MLB All-Star Wrap-Up: SkyCam Makes MLB-Game Debut for Fox Sports
For the first time in MLB history, a SkyCam system was deployed for actual game coverage — rather than just beauty shots — this week for Fox Sports’ MLB All-Star Game production at Nationals Park. The vast open area in left field and left center field provided an ideal visual environment and also allowed the system to be installed (mounted on the center-field scoreboard and light towers in far left field) so that it would not interfere with action on the field.
“We had discussions with baseball in the past about rigging behind home plate and being able to move forward when the ball is past the catcher, but I think everyone feels more comfortable with what we’re doing out here in the outfield,” says SkyCam CTO Stephen Wharton. “Nationals Park lends itself well to [SkyCam] and allows us to do a couple different things. First, we’ve got an amazing beauty shot of the Washington Monument and Washington, DC, skyline. Second, with the way that this center field and left field are set up, we were able to rig it so that the system and the wires can totally stay out of play, which [allowed it] to be approved by MLB ops.”
The SkyCam served multiple roles on Tuesday night, providing game coverage; beauty shots of the skyline; reveal shots of Fox’s left-field studio set; shots of the bullpen, player warmups in the outfield, isos, crowd; and more. This was made possible by the four-point system’s ability to traverse not only the X and Y axis but also the Z axis. As a result, the SkyCam system could go 115 ft. high for beauty shots and as low as 10 ft. above the crowd in the stands or 40 ft. above the field during game action.
“The biggest advantage of this system is having that Z [axis], going up and down vs. just going side to side,” says SkyCam President/CEO Endre Buxton, noting that, if SkyCam had the height capabilities of “a two-point, it would not have had nearly the same impact. Being able to drop down into the stadium itself to grab those bullpen and game shots really adds a greater look.”
The introduction of SkyCam on MLB-game coverage has been a long time coming. SkyCam was deployed by ESPN at the College World Series in years past and has played a key role in NBC Sports’ productions of NHL Winter Classics held at MLB ballparks, including Nationals Park in 2015.
Although Fox deployed a Spidercam system at the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego, this year marks the first time a point-to-point aerial system has been used for in-game coverage. Two years ago, the system was used primarily for commercial bumpers and beauty shots, but the SkyCam system at Nationals Park was also incorporated into the game production.
“Baseball has not been something we’ve done a lot of in the past, especially when you think of play-by-play action,” says Wharton. “Baseball [ballparks] typically have a different sort of shape and geometry than a traditional football stadium or basketball/hockey arena. It’s obviously more diamond-esque, which is definitely a different kind of challenge. But the way this ballpark is laid out presented a unique opportunity for Fox, so they came to us, and we were happy to work with the director or the network to get what they were looking for.”
For more of SVG’s on-site coverage from Washington D.C., visit the SportsTechLive Blog: On Site at MLB All-Star 2018.