For NESN, Fenway Broadcasts Can Be a (Green) Monster

By Carolyn Braff
Now that the House
that Ruth Built has seen its final pitch, the nightmares of
broadcasting from Yankee Stadium are ghosts of the past, but plenty of
nightmares still haunt the production personnel charged with
broadcasting from
Boston’s
Fenway
Park.
Every season, the
New England Sports Network (NESN) finds new ways to fit 21st century
technology into a ballpark built in 1912, navigating the challenges
posed by a multitude of outside broadcasters hoping to bring in one
more truck to follow the playoff-bound Red Sox.
“Where dead center is in
Fenway
Park,
that brick wall behind the bleachers, the team treats it like a National Historic Landmark, so we can’t make any modifications to it,” explains Michael Narracci, senior coordinating director for NESN’s Red Sox broadcasts. “We couldn’t put a traditional hard-camera platform in the dead-center position because we would have to put it on the wall, so we’ve gone to a robotic.”
Working through a few different versions of the robo cam

switching out pan heads, lenses, and stabilizers

NESN finally found a match for centerfield shots, but team sponsorship sales on the padding behind home plate threw a new wrench into the equation.
“When we moved the camera, you couldn’t see the sponsorship anymore, so they moved it while we experimented with the different hardware,” Narracci says. “At one point, the stabilizer on the robo wasn’t working, and it was shaking in the wind, so we had to go back to our traditional centerfield camera position, but then the sponsorship logo wasn’t seen from that angle. That was a circus this year, but I think we’ve got the system down now.”
Another circus Narracci’s staff must ring-lead each home stand involves spatial relations in the truck compound: finding a way to put a half dozen rectangular mobile production trucks inside a triangular area.
“At Fenway, our truck compound is actually a triangle,” Narracci says, “so to shoot more trucks in there is a nightmare.”
For the Red Sox’s final regular-season home stand last week, the musical chairs in the truck compound went something like this. NESN’s normal National Mobile Television home truck was busy making its way back from Ryder Cup coverage in
Kentucky,
so the network used a substitute truck for Monday’s game and then had to pull it out and replace it with the normal truck for the Tuesday-Friday games. On Saturday, Fox covered the game, so NESN’s truck had to pull out, cover a Bruins game, and pull back in on Sunday in time for the doubleheader.
“We were having problems positioning our truck, finding where it could get in and out,” Narracci explains. “The YES network came in with their two trucks; NHK came in; ESPN was supposed to be in for Friday night with an A unit, B unit, and generator; and then Turner was coming in for Sunday with an A unit, B unit, and generator, also. That’s a nightmare.”
Luckily for Narracci’s sanity, ESPN dropped the broadcast, and he was able to find a position to enable his truck access in and out of the compound, but such maneuvering is standard in a building designed nearly 100 years ago.
To make matters worse, the production lot is not exactly dedicated to production.
“It’s a multipurpose lot,” Narracci explains. “They store fertilizer in there, there’s propane storage, there’s grease fat for the fryalators; the only thing that isn’t there is the dumpster. Earlier in the season, the fryalator grease fat was leaking. It ran all over the parking lot; cables were in it; it was really gross.”
Weather permitting, NESN produces its pregame show from
Yawkee Way,
the street bordering the park. In exceptionally bad rain, the show is produced from NESN headquarters in
Watertown,
MA, about 15 minutes from the ballpark. Why not produce the show from inside the announce booth?
“Logistically, our booth is extremely challenging,” Narracci says. “It’s a multi-level booth, so you have to step down to where our announcers are, and there’s very little room. Just putting up a backdrop is difficult because the announcers get claustrophobic.”
For the game open, the announcers actually stand on top of the counter in the booth, because there is no other suitable place to stand, especially if the show has guests.
“If it rains, it’s weird to ask guests to climb up on the counter and stand there, so we do the show from our offices,” Narracci explains. “That’s a little quirky thing about the booth.”
NESN has a standing deal with NMT to support all of its games with the exception of two this season: in Toronto, the network used a Dome Productions unit, and, for a September series in Tampa, FL, an F&F truck was put to use.
“For the most part, we don’t really sweat sub trucks,” Narracci says. “With the recent build of HD trucks, they’re all current technology, and they’re all pretty much the same. I think, moving forward, they’re all going to become cookie-cutter–type trucks because, with fuel prices, you can’t afford to take a truck from the East Coast to the West Coast just because it’s ‘your truck’.”
At the
Watertown
facility, NESN built its control rooms to mirror the NMT HD trucks it most often uses, which allows a seamless transition for the production staff.
Aside from landmark walls, grease fat, and tight parking, there are plenty of other difficulties involved in broadcasting from one of the nation’s few remaining urban ballparks (blind spots make it difficult to capture a hit down the left- or right-field lines from high home, for example). But the success and popularity of the Red Sox ensure that NESN will continue finding innovative ways to work through those challenges, at least through the Angels’ visit on Oct. 5.