At the Ballpark: Tampa Bay Rays Integrate Social-Media Content, Fan Videos on Tropicana Field Videoboards

Even from home, fans still play a key role

Although Major League Baseball is continuing with a 60-game regular season, the pulse of what makes professional baseball exciting remains at home. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 30 in-venue departments are forging ahead with operations inside empty stadiums. SVG’s At the Ballpark series takes you behind the control-room door and examines what it’s like to produce a fan-less venue experience in 2020.

During the sports shutdown, departments worked together to brainstorm and create content for the greater good of the organization. Now that sports are back, the Tampa Bay Rays are continuing this collaborative mindset to develop an impressive product inside an empty Tropicana Field.

MORE AT THE BALLPARK INTERVIEWS:

“Our social team is really good,” says Michael Weinman, director, game presentation and production, Tampa Bay Rays. “Our creative person does great things, and the players really like his content. Over the last few years, we’ve built a good relationship with our team, so they reach out to us and our staff to ask for specific videos and other things.”

Help From Afar: Leaguewide Meetings Generate Creative Thinking

Via the Tampa Bay Rays website and social media, fans are displayed on the videoboard before and during games at Tropicana Field.

The MLB family is a pretty extensive one, and, like any family, they rally around each other to survive tough times. Before the start of the 2020 regular season, the league decided to bring everyone together for multiple leaguewide calls to catch up on the status of each organization and to curate ideas that could be used to create a better atmosphere for the players.

“A lot of [in-venue departments] don’t have tons of content that we can show throughout a game,” says Weinman. “We’ve been doing a lot of leaguewide calls to work with each other on ideas and elements to do throughout the ballpark.”

As with other teams, the absence of fans has left in-venue crews searching for answers on how to display sponsorship messaging on their LED displays. It’s one of the many questions being discussed during these virtual meetings.

“All teams have corporate content to deal with,” he notes. “One of the challenges that we’re facing is how to adjust and show our corporate partners on the broadcast with the help of our broadcasting teams.”

At-Home Fanfare: Social Media Drives Venue Videoboards

Tampa Bay Rays in-venue staff is incorporating social-media elements on the videoboards, including the team’s “Rays Up” slogan.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a limitation on Weinman’s staff, which ultimately means that camera operators aren’t being used for in-venue purposes. Without these key crew members, the franchise is leveraging its relationship with regional sports network Fox Sports Sun to capture the footage used on its videoboards for distribution on the team’s social channels. For example, a dramatic shot by Fox Sports Sun camera operator Trina Cassese and replay operator George Demko last month has blown up on Twitter.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do for those short strikeouts is to flip them over quick enough that we can show them,” says Weinman. “It’s kind of like a replay in a sense, but you’d get to see them on social. Hopefully, as the season goes on a little bit more, we’ll have a lot more of those social videos playing in our stadium.”

While the action inside the venue continues to pack the Rays’ social-media feeds, fan-generated videos posted on social media are supplying Weinman with his in-venue entertainment. In the later innings, these snippets of video show the players that they have support of fans throughout the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area.

“Some teams are doing Zoom calls,” he notes, “but we’re accepting fan submissions through our website: the singing of the national anthem, crowd cheers, etc. We’re getting fans to do a 15-second cheer or a ‘Let’s Go, Rays’ and putting that up on the videoboard to give the games more of an authentic feel. It has been a real hit, and it’s really nice to have during those high-pressure moments because the players know that there are people out there supporting them.”

Inside the Trop: Overhead Speakers, Dome Create Acoustic Obstacles

Fan-submitted videos to help rally the team during later innings of the games.

Although the issues with crowd noise have been well-documented at many stadiums, other teams don’t have to fret over decibel levels the way the Rays do in Tropicana Field. Since sound can’t escape an enclosed space, figuring out fabricated sound took some work.

“The interesting thing about the Trop is having a dome that you can’t open or close,” says Weinman. “When we tested our crowd noise, we did some rehearsals through our Summer Camps. Instead of playing our crowd noise through the concourses, which is generally where crowd noise would come from, it all comes from overhead speakers.”

As with fan-submitted videos, the team in the control room is splicing in music and sounds to motivate the players during crucial times of the game and to play sounds in the stadium that fans will recognize.

“We’re trying to keep [the players] pumped up,” he explains. “That means a lot of music during inning breaks and what to play depending on whether they’re winning or losing at a certain point in the game. We’re also adding a little bit of our own touch. Cowbell is a really big thing at Tropicana Field, so our DJ throws in some as background noise. We have a couple of players that have their own little chants. [For example], Ji-Man Choi had a walk-off home run last year, and everybody started chanting, ‘Ji-Man-Choi,’ so he requested that for his walkup song. Not only can you play it before he gets to the plate, but you can also play it during his at-bat since it’s just crowd noise.”

Curtain Call: Notable Names of Rays’ In-Venue Team

A glimpse inside the Tampa Bay Rays control room at Tropicana Field

Weinman may be leading the pack, but he’s only one person on a team filled with other noteworthy individuals. During a time when teams are banding together to persevere, some staffers are handling miscellaneous duties to get the job done.

“My team that comes to the ballpark every day has been extremely helpful,” he says. “Our full-time staff has taken on all of these challenges, including VP, Marketing and Creative Services, Eric Weisberg on balls, strikes, and outs; Creative Director Warren Hypes on video playback; Director, Promotions, Stephon Thomas on crowd noise; and Multimedia Specialist Jordan Kabialis on [Ross Video] Xpressions. Since we have an older stadium that is basically all analog with SD boards, our Control Room Operations Engineer Bill Ennis is spending lots of hours keeping our production going, especially in times like this when not a lot of people are allowed in the stadium.”

The Tampa Bay Rays continue their seven-game homestand with a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles, starting on Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 6:40 p.m. ET.

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