As part of the historic return of Major League Baseball to Cuba – with a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team on March 22 (ESPN, 1:30 p.m. ET) – Outside the Lines will set the table for ESPN’s extensive coverage with a one-hour special Outside the Lines: Major League Baseball Returns to Cuba airing Sunday, March 20, at 9 a.m.
Bob Ley will host the live program from Havana’s Parque Central. Coordinating producer Tim Hays, who travels to Cuba today, has been overseeing the planning.
“The decision was made to go an hour on OTL to really showcase the fact that we’re broadcasting from there and to have Bob kick off the coverage for the whole network,” Hays said. “I think that’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”
Doing live television for an American network from Cuba doesn’t come without its challenges, and Hays said his team has been working on logistics and planning for the past month.
“There’s a period of time when logistics are very complicated,” he said. “Visas have to be applied for and approved for everyone involved. Between the details of getting everything to Havana we need in order to produce live TV and preparing for the communication challenges in a country where internet services can be unreliable, it’s much more complicated than a normal domestic project.”
OTL joined forces with ESPN Event Production and SportsCenter teams for the project, sharing resources and equipment, including a production truck that traveled to Havana from Florida on a barge. ABC News, which has done several World News Tonight programs from Havana, and will be doing so again next week, also lent some expertise through corporate synergy. ABC’s live shots will be done just a few yards from the ESPN location.
“Because the OTL show is happening right at the beginning of our coverage from Cuba, we won’t have all of the production elements in place yet on Sunday,” Hays said. “A lot of it will come together on Monday and we’ll certainly be working at full power on Tuesday when the game is scheduled to be played.
“We’re working with a skeleton crew on Sunday with one camera for Bob,” he said. “And so because of the unpredictability of working from Havana, we’re going to have a full control room and Andy Katz standing by in Bristol just in case there are any technical problems so we can continue to broadcast our Cuba show on Sunday morning.”