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MLB Opening Day 2021: ESPN Deploys REMI in Bristol for Weekday Games, Small Onsite Crew for SNB

01/04/2021

MLB Opening Day 2021: ESPN Deploys REMI in Bristol for Weekday Games, Small Onsite Crew for SNB Productions continue to rely on an enhanced' world feed By Kristian Hernandez, Associate Editor

Thursday, April 1, 2021 - 1:34 pm

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After a year fraught with unknowns and disappointments, nature is helping as it makes its turn to spring. With the return of Major League Baseball, ESPN will nationally televise a staggering 11 games during the first week of the season, with both REMI productions out of Bristol, CT, and shows with additional enhancements for primetime contests on Sunday Night Baseball.

We will probably have 20% of our games out of Charlotte, [NC], says Phil Orlins, senior coordinating producer, ESPN, but we will still use a production workflow that is primarily centralized in Bristol. This is a place where we probably needed to be eventually. Due to the past year, we arrived there quickly and will stay there.

Inside REMI: Sunday Night Baseball Involves Multiple Control Rooms, Remote Talent Even with the advent of a COVID-19 vaccine, ESPN continues to take necessary precautions to keep all employees safe. Similar to last year's infrastructure, two separate locations under the network's umbrella - Bristol and Charlotte - will serve as hubs for selected productions. On Opening Day, the network will use three separate control rooms for three televised games (Blue Jays-Yankees at 1 p.m. ET, Dodgers-Rockies at 4 p.m., and Astros-Athletics at 10 p.m.).

Talent will continue to work from Bristol or their respective homes for ESPN's MLB coverage.

In terms of equipment, these exclusive games will be shot with 10 or 11 cameras, including half in super-slow-motion, with additional robotics throughout the venue. The super-slo-mo deployments will add another element that is paramount in coverage of professional baseball: precise and accurate replays.

We'll control and trigger [slow-motion replay] remotely from Bristol to play it back in most games, says Orlins. We will get back a camera that will give us around 1,000 frames per second in all of our Sunday Night Baseball games.

Talent will continue to call games from the comfort of a studio in Bristol or their respective homes. For the Sunday Night Baseball package, play-by-play commentator Matt Vasgersian and analyst Alex Rodriguez will be in Bristol, and reporter Buster Olney will be onsite in the ballpark. As for the weekday games, personalities Eduardo Perez, Doug Glanville, and Jessica Mendoza will call the game remotely while Marly Rivera reports from the stadium.

Weekday Slate: RSNs Supply Enhanced-World-Feed Model The regional sports networks have played a major role in producing a large part of ESPN's non-exclusive schedule, and they will once again be critical to these broadcasts. The enhanced-world-feed method, which entails the home broadcaster's sending a clean feed to the opposing team's broadcaster as well as to ESPN, will be deployed to discourage a heavy onsite presence. In 2020, all production staff and operational support were located offsite in a designated location, but, this year, the network is calling an audible by bringing a single-digit crew onsite.

Last year, we produced the non-exclusive games with zero people from ESPN onsite, Orlins notes. This year, we're bringing a small single truck and taking the RSN world feed through that truck back to Bristol.

To do this, the network will rely on a mix of RSN-based employees and a handful of local operators. The onsite truck, which has been deployed for a handful of sports events after the return of sports last summer, will be controlled by a group of six to eight staffers. In Bristol, a group of around 25 will put the pieces of the show together before it's shipped out to fans watching at home. In addition, ESPN will also have a handful of cameras installed in the venue for dedicated use during the broadcast.

We will enhance these games with at least two or more cameras of our own, says Orlins. We'll be able to cut on and off of [the RSN] feed and cover the stories and people that we're looking to talk about with our own highlight packages.

Odds and Ends: StatCast, K-Zone 3D, Miked-Up Players, FaceTime Interviews ESPN has invested heavily in the future of the game, including integration of advanced analytics. This commitment was evident in the network's presentation of the postseason Wild Card Round in 2019 and 2020. This season, execution of Statcast will return in its current form with the help of an MLB-sanctioned operator working in MLB Network's office in Secaucus, NJ, and MLB VP, Broadcast Products and Services, Ryan Zander. Despite its notable advance, Orlins sees Statcast growing into something even better.

I believe its potential is off-the-charts extraordinary, he says. I don't think we've put all the pieces together to make it the full spectacular that I know it will eventually be.

K-Zone 3D, an innovation honored with the 2019 George Wensel Technical Achievement Award, will be deployed throughout the entire MLB schedule. Prior to the 2019 season, the network was poised to leverage the system to track both pitching and hitting statistics, including exit velocity and launch angle.

Another production element to keep an eye on is the future of miked-up players and FaceTime interviews. During this year's Spring Training, streamlined technology deploying an Apple iPhone and AirPods was used to host real-time interviews with players in the dugout, on the field, and in other locations around the complex. Despite the positive feedback on this implementation, Orlins believes there is still a far way to go until it is seen on a steady basis in the regular season.

We had a lot of success last year in the regular season with
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