MLB Network Expands All-Star Game Coverage, Embraces the Fun and Games

MLB Network will step into the batter’s box today for an unprecedented eight hours of MLB All-Star Game coverage, beginning with four hours of press conferences, a Home Run Derby batting-practice show, and a post-game show after the Derby. The expanded effort means more staff, more technical facilities, and, hopefully, more viewers for the network dedicated to America’s pastime.

“This is our Super Bowl,” says Susan Stone, VP of operations for MLB Network. “It’s our biggest event and our time to showcase everything baseball.”

The core of MLB Network coverage will involve NEP Supershooter ND4, with both the A and B units on-site at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA. Sure Shot’s 40-ft. satellite transmission/production unit known as Natalie Michelle will also play a role, covering the press conferences at the nearby Marriott hotel. And NCP VIII will be on hand at Disneyland for Tuesday’s red-carpet parade.

“Last year, the parade was outside of the stadium [in St. Louis] so we were able to share facilities and combine resources,” says Stone. “This year, it is at a different venue, and that necessitates different facilities.”

More than 200 network staffers are on-site, working on what are basically three separate shows. MLB Network’s efforts for the press conferences, for example, not only will be used by the network but will also be shared as the pool feed for other networks. Inside the stadium, two sets have been constructed for pre- and post-game coverage, with CP Communications handling fiber runs as well as RF-camera needs.

These efforts mark a network that has come a long way since its launch in January 2009. “Last year, we didn’t know what the show would be because we had never done the All-Star Game before,” says Stone. “It was very ad-libbed as people would just come up to the set and chat. This year, we have gone in knowing what we needed.”

One improvement that will help is that fiber connections with the MLB Network facility in Secaucus, NJ, are in place via HTN circuits. Level 3 Vyvx circuits will also be used for redundancy.

In fact, the HTN circuits and their use by MLB International during the game indicate the evolution of relationships between MLB’s production units. Once the game starts on Tuesday night, MLB Network will be off-air, but MLB International will be on-air, building the world feed used by broadcasters around the world.

“It’s crazy not to have the whole MLB family share the circuits and drive economies of scale,” says Stone. MLB International will reciprocate, and the MLB Network will have access to the MLBI high-home camera for batting practice.

Batting practice will be shot using seven cameras, and aerial shots from a fixed-wing aircraft provided by Aerial Video Systems (AVS) will also play a big role, along with blimp shots. And the MLB Network Ballpark camera system, which includes camera systems in the dugout and centerfield, will play a role.

“This show has a much more informal feeling than the World Series,” says Stone. “We still take it seriously, but it just doesn’t have the same level of seriousness as the World Series.”

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