YES Network Shines During Emotional Week of Highs and Lows

The week of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game often means a respite for networks that broadcast baseball games on a regional basis. But that wasn’t the case last week for the YES Network, which spent the days leading into the All-Star break making history with 3D telecasts, the days during the break shifting into covering the death of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and the days after the break preparing for an emotional Old-Timers’ weekend at Yankee Stadium.

Ed Delaney, VP of operations for YES Network, was on hand in Seattle, overseeing the 3D broadcast for the Yankees. Prior to the game, the question was whether baseball was suited to 3D. But a test on Friday July 9 quickly answered that question in the affirmative.

“It far exceeded my expectations,” says Delaney. “No one knew whether it would translate because of the way baseball is covered. But, much to our joy, it translated very well. The shots from low home were extraordinary. And I was also surprised that the centerfield-camera shot worked beautifully.”

He expected that watching an entire game in 3D would lead to eye fatigue and discomfort, but that also wasn’t the case.

“There is no question,” he adds, “that, if somebody came in and wanted to sponsor a 3D Yankees game [and] covered the production costs, we would do it again.”

The challenge moving forward, however, may have less to do with economics and more to do with camera positions. The production teams for last week’s 3D baseball games (the Yankee-Mariners games on July 10 and 11, the Home Run Derby on July 12, and the All Star Game on July 13) all had access to a low-home camera position behind home plate that provided the extraordinary shots. But, in the majority of baseball stadiums, that position is not available.

“When 3D gets to the point where the consumer is demanding it, Major League Baseball is going to have to take a hard look at that position,” says Delaney. “It’s crucial. You can do baseball without it, but it’s the money shot.”

With the 3D telecast and the first half of the season behind the production team, most of the staff settled into vacation mode. But tragic news entered the picture on the morning of the All-Star Game when Steinbrenner died of a heart attack at the age of 80. The news came at just about the worst time possible: staffers who would typically have been at the YES Network production facility working on the pre- and post-game coverage for Yankee games were out of the office. Compounding the challenge was that The Mike Francesa Show, a radio program shot in New York City and simulcast on the YES Network, was off-air for the week, so those facilities were not available.

Those challenges, however, did not stop the YES Network team.

“When our production team and staff heard the news,” says Delaney, “they all began heading into the office, and they just started showing up.”

Meanwhile, plans took shape. The network went on-air with play-by-play anchor Michael Kay taking phone calls. And, thousands of miles away, Bob Lorenz, host of the pre- and post-game show, jumped on a plane in Arizona, where he was vacationing, to head to Anaheim, CA,  for live reports from the All-Star Game. A YES Network field producer, Robin Damian, was also in Anaheim.

With production staffers heading to Anaheim, the next issue arose: getting credentials on the day of the game. “Major League Baseball was great,” says Delaney, noting the league’s understanding in turning around credentials so quickly.

Transmission and production on-site were handled by Coastal Media Group, which was on hand for the 3D transmission of the All-Star Game.

“They were a huge help,” says Mike Webb, YES Network manager of broadcast operations. “They found a local ENG crew and got them in. And then, Fox Network was a big help, getting us fiber lines down on the field. When they knew what we were doing, everyone stepped in to help, which was great.”

When New York Yankees baseball finally returned to air on Friday July 16, the game was not on the YES Network but instead on an over-the-air TV station, WOR New York. The YES Network handles game production for WOR but does not typically do a pre- and post-game report. The unique circumstances of the deaths of Steinbrenner and longtime Yankees public-address announcer Bob Sheppard changed that.

“During the week, we decided to be there for the pre-game in case there was a ceremony, and there was,” says Webb. “So that ceremony aired on both the YES Network and Channel 9 at the same time.”

The next day, Saturday July 17, featured the 64th annual Old-Timers’ Day, an event that was one of Steinbrenner’s favorites and also provided Sheppard an opportunity to once again call out the names of Yankee greats as they took the field. The players also took to the field for roughly 30 minutes of baseball.

“We have one RF camera on the field, which is great,” says Webb, noting the handheld camera and operator behind the pitching mound. “There are also two handheld RF cameras on the field, with reporters doing interviews each half inning.”

The interviews this year focused on stories about Steinbrenner, an owner remembered not only for being a difficult owner to work for but also for being driven to do whatever it takes to win.

The week was a fitting final one for Steinbrenner. It began with his franchise once again making history, via 3D. Then, workers within the Yankee organization and YES Network worked hard on what should have been off days to honor his memory and retell his story. And Yankee greats had an opportunity to tell stories about him to a packed stadium and millions of viewers on TV during one of his favorite events.

One can only think that somewhere he was smiling with delight.