MLB 2022: ESPN’s KayRod Cast Aims To Bring Mix of Fun, Insights to Sunday Night Baseball
Five alternative broadcasts to originate from Seaport Studios; three others to be remote
The next chapter of the alternative-sports-broadcast boom begins on Sunday when Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez take over ESPN’s Seaport District Studios in New York for the first of eight KayRod Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts on ESPN2. ESPN is looking to capture the same magic it has found with the much hyped Manningcast, and, as with that MNF alternative presentation, viewers can expect a wide spectrum of fun entertainment segments, celebrity guests, in-game analysis, and everything in between.
“To us, it’s still documenting the game. It’s guests, it’s entertainment, it’s humor, it’s unpredictability,” says Mark Gross, SVP, production and remote events, ESPN. “Things will happen during the course of the night that we didn’t think would happen, so we’ll adjust to those. And, whether that’s a surprise guest or whether it’s a surprise element or two, we’re going to keep this laid back, relaxed, fun, entertaining, and informative for all eight of these [KayRod Casts].”
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Together and Apart: A Mix of Seaport Studios and Remote
ESPN plans to host five of the eight KayRod Casts from its Seaport Studios; Kay and Rodriguez will be located remotely for the other three. For example, YES Network’s longtime play-by-play announcer will be in Baltimore calling the Yankees-Orioles series during next Sunday’s KayRod Cast, so he and Rodriguez will do the broadcast remotely.
Editions from the Seaport District will be hosted in the same studio used by Get Up each weekday morning but with a revamped “no-desk” casual feel that includes comfy chairs and a large-screen monitor for Rodriguez and Kay to watch the game.
“[Seaport Studios] provides us with a lot more room and flexibility than an announce booth would if we they were doing the game onsite,” says Phil Orlins, senior coordinating producer, MLB, ESPN. “They will have a casual setup with lots of monitors and the demo area to create a differentiated experience.”
For Seaport-based shows, Rodriguez will have a demo area to use to provide hands-on analysis during the broadcasts, as well as a tablet-based telestrator to allow him to break down highlights on the fly.
“[He will have] plenty of space,” says Gross. “More space than Alex has ever experienced in the booth, for sure. [Plus] his own glove [and] his own bat. Actually, the glove and bat that he used when he was playing are available to him.”
As is the case for all studio shows originating from the Seaport Studios, the control room will be at ESPN’s Bristol, CT, campus. Producer Joe McCoy, who oversaw ESPN KidsCast last year, will be at the front bench, along with veteran studio director Jim Ryan.
“From a technical standpoint,” says Orlins, “it’s an optimum scenario working out of Seaport since it offers perfect time synchronization and is already used every day for Get Up and other shows. We shouldn’t be dealing with any delay or latency, and it will make it more seamless to bring in guests during the [broadcast].”
McCoy and Ryan will leverage a clean feed from the main SNB broadcast on ESPN, along with two unilateral cameras at mid or high first and mid or high third base.
For the three shows when Rodriguez and Kay are remote, ESPN will use its Live From Home announce kits, which were introduced during the broadcaster’s KBO baseball coverage in 2020 and have become a staple of its remote operations. KayRod Cast production will also have two dedicated Evertz DreamCatcher replay operators.
“With those DreamCatchers,” says Orlins, “we will be able to dip into all the source material from the other show as well as our two cameras, so we can do our own replays and analytical content. [The KayRod Cast team] will work off the clean feed from the primary show, but they will be producing their own independent show.”
KayRod Cast: Custom Graphics, Music, Show Open, QR Codes
KayRod Cast will also have its own theme music and custom-designed graphics/animations package, as well as a scrolling bottom-line graphic focused on game and statistical updates. In addition, VP, Creative Content Production, Julie McGlone, Senior Producer Martin Khodabakhshian, and their team have created a new show open that Orlins says will look more like the opening of a TV drama or sitcom than the typical sports event.
“Everything will be unique and was custom-designed: the graphics, the music, the show open, all of it,” says Orlins. “[KayRod Cast] will have its own custom music that has a bit of a night-clubby sound to it. You won’t hear the conventional Sunday Night Baseball or ESPN music or see the [traditional] graphics. We’re looking to create a unique experience [for viewers].”
He adds that the production team will be aggressively integrating QR codes into the broadcast to encourage viewer participation and interaction. ESPN has teamed with FlowCode for QR activation and Sparx for data integration and polling features.
Kay-Rod Chemistry, Topical Guests, Evolution From Week to Week
Gross believes that Kay and Rodriguez will offer a rare level of natural chemistry, thanks to their long-time professional and personal relationship during A-Rod’s years with the Yankees. He adds that the casual format of the broadcast, along with Kay’s long history in sports talk radio, will allow both of them to thrive.
“Alex has a ton of anecdotes [and] stories to share,” says Gross, “and I would say that this format allows those stories to be shared much more easily than in a conventional telecast. I’m a believer that the people who are in sports talk radio have a great ability for long-form TV and getting the most out of the analyst or their partner. I think that the banter and the stories from both of them will certainly be memorable and should really differentiate the broadcast.”
In terms of guests, Gross believes “the more topical, the better.” Thus, his team will pursue as guests players who had a big game earlier that Sunday or the day before over baseball legends and icons (although there will be a fair share of those). KayRod Cast will bring in entertainment celebrity guests who are baseball fans or fans of one of the teams playing, he says, but the production team doesn’t “want to get bogged down in guests that don’t have a connection to the game. One of our priorities is to keep the focus on the game.”
Similar to the Manningcast, ESPN expects the KayRod Cast to evolve from week to week with both the talent and the production team learning what works and what doesn’t from one broadcast to the next.
“The show this Sunday will probably be somewhat different on April 17 and probably somewhat different in show No. 3,” says Gross. “It’ll evolve over time, but we’ll be patient and play with things and tinker with things. I think that’s how at least I’ll measure it. Part of it will be, when we get done with a game on Sunday night, how much fun do we think we had, and how much information and insight do we think we imparted to the audience? If we’re nailing those two things, I think we’ll be feeling pretty good.”