Fox Sports Southwest Brings Ranger Fans Closer to Action

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Texas Rangers fans who watch the MLB team on Fox Sports Southwest will be closer to the action, thanks to changes at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington that allow a Sony HD robotic camera to be moved 16 feet nearer to home plate. “The Rangers also added some field-level boxes that have moved the camera pits forward,” says Mike Anastassiou, Fox Sports Southwest senior executive producer. “So we went out and made sure the sight lines and angles are still good.”

The camera locations are only the beginning of the changes this year. Pre- and post-game shows will be produced at the ballpark on the left-field concourse. A Sony HD robotic camera will shoot those shows. “We’ll also have HD screens there, with feeds directly from the truck that will allow fans to watch the game in HD,” says Anastassiou.

Fox Sports recently launched Fox Sports Houston, which will be the broadcast home for Houston Astros games. Previously, Fox Sports Southwest broadcast both Ranger and Astros games. “We’re going from producing 310 MLB games to 150 games,” Anastassiou notes, “so we will be able to focus on the team in our own backyard.”

In terms of bells and whistles. Fox Sports Southwest hopes to use Pitchtrax, the graphic system that the parent network uses to track pitches as they enter the strike zone, for all its games. Game coverage will rely on eight Sony cameras plus the two Sony robotic units.

Mobile TV Group, the provider of remote-production facilities to the regional Fox sports networks, is helping the networks continue to close the HD gap. When two Fox Networks are handling the home and away telecasts, both production crews will operate out of the same HD production unit, making it cost-effective to produce road games in HD. More than 100 Rangers games will be in HD, including all home games.

Dual-feed productions can occasionally stir the ire of production teams, whose quarters are more cramped than when an entire production truck is dedicated to one network. “If doing dual feeds allow us to broadcast in HD for the cost of doing a standalone SD production, isn’t that the Holy Grail?” asks Anastassiou. “The most difficult part is getting the producers and directors in off the ledge, but, in the final analysis, we aren’t compromising our production values. It’s all about more HD for our fans.”

And the fans definitely want more HD. “When a game isn’t in HD,” he says, “we hear it.”

If all goes as planned, Fox Sports Southwest will launch a 24/7 HD network by the end of the year or in early 2010. “Not all the programming will be produced in HD,” Anastassiou says, “but the upconverted programming will look great.”

Opening Day is less than a month away, and SVG is counting down to the first pitch with a look at the regional sports networks responsible for producing games for all 30 Major League Baseball teams. SVG will check in with each RSN to detail the news and expectations leading up to the 2009 baseball season one conference at a time. For the complete SVG 30 In 30 Index, click here.