs, all control rooms will be occupied. Harking back to production during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, MLB Network has Game Creek Video’s Nitro truck in its parking lot for additional control-room space.

Game Creek Video Nitro in MLB Network headquarters parking lot

“[Nitro] currently spends most of its time doing NHRA races,” says Jason Hedgcock, senior director, remote technical operations, MLB Network, “but there are two control rooms within that mobile unit. We’ll have one team in the A unit and another team in the B unit, each with its own set of switchers and audio consoles, and we’ll be bringing some feeds from our facility and the venues into this truck.”

Facilities Operations Manager Frank Perrone has connected the building to the truck. Apart from Secaucus, the crew needed to make sure that each venue has the necessary equipment for the remote world-feed production. Like ESPN with its logistical challenge during the Wild Card round, MLB Network had to wait to see the full playoff seedings.

“We send out a flypack that adds into our existing connectivity and system within the park,” says Hedgcock, “but, with teams scattered from Miami to Seattle heading into the final weekend of the season, shipping posed a significant challenge. Now that we know each team, we’re in good shape for everything that we need to do on Saturday.”

In Secaucus, Hedgcock and MLB Network Director, Studio Operations, Michael Herbert laid out traffic flow, what control room each production team would be working out of, and studio space reserved for remote commentators. The approach permits the team to work with the most efficiency, and having everyone under the same roof eliminates communication lapses.

“The most exciting part about this plan is that we’ll all be here together,” says Herbert. “We’re used to having five control rooms running on Friday nights from June to October for Apple’s Friday Night Baseball, so we have pretty good experience with this setup.”

For the four BBC games, Studio 21 will be split into two separate announce booths and transmit the feed through a singular stream via Game Creek Nitro tethered to the broadcaster’s Overdrive control rooms. To accommodate a March Madness–esque production with consecutive games, the two production/ops crews will work with their own talent: Melanie Newman, Xavier Scruggs, and Felix White on Games 1 and 3 and Robert Flores, Jake Peavy, and White on Games 2 and 4. Producers Ryan Sullivan, who produced the MLB London Series games for MLB Network, and Keith Costas will lead the two teams. Sullivan will be joined by director Bryan Fennessey, and Costas will be alongside director Keith Kielty. With White participating on all four games, the crew is hoping for great timing.

“We’re banking on the schedule working in our favor,” says Samantha Calastro, senior production manager, operations, MLB Network. “Felix has been great because he has become this champion of Major League Baseball for the British audience.”

The two Spanish-language domestic productions will leverage two crews for two separate broadcasting teams. Fernando Alvarez and Candy Maldonado will be on the call for Saturday’s Game 1, with Carlos Peña joining Alvarez for the remainder of the series. On the other matchup, Clemson Smith Muñiz and Yonder Alonso will be behind the mic. The series will be called from Studio K and Studio V, respectively. The Alvarez–Maldonado/Peña pairing will be led by director Jason Lobb and producer Mike Treanor. The Smith Muñiz–Alonso duo will have director Dan Gentile and producer Bill Boland.

Production Puzzle: Crew Prepares To Show Multiple Games on One Feed

From a production standpoint, overlapping start times will force the team to get creative in updating viewers on one game about the progress of another. This wrinkle might be most prevalent on the BBC games.

“Depending on how the schedule plays out,” notes Chris Pfeiffer, VP, live events, MLB Network, “you could be on the air with the first game, and the second game is starting, so it’s all happening on one feed. There’s going to be a lot of pinging back and forth and checking in with the other games by sliding in a box as something is happening. We’ve been planning for a while, but things change when you start doing it.”

The preparation process has been a little tricky since the teams playing weren’t confirmed until a few days before start of the Division Series.

“We tried to prepare for what teams we might see and have all of those elements done for any potential scenario,” says Pfeiffer. “We’re creating our own ground rules, and there’s going to be times when we’re going to have to pivot.”

World-Feed Debut: The Unique Challenges of Producing Baseball in India

Given Arjun Nimmala’s draft at No. 20 overall by the Toronto Blue Jays, baseball fans in India will finally see live action on Disney Star, after a project two years in the making. Since this is a new venture, MLB Network needed to come up with a plan. The plan relies on the cloud-based services of Spalk, which MLB Network Production Engineering Manage Joe Alvaro focused on after investigating a hefty number of options over the past year and a half. The production team’s biggest challenge is adapting the feed to adhere to country’s content restrictions.

Play-by-play announcer Jacob Wilkins is in Secaucus remotely calling games for the world feed to India.

“Similar to the BBC,” says Stephanie Perone, director, remote technology operations, MLB Network, “we have to produce a sanitized feed because they have so many restrictions on commercials and advertising. We’re taking the clean feed from the host broadcaster and turning it around into something acceptable for India. We’re working with Spalk and their cloud-based production suite, and our graphics department is working with Singular.”

The team will deploy Spalk’s services through a laptop to connect Binghamton Rumble Ponies play-by-play announcer Jacob Wilkins in Secaucus’s Studio R with three analysts in separate locations in India: Tejas Goradia, Manish Batavia, and Aayush Sharma. To attract this new demographic, MLB’s office in India recruited these three voices to highlight similarities between baseball and cricket, India’s most popular sport. Producer Tim Fryer will handle the game.

In total, MLB Network is producing 22 games throughout the MLB Postseason, including an additional game each in the previous Wild Card Round, the League Championship Series, and the 2023 World Series. The world-feed productions for the Spanish-language coverage of the National League Championship series and the entirety of the World Series in English will feature play-by-play announcer Dave Flemming and analyst Ryan Spilborghs. Game 1 of the World Series on the BBC will be called by Newman (backup is Jenny Cavnar), Scruggs, and Ryan Rowland-Smith. Lobb and Pfeiffer will direct and produce the World Series world feed, and Sullivan will once again produce Game 1 of the Fall Classic on the BBC.

Remote Workflows: Secaucus Evolves To Handle Worldwide Broadcast Effort

With a new cloud-based workflow and a lot of moving elements, a robust team effort will be necessary to accomplish the feat. Much preparation has gone into it, and, with a symbiotic relationship between production and operations, MLB Network is ready to bring the MLB Postseason to a global audience.

“Our engineers and technical team are some of the most creative in a building full of tremendously talented people,” says Stone. “All the workflows that they’ve come up with have served us well and laid the foundational groundwork for us to succeed.”

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