Fox Doubles Up for Coverage of MLB National League Series

By Carolyn Braff
Baseball may be
America
’s national pastime, but it’s not exactly a TV broadcaster’s dream. The very nature of a seven-game playoff series presents three prominent challenges to broadcasters: they can never be quite sure where they’re going to be, how long it’s going to last, or how they’ll get from game to game. For this weekend’s NLCS and the upcoming World Series, Fox Sports is relying on its veteran field-operations team to solve those challenges, with support from two separate production units anchoring opposite sides of the country.
“By its nature, the LCS and World Series is a very inefficient and logistically challenging project,” explains Mike Davies, director of field operations for Fox Sports. “I’m excited about continuing our plan of making it as efficient and smoothly run as possible.”
The crew of about 110 people, including 65 technical staffers, will be supported by two production trucks, one to tackle the East Coast operations and the other to handle West Coast games.
“We create duplicate setups in every city in terms of the hardware,” says Jerry Steinberg, SVP of field operations for Fox Sports.
Game Creek Video’s Yankee Clipper truck — including an A unit, B unit, and the D unit Fox uses for NASCAR coverage — will handle the eastern-most events (starting with Philadelphia for the NLCS), and NCP 10, ESPN’s usual
Sunday Night Baseball truck, will support the western-most events (beginning in Los Angeles for the NLCS).
Since HD production trucks are busier than ever these days, finding sufficient setup and teardown time is always an issue. Luckily for Davies and the Fox team, the divisional series did not go to the full five games, which afforded some much-appreciated planning time.
“We got lucky with the division series this year,” Davies says. “What would have kept me up late at night is if those division series, particularly the NL, went five games. If they did, then the last game of the division series would have also been our first set day at some place that we didn’t yet know where it was.”
The NLCS will take place in
Philadelphia
and
Los Angeles,
two stadiums with which Fox has ample broadcasting experience. The wild card for this crew will be
Tampa,
should the Rays advance to the World Series.
“L.A. is like our second home; we know that stadium very well,” Davies explains. “Philly also has been one of the stadiums that we have been to quite a bit over this year. Looking ahead to the American League, I don’t know if too many national broadcasters have been down to
Tampa
at all. I think we’ve only been there once.”
The main challenge in
Tampa,
Davies explains, is the complete lack of fiber in the venue. He does not expect that to increase setup time, but some additional planning will certainly have to be done.
“I think that it’s going to take some real forethought in how we’re going to wire a show this big there,” Davies says. “I think we’ll just slam it through as always.”
The good news for Fox is that Turner is serving as the de facto guinea pig at Tampa’s Tropicana Field this week, covering the ALCS for TNT.
“Turner will be in there doing a show that’s essentially the same size for the LCS,” Steinberg says. “Somehow, we’ll figure out how to make it work. When you see it on the air, it will all look great, but nobody sitting in their living room knows what kind of a struggle it was to get to that point.”
For the most part, coverage of this year’s postseason games will look remarkably similar to last year’s broadcasts.
“We were pretty happy with the way that went last year in terms of coverage,” Davies says. “In terms of number of cameras, types of technology that we selected for the games, I don’t think you’re going to see a huge departure from what we did last year.”
For the postseason, Fox relies on 14 manned cameras, four Fletcher robotic cameras, two SD in-ground cameras, and two Sony 3300 super-slo-mo cameras, which for this year will be a newer version of the cameras used a year ago.
“We have some bigger cameras in the ground and the high-speed camera, which can run at 300 or 400 frames per second, is updated this year,” Steinberg adds. “It’s the same camera we used last year but an updated version.”
The microphone complement will also match the provisions from last year’s production, provided by CP Communications.
“We like to be loud and aggressive on the audio,” Davies says. “We like the audience to hear every pitch like they’re sitting right by the field, and we’ll be doing it all in 5.1, as usual.”
Keeping the focus on the field, rather than the production, Fox will be upconverting SD graphics for the HD coverage.
While baseball fans often cringe about the possibility of an elimination Game 7, Davies says that, for broadcasters, the final game is the icing on the cake: “We’re excited about getting as many games as possible out of the setup. Because once you’re there, you might as well do seven.”