FOX SportsNet Chicago rolled out the latest in a string of experiments this season to enhance Major League Baseball coverage July 15 when it began offering an edgier, more pointed play-by-play and color commentary of Chicago White Sox games on the SAP channel.
Viewers can watch and listen to edgier Chicago White Sox commentary on the SAP. Here announcers deliver pointed play-by-play and color commentary on the channel.
For at least 10 games in late July and early August, SAP doesn’t simply stand for secondary audio channel in Chicago. It means “Sox Audio Plus,” the brainchild of Don Graham, FOX SportsNet Chicago vice president of program and production.
“I had this idea about a year and half ago,” he explained, “and this past March when we met with Major League Baseball in Phoenix, I had a chance to suggest it.”
As reported in previous editions of Sports Technology Update, MLB commissioner Bud Selig launched an initiative after last season to test enhancements of TV baseball coverage intended to hold and grow the audience. Stro-Motion, a pitch tracking tracer-bullet-like effect, in-game interviews and wireless mic-ed players are among the experiments tried so far.
According to Graham, research showed that baseball lost some of its male viewers as they reached their late teens and didn’t retrieve those fallen-away fans until they reached their thirties. With that in mind, he proposed using the SAP channel to deliver edgy commentary aimed squarely at that group.
“The coverage was to be geared toward 26-year-old males and done in a way to entice them to watch with a Maxim or FHM flavor,” he said.
From a technical point-of-view, pulling off SAP was not too demanding, he said. FOX SportsNet Chicago sends its traditional announce team on one mono channel, which is doubled and put on the L and R channels before being distributed via satellite. The SAP channel is sent back to the FOX uplinking facility in New York on another mono channel where it is encoded and sent as a distinct SAP feed.
Coordinating the two separate audio feeds can be a little tricky. Player interviews on the standard mix are included in the SAP program, which requires a degree of awareness and response unnecessary prior to the test.
While there have been a few technical hiccups since the launch, they’ve been solved, and extending Sox Audio Plus beyond the 10-game test is being considered.
If SAP is continued, FOX SportsNet will have a chance to test revenue-generating possibilities of using the secondary audio program channel. One method might be the inclusion of commercially-sponsored features unique to Sox Audio Plus, said Graham.