ESPN Leads The League In Innovative Major League Baseball Coverage
Emmy Award-winning initiatives and a proud history of “firsts” have kept ESPN at the forefront of the MLB telecast evolution. Here are some highlights of ESPN’s innovations
In a partnership between ESPN and MLB that has spanned over three decades, ESPN has served as a leader in innovative viewing experiences for Major League Baseball fans.
Emmy Award-winning initiatives and a proud history of “firsts” have kept ESPN at the forefront of the MLB telecast evolution. Here are some highlights of ESPN’s innovations:
ESPN Introduces MLB’s New Rules to a National Television Audience
ESPN continued its tradition as a pioneer in MLB game production during spring training in 2023, when it became the first platform to showcase MLB’s extensive rule changes on a nationally televised game. ESPN’s production team added a visual representation of the newly implemented pitch clock to the score bug in the upper corner of the screen. The addition of the pitch clock will be a mainstay during ESPN’s MLB telecasts.
ESPN’s Well-Documented Leadership in Mic’d Up and In-Game Player Conversations
Beginning in 2020, ESPN took the mic’d up concept to yet another level when it became the first network to produce live conversations with players who are actively participating in the game.
Bryce Harper joined a Sunday Night Baseball telecast for five innings while playing a regular season game. The in-game player conversations continued during the 2020 MLB Postseason.
Then, in 2022, ESPN once again upped the ante by establishing regular, live, in-game player conversations for nearly all of its MLB broadcasts. These conversations are a first-of-their-kind for a game that counts across any network and any major North American team sport.
The 2022 season, star players such as Kiké Hernandez, Ozzie Albies, Harper, Francisco Lindor, Justin Turner, and Mike Trout have had in-game discussions with ESPN commentators Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez and David Cone during the telecast providing unparalleled access to viewers. The two-way player conversations will continue in 2023.
ESPN became the first network to place a microphone on a player during a regular-season baseball game in 2002. The ESPN production team has regularly worked with MLB Clubs to “mic” the most prominent players and coaches, recording audio throughout the telecast and playing back the best moments.
“Live From Home”
Among ESPN’s most recent innovations includes the Remote Operations “Live From Home” team, which developed the infrastructure to make home studio game commentary widely accessible in the pandemic era. Introduced in the 2020 Korean Baseball Organization season, the “Live From Home” method continued in ESPN’s MLB productions and in every sport on ESPN platforms.
Statcast Alternate Presentations
ESPN has produced fan-favorite Statcast-driven alternate presentations surrounding the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, plus a Statcast edition of the 2018, 2019, and 2021 Wild Card Game. Sunday Night Baseball added Statcast alternate presentations to its offering in 2020 and 2021. The Statcast alternate viewing experience is a separate telecast airing alongside the main telecast, with its own commentator team that drives the story with Statcast data. The telecast has multiple production enhancements such as 3D Home Run spray charts, exit velocity, win probability, pitch sequences, and more. For the 2019 T-Mobile Home Run Derby, ESPN debuted a Baseball Tonightalternate presentation with the same commentary team from the telecast, which continued in 2022.
For the 2020 Wild Card Series, ESPN created “Squeeze Play,” ESPN+’s first live MLB whip-around show providing approximately 10 hours of live coverage for two days. The show, anchored by the team of Benetti, Petriello and Kyle Peterson, cut in to key moments in MLB Wild Card Series matchups and provided expert analysis and commentary, sometimes for up to four games at a time.
Spring Training “All-Access”
ESPN debuted Spring Training “All-Access” in 2019 with a two-day content initiative surrounding the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, and expanded the initiative in 2020 to include all four of ESPN’s spring training telecasts. ESPN collaborates with each team to document the complete game day experience for MLB clubs across its television, digital and social media platforms. It provides viewers with a special access and behind-the-scenes content throughout the day, including mic’d up players, managers and executives, in-game interviews, features, essays and other content leading up to – and through – the games.
Over the last several seasons, ESPN has increased its number of MLB telecasts in new and innovative locations both domestically and internationally. The MLB Little League Classic is a regular season MLB game played at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa., the hometown of the Little League World Series. In the 2019 season, ESPN was the home of the Japan Opening Series between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners, a series that would include Ichiro Suzuki’s final Major League Baseball game. The season also included the first edition of MLB in Omaha presented by GEICO, a game between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals at the site of the College World Series.
