MLB Postseason: Turner Sports Sets Up Onsite Presence for Wild Card, Will Debut Base Cam in Later Rounds
A new national studio show will air at ALDS and ALCS
Over the past week, Turner Sports has made a massive splash in the Major League Baseball waters. Following its recent seven-year multimedia-rights extension through 2028, the broadcaster is making its onsite return to the compound at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL, for the AL Wild Card series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. In addition, a studio show and Base Cam will be introduced during the American League Division Series (ALDS) and American League Championship Series (ALCS).
“It has taken a good bit of coordination with Major League Baseball,” says Chris Brown, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “We’re looking forward to capturing every shot and every angle and producing the postseason in a way that baseball fans are used to.”
At the Ballpark: Production Crews Return to a Familiar Setting
The past two months have been new territory for Turner Sports production and operations teams. Over the course of the 2020 regular season, many networks have relied on RSNs to send footage to their respective production facilities. During this peculiar season, MLB on TBS relied on remote workflows in maintaining consistency on its productions, but now, through diligent work by the league, a majority of staffers will be onsite in Tampa Bay for the duration of the opening series.
“Major League Baseball decided to host the Wild Card in the higher seed’s hometown. In some respects, it’s easy to do because waiting to figure out [where we’re going] is something we face every year,” Brown points out. “In a world where you’d like to try to implement COVID-19 testing and things like that, it creates some logistical challenges.”
To adhere to health and safety protocols, the compound will consist of multiple mobile production units to ensure necessary social distancing. For each five-game set of the ALDS, each locale will have its own dedicated trucks. In San Diego, NEP TS2 and Supershooter 8 (the company’s IP-based unit launched in late 2019) will handle the production; in Los Angeles, NEP ND7 A, B, C, and D will be onsite. The ALDS compound in San Diego will remain until the conclusion of the ALCS since the penultimate series also is taking place in Petco Park.
Although this isn’t the first time games have been produced in a traditional way since the resumption of sports (the team recently left the NBA bubble in Orlando after the conclusion of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday, Sept. 26), this will be the first instance when the broadcaster’s MLB staffers will be onsite to produce a game since Game 4 of the 2019 NLCS.
“It’s going to be a massive shift,” Brown says, “because we’re going from a [remote production] where signals were being sent back to Atlanta for us to cut a show to actually being back onsite again. We’re all pretty excited to be back on the ground and produce coverage in the way that we would like.”
In the Base Path: Base Cam Offers Viewers a Baserunner’s POV
As the main headliner of Turner’s MLB postseason, Base Cam will offer a unique vantage point near the end of the postseason coverage. Inserted at the 45-degree angle of any given base, two cameras (an incoming view and an outgoing view) will enable fans to see up and down the baselines and between the base paths during different parts of the game, including double plays, tagging up after a flyball, and close plays that involve a judgment call by the umpire.
“Philosophically, we’re about creating as much access to the players, the game, and the field as possible,” says Turner Sports EVP/Chief Content Officer Craig Barry. “Over the course of the last couple of years, we were trying to be really thoughtful about technology or enhancements that would bring editorial value to the broadcast.”
Before signing off on the end product, Barry and company conducted ample testing and experimenting, which included use in minor-league contests and offline use during a handful of major-league games.
“We went through this [testing] process with MLB to see if the camera was stable and making sure that the picture quality was good,” he adds. “We’ll start slow and then ramp it up for the ALCS.”
For this gradual approach, each ALDS will include a Base Cam setup in two of the three possible bases. For the ALCS, with the team more comfortable from a production perspective and with more available equipment, all three bases will have access to this technology.
“You try to think about all the variations that the camera will work for,” says Barry, “but the truth is, some other variation could bubble up as we start to use this camera. We may also capture a great play at shortstop or a diving play right near the base, so it continues to be an experiment and an innovation that we think will both add value and bring the fan closer to the field.”
Additional Firepower: Super Slo-Mos, Potential Onfield RF Handheld
By shifting back to how sports were conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner has full rein over the technologies deployed inside each stadium.
After deploying a standard tech arsenal during the AL Wild Card round, Turner will expand its camera fleet for ALDS and ALCS games. The Base Cam will have a prominent position, but the team will use five cameras with super-slow-motion capabilities. In addition, the production will feature the graphics and other onscreen information that MLB on TBS has become known for, including Pitchcast and Statcast integrations.
Enhancements in the aural department will still be heard during the entire postseason. Aided by a delay on the broadcast, audio technicians will be able to add field-level sounds that bring fans into the stadium. The noises will be caught via equipment scattered around the diamond.
“Due to lack of crowds, we’ve gone through a few extra steps to enhance our microphone access,” notes Brown. “We’ll be using a series of parabolic microphones strategically placed along the infield and outfield to be able to bring some of those sounds home through a submix.”
In Techwood: New Studio Show To Parse Storylines of Action-Packed Schedule
Beside game coverage, throughout the later rounds, fans will be treated to a new studio show that will set the table and digest the night’s action. Stationed on Turner’s Techwood campus in Atlanta, The Postseason Pregame on TBS Presented by Rocket Mortgage and The Postseason Show on TBS Presented by Hyundai will feature host Ernie Johnson and analysts Pedro Martinez, Curtis Granderson, and Jimmy Rollins.
In a similar arrangement as Inside the NBA, the on-air talent will sit at a socially distant desk.
“We will have our own infrastructure, camera complement, and crew,” Barry explains. “We feel like we’re setting ourself up for success, and we will continue to evolve the show in the years to come with new graphic packages for both the broadcast and the game.”
Before the show’s launch in the ALDS, Rollins will join Rich Waltz in the booth at Tropicana Field to call the AL Wild Card series.
2020 and Beyond: Tech Innovations Build Positive Momentum
In addition to the studio show (which will air before weekly national games on Tuesday nights in 2022), the new MLB deal is opening other avenues for attracting an untapped demographic to the game.
“We’re excited to continue to move this momentum forward,” says Barry. “This includes the integration of Bleacher Report and working with them to make baseball more relevant on their platform.”
Overall, Turner is looking to strengthen its already deep connection with both baseball fans around the world and the players on the field.
“We want to create a closer connection with the players and create the opportunity for the fan to not only have more information but be emotionally connected to the players,” he explains. “It’s about telling stories about the players and understanding their culture. [At the NBA], the fans have a tendency through media to have a lot of access to the NBA players, and we think that’s a real opportunity in baseball.”
Turner Sports’ MLB postseason coverage begins tonight with AL Wild Card Game 1 between the Rays and Blue Jays at 5 p.m. ET on TBS. Then, the ALDS begins on Monday, Oct. 5, followed by the ALCS on Sunday, Oct. 11.