BRISTOL, Conn.—ESPN isn’t heading back to the ballpark, at least not for the start of the 2021 MLB season. In an interview with reporters about the networks coverage plans for MLB games this season, Phil Orlins, senior coordinating producer for ESPN, said that broadcasts will be primarily remote productions, with a minimal crew onsite.
ESPN went with remote production for the 2020 MLB season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic still ongoing, though numbers dropping as vaccines roll out, ESPN has opted to keep with the remote production strategy. Any change from that strategy will take into account multiple circumstances, Orlins said, including the pandemic.
Even so, Orlins said that “we’ve given up nothing in terms of our expectations of what these productions should be like.”
He said that there will be a minimum of 10 or 11 cameras on site for “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcasts, including additional robotic cameras. They plan for at least five super slo-mos during those games, including one being an ultra-slow motion.
A small ESPN core crew will be on-site for “Sunday Night Baseball,” along with a local crew. The producers, directors, switching, lead audio and other elements of the broadcast will take place from the control room in Bristol. As far as the talent, Buster Olney will be on site as the reporter; Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez will be calling the game at the Bristol Studio.
Orlins said that because they utilized remote production last season, MLB ball parks are well equipped to handle the necessary data transfer speeds for these games.
Weekday games will also be produced from Bristol, or occasionally Charlotte, N.C., control rooms (Orlins estimates about 20% of games will operate out of Charlotte). ESPN will use the feed from the home team RSN broadcaster, but the network will have at least two of its own cameras on-site for their own unique coverage. They will also create some of their own highlights and replay packages. Talent for weekday games will either be at the Bristol studio or at their homes.
When asked about a possible return to traditional production when vaccines are distributed and things are more normal, Orlins said that while he misses the experience of working in a production truck, he thinks it may not make as much sense as it used to.
“I just think the realities of technology and progress are that—again, very simple,” he said. “Almost unlimited data that can be transported, again, at roughly the speed of light tells you there are advantages to having a group of people that work and live near their workplace, consistency, centralization. There’s a lot of logic to that.”
The 2021 MLB Season gets underway on April 1. ESPN will broadcast four games on Opening Day, three of which will be co-produced with an RSN, and exclusive broadcast of the New York Mets and Washington Nationals.
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