Additionally, Sunday Night Baseball traveled across the Atlantic to London, England, for the Mitel & MLB London Series 2019, where ESPN was the exclusive home of the historic Sunday, June 30th game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at London Olympic Stadium. ESPN will also be the home of the MLB London Series 2023 on Sunday, June 25, as the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals compete in the next installment of the series.
ESPN has also televised games in Hawaii, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Most notably, ESPN televised a 2016 Spring Training Game in Cuba which was the first time an MLB team played in Cuba since 1999—an event also on ESPN. ESPN also worked with MLB to produce and televise The Fort Bragg Game in 2016 from the Fort Bragg military base.
“UmpireCam” and “Mask Cam”
“UmpireCam,” a pencil-sized camera attached to the home plate umpire’s mask, made its ESPN MLB debut during a 2002 New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox telecast. “UmpireCam” has been used in ESPN’s College World Series coverage since 2015, plus Little League World Series coverage. “Mask Cam,” a similar camera placed on the mask of a catcher, was introduced in the 1997 Sunday Night Baseball season and continued as a regular part of game action coverage for several seasons.
Among the most impactful innovations in ESPN’s baseball production history, ESPN’s K-Zone pitch tracker won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Innovation in 2001. In 2015 ESPN implemented K-Zone Live in all game coverage. ESPN was the first to introduce this approach—a live virtual strike zone over the pitch, which is now ubiquitous in MLB coverage.
In 2018 K-Zone was awarded a second Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Achievement with the implementation of K-Zone 3D. This 3D application, powered by Statcast data, creates a virtual ballpark that has the ability to show a pitch from any angle, building an environment in which ESPN can provide the most complete analysis of a pitch.
Hit Tracker debuted during the 2018 Wild Card Game on ESPN and has been used regularly during Sunday Night Baseball in the 2019 season, as well as during the Home Run Derby. The virtual graphic explores the kinetics of a hit—showing analytics of the launch angle, exit velocity, apex and distance of a hit in 3D.
Sunday Night Baseball In-Field Microphones
In conjunction with the push for higher resolution, ESPN Remote Operations took a new approach to capturing new audio perspectives by enhancing field sounds through strategically placed buried lavalier RF microphones and player-worn lav mics.
ESPN worked with MLB and teams on installing in-ground microphones for all Sunday Night Baseball games in the 2019 season. The buried mics are placed in locations such as home plate, the pitcher’s mound and have also been included in each base, contributing to the final audio landscape and creating a more complete audio experience previously unavailable to the viewer. These buried mics enhance of sounds such as the “power crack of the bat,” which audibly ties exit velocity to a sound image; allowing viewers to accurately hear the difference between a home run and a pop-up.
Front Row Cam
The robotic low-home camera, known as Front Row Cam, debuted on ESPN in 2017 and captured an Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Innovation. Front Row Cam fit in a custom-built, narrow box enclosure situated on the field behind home plate and features robotic pan, tilt and zoom controls. A Sony P43 Super Slo-Mo camera fitted with a 42X telephoto lens aimed skyward, reflecting off a mirror to capture dramatic shots of the pitcher’s face and each pitch. The Sony P43 camera captured up to 360 frames per second provide intricate detail of pitch spin and movement while the 42X lens allowed for tight shots of the pitcher’s face, giving ESPN viewers the closest perspective of the game action.
The 2018 T-Mobile Home Run Derby saw several innovative firsts in MLB coverage, including 4D Replay. The 4D Replay system utilizes more than 100 4K cameras placed throughout the stadium surrounding home plate and the pitcher’s mound, capturing a 180-degree view of a batter at the plate and the pitcher on the mound. This detailed image of the batters and pitchers allows even more in-depth analysis of the best sluggers and arms in the league. In 2019, 4D Replay was used multiple times on Sunday Night Baseball telecasts and was also added to ESPN’s College World Series and Little League World Series coverage.
Sunday From The Seats
Sunday from the Seats is a production during which ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball commentator team calls the evening’s marquee game from a unique location inside the ballpark. ESPN first tried this initiative in 2014, situating the Sunday Night Baseball team atop the iconic Green Monster at Fenway Park. ESPN’s production and operations teams work with the team to select an area that’s going to create an authentic, immersive experience. The ESPN team successfully delivered all the necessities for a traditional booth broadcast to the stands, adding audio and utility technicians to manage the location, using a fiber booth kit to integrate the new “booth” area, and running any fiber connectivity back to the truck. Sunday from the Seats has served as recurring series with telecasts emanating from Wrigley Field, Citi Field, Minute Maid Park, and more.