WBC offers its own March madness

When Major League Baseball’s holds its first-ever World Baseball Classic next month ESPN is hoping the unique event will give the network some unique opportunities for coverage.

“It’ll be standard in the sense that we’ll have our normal game coverage plans in place,” says Tim Scanlan, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer, baseball. “But we hope to push some of our access to bring viewers a little closer to the event.”

The WBC will match 16 teams from 16 countries and territories into a bracket-style competition format. Games will be played in Tokyo, Puerto Rico and throughout the U.S. from March 3 to March 20.

ESPN’s suite of networks will be jumping to cover the games. ESPN Deportes, ESPN’s Spanish-language network, will be the only network to televise all 39 games. And ESPN and ESPN2 will offer 16 live telecasts, including the semifinals and finals on March 18 and March 20. ESPN Syndication will also syndicate 14 games to a variety of English-language outlets. In addition ESPN International will provide coverage in Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, the Middle East and Israel. ESPN will also have footage rights for all its new media platforms including Mobile ESPN (the company’s new mobile phone), ESPN.com, ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN360 (broadband).

ESPN is currently working with MLB on getting permission to bring handheld cameras into and around the dugouts so they can interview players coming off the field after great defensive plays or follow batters as they walk up to plate. ESPN is also hopeful it will be able to have a camera head out to the mound during pitcher conferences.

“The goal would be to use RF technology,” says Scanlan. “We won’t be dragging cables across the field.”

ESPN says it is also talking to MLB about getting players and managers miked so they can talk to ESPN’s on-air talent during the games. “The rules mandate that three or four pitchers are used per game so we would love to be able to talk to one of the pitchers after they’re done about their strategy or a particular situation,” says Scanlan. The same goes for managers.

The international flavor of the games will also change coverage. As many as six announce teams will be on hand to cover the games for TV networks from around the globe. And ESPN will also have translators on hand to translate what is being said during a trip to the mound.

Because three of the six U.S. venues are Major League Baseball stadiums, Petco Park in San Diego (which will hold the semi-finals and finals), Angel Stadium of Anaheim, and Chase Park in Phoenix, Scanlan says actual game coverage will mirror typical MLB broadcasts (only the semi-final and final will be in HD).

The other three venues, Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, FL, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico, and Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona don’t have the normal high camera positions so expect coverage to be more akin to a spring training broadcast.