RSN Roundup: NBC Sports, NESN, and MASN Go to Bat for Local Fans
Baseball season is back, and baseball-starved fans are tuning into their local regional sports network in droves for live game coverage, up-to-the-minute news, and behind-the-scenes looks at their favorite teams. Throughout the season, RSNs like the NBC Sports Regional Networks, NESN, and MASN will provide a home for their fervent fan bases. Here’s a look at what those networks have planned for 2015.
NBC Sports Regional Networks
Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, Chicago, California, and Bay Area, as well as SNY, will continue to broadcast baseball under the NBC Sports umbrella. And, because this family of regional networks also supports several NBA and NHL teams in playoff contention, it’s a hectic yet exciting time for NBC Sports.
“The beginning of baseball season is always the most exciting time in the sports calendar in the RSN world, because it’s the time when the MLB season begins, the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NBA Playoffs kick off,” says Jon Slobotkin, VP/executive producer, live events, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “It’s really a very heady and exciting time for us, and it’s a time when we look to take stock at all that we do and all the content that we create.”
After diving in last year, regional networks will continue to support Major League Baseball’s efforts in instant replay by syncing cameras for more-accurate calls and adapting to rule adjustments, such as the inclusion of tag plays.
“What we did last year and what we’ll continue to do this year is make our coverage of replay at the forefront when it becomes a part of the game, because it’s not just us telling the story; it’s us being able to really determine the accuracy. That’s where technology for us comes into play,” explains Slobotkin. “We’ve really tried to use our technology to not only enhance the game in general but make sure that it contributes to the accuracy of the replay at the highest level.”
This season, the NBC Sports regional networks will collectively produce more than 800 games with full pre/postgame shows and will deploy 12-14 cameras — including multiple super-slo-mos — on home broadcasts. CSN Bay Area will add an additional super-slo-mo to its San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s home coverage. Across the board, the networks plan greater emphasis on advanced statistics, such as on-base percentage and pitching breakdowns.
“We feel that, if you are a baseball fan that lives in our market, we give you everything you need. We’re with you every day,” says Slobotkin. “We ride the soap opera that is Major League Baseball, the every-day occurrences, and we’re proud to say that we don’t miss a pitch.”
Home of the Boston Red Sox, NESN will deploy Game Creek Video’s 94 truck and more than 20 cameras at Fenway Park for live home-game coverage and pregame coverage from Yawkey Way. This year, the network will add two Sony F55 6X super-slo-mo cameras to the complement and will continue to rely on specialty cameras, such as RF handhelds, and make frequent use of blimp shots.
NESN plans to use one Sony F55 as the tight centerfield shot for a closer look at pitches, ball rotation, pitch identification, ball-to-bat contact, and tag plays at second base. The second will be positioned at mid level on the first-base side and will shoot every play tight, including pitch follow, bat contact with ball, shots of catches, tags at bases, and pitcher release points.
To support the broadcast and facilitate video archiving at its Watertown, MA, studios, NESN is upgrading to a 12-channel EVS XT3 server with 900-Gb drives and an XFile3. The network has a dedicated dark fiber between Fenway and the studios and will continue to produce all pregame and occasional postgame coverage from the studio control room. This year, NESN is adding a studio return feed for all road games in order to transmit studio-produced enhancements from the studio to the remote site.
In addition, NESN plans to try out several new technologies and game-analysis tools throughout the season, including statistical displays of pitch analysis, power zone, and hit-direction spray charts. The network will test the Phantom camera on several games, as well as 3D analysis tools from various manufacturers.
MASN, the team-owned broadcast home of the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, has added a third Fletcher I-Movix slow-motion camera to its complement; the three will be stationed in low-first, low-third, and centerfield locations.
“We use them in every play,” says Ken Stiver, VP, engineering/tech operations, MASN. “[We] use at least one of the slo-mo cameras, and, because we use it as a regular camera, too, they get heavily used.”
In total, the network will deploy identical 15-camera complements to both home shows, 12 on the road. Although MASN considered constructing a new truck in time for this season, the network instead opted to extend the deal on its current truck, Game Creek Video’s Freedom, for an additional two years. Stiver plans to use that time to see how emerging technologies, such as IP routing, develop before committing to a new unit.
This season, MASN joined The Switch’s 10-Gb fiber network to exchange content between the network’s Maryland studios and the truck.
“[Say you’re] doing the Nats game and you need something, you can call our studio, they’ll look it up on our archive or on any of our current video, and then we can send that video right down to the truck,” says Stiver. “All of our games are fed from two different locations.”
Although the Nationals and Orioles share a camera complement and truck, don’t expect the two to share when they face off in Baltimore in July and D.C. in September. For those two series, MASN will bring in a second Game Creek truck and full staff to support the away team.
“We keep it like it’s two full, separate productions, just like they were both playing somebody else,” says Stiver. “It’s a fully staffed show with their own talent. … We tried it combined, and we didn’t get a great reaction from a lot of the viewers. They didn’t like it; they want to hear their own style and their own talk. So we went back to just doing two separate [productions].”