Fox Sports Nets Get Super Social With MLB Coverage

The emphasis on social media during the average sports telecast has grown exponentially in recent years as networks look to capitalize on the buzz created by fans on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. This year, all 15 Fox Sports regional sports networks will take this effort to the next level at MLB ballparks across the country, with several of them integrating a dedicated social-media reporter and/or producer into their live coverage.

“We really want to get fans to interact with the broadcast,” say Michael Connelly, SVP/executive producer, Fox Sports Net. “We want to be able to integrate what fans have to say into the broadcast easily and quickly. Through the Tweets and social media, we will look for trends from the audience and then integrate that into the broadcast. That is going to be one of our biggest focuses this year.”

More Than Just Tweeting
The concept of a social-media reporter is not new to FSN. Fox Sports Arizona deploys a social-media sideline reporter during Phoenix Suns home games, and various Fox RSNs utilized Laura McKeeman to report on social-media activity during the Pac-12 basketball tournament earlier this month.

In addition to on-air talent, FSN will further integrate its Game Connect second-screen offering into the linear telecast. Besides offering in-depth statistics and a visual game-tracker, Game Connect allows fans to interact via Twitter directly from the site. The site then creates graphical representations of this social activity, such as “Image Cloud” and “Most Talked About.”

These Tweets and visual representations will be fed directly to the the production truck, where the social media producer will select which elements will make air. All 15 RSNs will have a social media producer on hand, but only Fox Sports South currently deploys an on-air social media reporter (though FSN’s intention is to roll this out to other markets as the season progresses).

“A few of the regions will put social-media reporters on-site, and a few are just going to use producers to integrate the content into the broadcast,” says Connelly. “We are going to try to figure out which one works best and then try to follow that across all of our networks.”

Making Regional Look National
Although social media will play a major role for Fox Sports Nets throughout the summer season, the meat-and-potatoes of its MLB coverage still lies in its robust production model, which aims to treat every regular-season game as if it were a national telecast.

Fox Sports Nets’ MLB productions deploy eight or nine cameras for game coverage and 15 total when ancillary cameras for shoulder programming are taken into account. Every market is equipped with one ultra-slo-mo high-speed camera (branded as Fox-Mo) as well as robotic cameras. Several RSNs, including Arizona and the newly launched San Diego network, also use an RF camera in the stands to add an in-stadium feel to the telecast.

In addition, Fox Sports RSNs will bring back its FoxTrax pitch tracking system. This year, system (based on Sportvision’s PITCHf/x technology) will not be used live but rather as an analytical tool to provide a deeper look at batters’ “hot and cold” zones as well pitchers’ tendencies and patterns.

“We’ve really tried to build our home shows up to be as big as any network show,” says Connelly. “We can also provide those same features to our visiting brothers that are coming into town.”

The element of brotherhood with visiting RSNs is made possible by FSN’s use of Mobile TV Group dual-feed production trucks in every single Fox home market. By producing both feeds out of a single mobile unit, both RSNs save money and boost production quality by sharing the hometown resources.

“The idea with the dual-feed [model] is to combine as many of the cameras and bells and whistles as you can on a show and offer them to both feeds,” says Connelly. “Instead of having two five-to-six camera shows, you can have a 15-camera show that everyone can take off of.”

On the Shoulders of On-Site Studios
FSN will also focus on expanding shoulder programming this year by establishing an on-site studio for pre- and post-game shows at every ballpark by the end of this season. Each set will be designed to promote the Fox Sports brand rather than the local branding these studios have had in the past.

The model of this new on-site studio look will be derived from San Diego’s newly installed set at Petco Park, which sits near the Tony Gwynn statue in “The Park at the Park” just beyond center field.

“What you see in San Diego will be the model of what you will eventually see on all networks,” says Connelly. “We don’t want to produce an event; we want to create a full night of programming. We believe this [on-site studio] is a major step in achieving that.”