MLB Draft Goes Multiplatform

Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft is a rising star among sports-television commodities, having seen a 35% boost in viewership in 2010, MLB Network’s second year of coverage. A primary factor in the Draft’s ascent to Nielsen significance has been the rapidly evolving partnership between MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media. That alliance continued to flourish this week when the league’s television and digital arms combined to produce three days’ worth of comprehensive coverage on a variety of platforms.

“It’s an unbelievably collaborative effort between the MLB Network and ourselves to juggle all the pieces together for a live primetime show like this,” says Joe Inzerillo, SVP of multimedia and distribution, MLBAM. “We are taking kind of a divide-and-conquer approach, where [MLB Network] takes care of parts A and B, while we take parts C and D.”

Both MLB Network and MLB.com provided pick-by-pick coverage for Day 1 of the Draft (first round and first compensatory round starting at 7 p.m.) live from Studio 42 at MLB Network in Secaucus, NJ. MLB.com then picked up the final two days of the 50-round marathon event.

“Our coverage is truly a primetime event now,” says MLB Network VP of Operations Susan Stone. “We’ve come a long way since our first year, and I’m sure that will continue in the future.”

MLB Network Goes All Out for Day 1
MLB Network’s Day 1 coverage kicked off with The Rundown at 3 p.m. ET, leading into a 6 p.m. preview show produced out of Studio 3. The Draft began at 7 p.m. in Studio 42, and then it was back to Studio 3 for MLB Tonight and then Quick Pitch at 1 a.m. In all, MLB Network delivered nearly a dozen hours of coverage from two separate studios.

“That takes a tremendous amount of resources,” says Stone. “We have to pay a lot more attention to how we’re going to allocate and augment resources to make sure neither show gets shortchanged.”

MLB Network deployed nine cameras in Studio 42, including a jib, a Steadicam, and a new RF camera (with the assistance of CP Communications). That is in addition to the five cameras located in Studio 3. The network also added two additional six-channel EVS servers (rented via Bexel), bringing the grand total to eight four-channel EVSs and five six-channel EVSs at the facility for Draft day. Also on hand were a total of nine Vizrt graphics engines.

“We have made it into two totally independent shows so that nobody is behind the 8-ball in terms of not being able to get something done,” says Brad Cheney, engineering manager, MLB Network. “We are giving the production group the same amount of resources they would have on a normal day — albeit in two different control rooms.”

Studio 3 also sported a massive interactive touchscreen driven by data technology from SMT (SportsMedia Technology) and used by Baseball America’s Jim Callis to break down overall picks, picks by positions, best remaining prospects, and more — all according to Baseball America rankings.

MLBAM Goes to War (Room)
The MLB media arm delivered a record 22 remote feeds from teams’ Draft war rooms for both MLB Network and MLB.com coverage. It worked closely with each team to coordinate these feeds, most of which were produced by the teams’ own in-house production crews (although MLBAM did supply a handful of ENG crews to teams who were unable to self-produce the feed).

“All teams have some level of scoreboard or production operations, so these scoreboard guys are doing a lot of the war-room [productions],” said Inzerillo. “Obviously, that helps out from a logistical point of view, so we don’t have to provide 20 local crews, but having a badged employee of that team running that war-room camera also makes teams feel more comfortable, and we get more participation as a result.”

MLB Network also featured a handful of remote feeds for top prospects, depending on availability due to college and high school postseason play. First baseman Larry Green — a projected top-20 prospect who went to the Philadelphia Phillies with the 39th overall pick — was backstage in Secaucus and was brought to the stage when his selection was announced.

Player-Highlight Packages Hit Two-Century Mark
Much like their NFL and NBA counterparts, MLB Draft coverage relies heavily on preproduced highlight packages of each prospect. This year, MLB Network created a video reel of all the top 200 projected prospects, with the exception of three high-schoolers. Much of the footage was obtained during MLB Network’s coverage of amateur events, such as the UnderArmour Championship and USA Baseball games.

In addition, a handful of preproduced player interviews feature network analysts Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds.

The more than 200 edited player videos became part of a file-based transfer between MLB Network’s Grass Valley K2 server and the EVS playout network at the Draft, according to Cheney. “The ability to push video around and play it out both to air as well as to the monitors all over the Draft floor has definitely boosted our level of production.”

Grassroots-Minded MLBAM Goes Deeper
The Draft shifted to MLB headquarters in New York City for the later rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, with MLB.com providing a live pick-by-pick stream and draft analysis by MLB.com personalities.

MLBAM also supplied the DraftCaster, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every draft-eligible player supplemented by statistics, scouting reports, and video highlights. MLBAM created video packages for the top 500-plus players through a partnership with the MLB Scouting Bureau.

“Our portion of the draft in the later rounds is very different,” says Inzerillo. “It becomes a much more local, grassroots story about who is going to your team and if you know anyone that is being drafted. As a result, we make an effort to supply deep information and data on these players.”

Beyond the Wired Experience
The Draft is well-trod territory for MLBAM, which has streamed the event since well before MLB Network took the television rights from ESPN in 2009. However, this year, MLBAM has gone beyond the laptop/desktop experience, delivering the Draft to more mobile devices than ever and to the iPad for the first time.

“We’re streaming on many more devices than we did last year so we’ve spent a lot of time bolstering the mobile experience,” says Inzerillo. “We think the [user interface] will be better this year and added more relevant information in there. I’m very excited to see what we’re going to learn about this year’s draft on the iPad because tablets didn’t really even exist for last year’s Draft.”