MLB International Pumps Up, Producing International Feeds for World Baseball Classic Games

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Producing the international feed for the World Series is always a big challenge for MLB International, but this year, it should be a lot easier. For the first time ever, MLB International is producing World Baseball Classic, with five international feeds for each of 39 games being played during the three-week tournament. And after it handles 39 games in 21 days, the World Series burden of seven games won’t feel quite so heavy.

Russell Gabay, VP/executive producer for Major League Baseball International, has overseen the massive project that involves coordinating production trucks and crews not only for venues in Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Tokyo, Toronto, Miami, San Diego, and Los Angeles but also for the MLB International broadcast center based at Rainbow Network Communications in Bethpage, NY. More than 190 people are involved with the broadcasts that, domestically, will be seen on ESPN (23 of the games) and MLB Network (the remaining 16).

Producing multiple feeds of the action required early planning. MLB International reserved the trucks a year ago and began nailing down the details in November. “With a new producer, new director, new crew, and new talent, our goal for the first game was to take it easy and just get on-air with a clean feed,” says Gabay. “By the third game, the look is totally different as everyone is getting into their rhythm.”

Production units for the coverage have an international flavor. Televisa is providing the truck in Mexico City, and NHK is handling the games from Tokyo. U.S. suppliers are involved as well, with NEP and Sure Shot in Puerto Rico (the latter working for ESPN), F&F Productions in Miami, and NCP in San Diego and Los Angeles. All games are being produced with seven hard-wired cameras and RF cameras provided by CP Communications.

The live signals are all sent back to Rainbow via Intelsat for the early rounds and then via Vyvx from Miami and Los Angeles and HTN from San Diego. Once the signals are in Bethpage, they pass through PVI virtual-graphic systems that insert regionalized virtual billboards. Those signals are then sent out to the world via Intelsat.

Network operations in Bethpage often sound like a United Nations address, with crews in Japan, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, as well as dozens of broadcasters from around the world, actively engaged with the Gabay and his team.

Robert Dutcher, president of Remote Transmission Management, oversees the transmission encoding and decoding of the five feeds. RTM Tandberg transmission gear has been brought into the Rainbow facility to decode the incoming feeds delivered via Intelsat. “We can have up to three games going on simultaneously,” he says, “so it’s almost like working on three World Series at once.”

The biggest challenge for the production is the insertion of virtual billboard graphics behind home plate for each feed. Different virtual graphics are inserted into four of the five world feeds because advertisers want to target different markets. The games in Canada require one PVI system, an SD and an HD Latin American feed requires two more systems, and a fourth is in place for the games in Puerto Rico. The games in Tokyo do not have any virtual graphics inserted at Rainbow Networks.

Typically, PVI systems are located in the production truck at the venue and insert the graphics there. But the sheer number of virtual graphics that needed to be inserted made that impossible. Instead, three PVI systems installed at the Rainbow facility handle the incoming feeds and can switch from one venue to another as needed.

Inserting virtual graphics downstream requires coordination between the production director and the virtual-graphics team because the team needs to know when the director is cutting to a camera that has a virtual billboard in it. Audio bridges established between the production trucks and Rainbow networks allow the directors in the trucks and PVI graphics professionals to be on the same page.

MLB International’s production includes everything from the game coverage to opening graphics and even theme music (networks like ESPN and MLB Network are taking a clean feed and giving it a more network-branded feel).

The show open was designed by m2 Post Design in New York features sweeping vistas of uniquely composited international tournament cities with soaring ribbons carrying footage of fans, players, and flags from around the world. The in-game elements have clean, elegant lines trimmed in gold with subtle lighting effects and particles, accented by textures and the colors of the World Baseball Classic logo and world-team flags.

“The event is captured in the details of this package,” says Gabay. “From the iconic scenery and footage in the show open to the multinational-flag transition on the score bug, the package is perfectly reflective of what the World Baseball Classic is all about.”

The visuals are heightened by the anthemic track composed by John Califra for the show open. The in-game elements are also complemented by carefully crafted sound design.

Gabay says the handheld RF cameras play an important role in the production since the action in the stands can often be as exciting as the action on the field. “The RF cameras are on hand to capture the flavor in the stands and get into the cheering sections so viewers can hear the chants and see the fans dancing.”

For most viewers, it’s the on-the-field action that counts, and RF cameras are bringing viewers closer to the action on the field. Says Gabay, “By the second game, the RF guys were getting more aggressive and getting better shots.”