Turner Hitting Stride in Year Two of MLB Playoff Coverage

By Carolyn Braff

The 2008 baseball playoffs mark Turner’s second anniversary of post-season MLB coverage, and at age two, the Turner team has grown considerably. Facing quick turnaround times for coverage of all four Divisional Series matchups, as well as the ongoing American League Championship Series, Turner brought in an additional setup crew to ensure smooth transitions between host cities, to great acclaim from baseball fans nationwide.

“The coverage is fantastic,” says Tom Sahara, senior director of remote operations and IT for Turner Sports. “We’ve been getting more compliments this year than last, and last year was huge for us. Having a year under our belts has been great. Everyone has settled in very quickly, and we’ve been able to refine a lot of things that we do. I think it shows on-air.”

The on-air show starts with images, and, for its ALCS coverage, Turner relies on a varied complement of 24 Sony cameras.

“We use four super-slo-mo systems, one super-super-xmo system, five robotics, and the rest are Sony HD cameras,” Sahara explains. “For baseball, there are all of these different angles, and we have to cover every angle, so we have cameras not just going from home plate out but also from the outfield back in. That way, we can see how a play has progressed, or, if there’s a ball hit near the line, we can see whether it was fair or foul.”

Microphone placement is equally complex.

“The field is so big, and there is a lot of unique sound coming from all the different parts of the ballpark that you have to cover. From an audio standpoint, it’s really challenging to set up,” Sahara says. “You’re trying to capture the sound of the ball hitting the glove, the umpires, the base coaches yelling directions to the players, all in this very large arc with a very large crowd, so that’s a real challenge.”

To help tackle that challenge, Turner enhances its regular-season audio complement with additional microphones around home plate and the infield. The home-plate umpire is also miked, and, for the ALCS games at Boston’s Fenway Park, Turner has added “Green Monster” microphones to the infamous left-field wall.

“We also have microphones in the dugout area to get all of the celebrations and reactions from the teams,” Sahara says. “We do interviews with the managers between the innings, so we have headsets for them as well.”

Two Chyron Duets provide specialty graphics for all of Turner’s productions.

For the first time this year, EVS replays are able to use the XT2 server’s Target Mode, which enables an EVS operator to circle an area of the picture and zoom into it directly.

“Before, whenever we wanted to highlight a play, we had to send it outside of the EVS network and run it back either through the switcher or through another device and create that effect,” Sahara explains. “Now that it’s a built-in feature of the EVSs, we can do it all within the EVS network and not have to send it outside. That really streamlined the process.”

One process not so easily streamlined is that of moving an entire production operation from Boston to Tampa, FL. Tampa’s Tropicana Field is completely lacking in fiber, but, for Turner, the bigger issue in broadcasting from the Rays’ stadium is the lack of turnaround time.

“Coming in, we had a lot of things going on, and we had only a day and a half prior to the game to set up” and this is a really big event,” Sahara says. “Because the turnaround is only one day, we have to have everything set up in each of the cities, so we have two sets of trucks in each city.”

In Boston, Turner is supported by NEP’s Denali Summit truck, a twin mobile HD unit doing its first large sports event, and NEP’s SS27 for the studio show. In Tampa, the company’s own TS2 truck provides production support alongside Corplex Iridium, the mobile supplier’s newest 53-foot expando HD truck.

In addition to doubling up on the production support, Turner has brought in an additional setup crew, charged with traveling to the game site ahead of time to put the truck compound in order.

“Just because of the logistics, we’ve had to have a setup crew go ahead to preset everything,” Sahara explains. “It’s such a huge setup that we’ve had to bring on extra people to cover those situations where we have to travel between cities.”

With the constant threat of a weather delay pushing the production team into back-to-back travel, Sahara thought it best to plan alternatives. Additional crew should alleviate any problems, if a weather-related situation arises, and generally gives the team a jump-start on setup at the site of the show.

With six location changes already completed this postseason, Turner heads into the home stretch of its 2008 broadcast run with expectations for quality coverage soaring higher than ever.