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FOX Sports ‘MLB At Field of Dreams’ Production To Advance Drone-based Sports Coverage

FOX Sports
(Image credit: FOX Sports)

DYSERVILLE, IOWA--When two 14U youth baseball teams from Chicago and New York City take the field tonight here where “Field of Dreams” was shot in 1989, they will claim a small spot in baseball history.

Not only will they play in the first special exhibition game on the eve of the first-ever “MLB at Field of Dreams” game, they also will be among the first baseball players televised with the help of airborne drones.

“We’ve been working with Major League Baseball to integrate drone technology into game coverage for some time,” said Brad Cheney, vice president of field operations at FOX Sports.

The sports network, which begins coverage tonight, Aug. 12, at 6 p.m. EDT on FS1, and the “MLB at Field of Dreams Sponsored by GEICO” game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees, will use a variety of drones, including a heavy-lift Hercules carrying a Sony HDC-P31 1080p HDR camera, DJI Inspire 2 and the Beverly Hills Aerials FPV.

“I think this is going to be a really large step forward, not only for the coverage of the games, but also to give it that cinematic feel that the movie has and tie the movie and the game together a lot better,” says Cheney.

Iconic View
The Lansing family farm used in the movie offers a picturesque view of rural America. Amid his Iowa cornfield, farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) builds a baseball diamond in response to the mysterious voice that utters one of the best-known sentences in film history: “If you build it, they will come.”

Field of Dreams

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

“Without a doubt, you will see it [the Beverly Hills Aerials FPV drone] flying through the farmhouse and in and around all kinds of things,” says Cheney.

Ten years ago, a group of investors led by Denise Stillman bought the field and set about its preservation. Part of the work includes an 8,000-seat ballpark MLB has built on the site.

The design of the ballpark, which sits in 159 acres of corn, highlights its connection with the movie set. The right field fence is designed to accentuate a view of the cornfield through a 7-foot-high chain-linked green fence.

More than drones
FOX Sports is treating the production of the youth exhibition game just as it will the MLB at Field of Dreams game the following night, Aug. 13. “Nothing is being held back,” says Cheney.

That means many of the 1080p HDR cameras to be used for Thursday night’s game will first be positioned on the movie set where the youth game takes place. It also means that pitch speed and other basic data-driven game graphics will be used; however, certain familiar game graphics, such as the strike zone, are not being deployed in deference to maintaining the visual integrity of the unique rural setting.

“Whereas the technology in a full-on baseball stadium is hidden away in the architecture, the amount of data devices and capture you need for both games is simply too obtrusive to the beauty of what the corn looks like,” he says.

FOX Sports is expected to play up the farm setting of the games. A 1080p HDR FlyCam suspended above the movie set will soar from the set to the ballpark taking in its architecture. 

The broadcaster will also deploy two Megalodon and four Super SloMos cameras. In all it will use 39 native 1080p HDR cameras and more than 50 mics, including several buried in the field and at each base for the MLB game, as part of its coverage.

The FOX Sports 1080p HDR production will be up-resed to 4K UHD HDR for distribution as well.

Coverage of the youth game will focus on the excitement and experience of the players. “Judy Boyd [FOX Sports vice president of production], Matt Gangl [lead director] and Pete Macheska [lead producer] are leading those efforts and are really focused on the kids and making it fun,” he says.

While the spectacle of both games is sure to leave a lasting impression on players and viewers alike, it may be the use of drones for coverage of sports in general—and MLB games, specifically—that will prove to be the most enduring takeaway from the games.

“There are a lot of amazing uses for drones across Major League Baseball,” says Cheney. “I mean, how cool would it be to fly in behind the relief pitcher as he’s running into the game? With a drone you can do those things. I think there are 100 shots on that list for baseball. There are 100 on the list for the NFL, college football and basketball as well.”

“It’s just about continuing to prove that there is a safe way to use drones to capture these shots that’s nonintrusive into the game.”

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.