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Some MLB broadcasters are still calling games remotely. Viewers take notice.

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The start of the MLB season was mostly a welcome return to normal: angst returns to baseball, Shohei Ohtani does things Shohei Ohtani and broadcasters traveling again with their teams.

But not all broadcasters.

Several weeks into the season, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network remains an outlier, keeping its advertisers for the Orioles and Nationals at home for road games. Instead of traveling, broadcasters are calling games from broadcast booths inside their local stadiums, a tricky task for play-by-play announcers Bob Carpenter with the Nationals and Kevin Brown for the Orioles. The effect on the show was noticed by fans, with delayed commentary frequent frustration, such as when a key Oakland error was pointed out several seconds after Orioles fans saw it on MASN, as listed by the SB Nation Orioles websiteCamden Cat.

There have also been other confusions, notably when the Nationals’ MASN stand seemed confused about Victor Robles entering a game this month. And there were technical difficulties, like when the voice of Orioles broadcaster Melanie Newman did not match the photo during a pre-game broadcast and when the photo was lost during a Nationals game in Pittsburgh.

Nationals spokeswoman Jen Giglio declined to comment, referring questions to MASN. (The Nationals radio crew is on the road.) MASN spokesman Todd Webster wrote in a statement, “The global pandemic has forced us all to learn new lessons in innovation, ingenuity and resilience. MASN continues some of these lessons.

MASN isn’t alone in keeping broadcasters at home. San Francisco Giants TV broadcasters are not traveling to all road games this season. Neither do the Red Sox broadcasters on the New England Sports Network. And the Los Angeles Angels had planned to be remote on Bally Sports SoCal, but that could be in jeopardy, according to Athletic, after last weekend’s telecast troubles with the Angels playing in Texas.

Play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian called the game from Secaucus, NJ, with the rest of the team in California. A Mike Trout home run call was conspicuously behind the television image, and then Vasgersian initially called a Jared Walsh home run a foul ball.

The problems on MASN and the broadcast of the Angels highlight two phenomena: the complications of calling a game on a screen versus live at the park and the way regional sports networks hope to use new technologies deployed during the pandemic to reduce costs.

Brian Anderson, a Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster who also calls the baseball playoffs for Turner, said in an interview that to cancel a game on a monitor, an announcer has to rethink years of muscle memory.

“In the stadium you see the contact and you can react immediately,” he said. “But on the monitor, you’d have to wait two beats,” he said. “You fight every instinct to say something because you have to sit in silence and wait for the next frame because you can’t go wrong. And two seconds can feel like an eternity.

At the park, Anderson would normally watch outfielders to help assess a flyball, for example. “My eyes can travel 300 feet in a split second,” he said. “But on the monitor, the batted balls can look like a foul ball. You can also use your ears to park how the ball sounds right off the bat. That’s one thing I really lost – how it sounded and how the player reacts when hitting.

Anderson, who also calls basketball games, said baseball is the hardest sport to play on a monitor due to the ball flying off the bat. “The ball can go anywhere,” he said. “It’s not just about heading for a basket.”

Arizona Diamondbacks play-by-play TV man Steve Berthiaume said he used flags in the stadium to talk about the wind and constantly monitored players’ body language to offer clues as to what they were up to. were feeling. He also pointed out that a baseball TV show longer than three hours must offer narration.

“There’s a lot of time to fill,” he said. “So to feel that the connectedness with the team is so important. You’re supposed to introduce viewers and listeners to the team on the pitch, the people who play for your team. And being on the plane, in the hotels, in the locker room really helps that.

There is also an element of pleasure in the work.

“Who wouldn’t want to have a great day at the ballpark? asked Berthiaume.

For most teams, travel has become less of a problem over the past year. Vaccine doses were widely available and hitting the road was safer than in the 2020 season when everything was far away. Most advertisers remained grounded, but Berthiaume described a sense of desperation among some. Some radio people, he was told, went to distant towns.

“Rumors would be circulating in the press box,” he said. “’Did you hear that so-and-so went here or so-and-so was driving there?’ We all felt it. »

The pandemic has also opened the door for production crews to stay home. For much of the history of sports television, there was one way to produce a game: a production truck parked onsite in a remote location, staffed by a producer, a director, and perhaps another team. The picture and sound were sent back via cables to a studio and then broadcast to viewers.

During the pandemic, these capabilities were forced to go virtual, and most productions made do. Networks today continue to use some of these less expensive approaches, including cloud production, which sends the image over the Internet instead of cable. This allows a network to keep the entire production team at home even if it still sends announcers. The Diamondbacks, for example, sent announcers and a production team to Washington last week, but will keep the production team at home for their next road trip.

This production technology, while constantly improving, is far from perfect. The Angels tried to send a stream from Texas to California to New Jersey to California before it was released to viewers with announcer commentary. A member of MASN’s production staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the problems MASN encountered showed the limits of internet streaming.

“I liked the old way – everyone was there,” the person said. “It’s a concern for the on-air product because the technology we’re trying to use isn’t bulletproof. It’s still immature.

It’s unclear how much this actually saves networks. Some production workers have said cloud production offers significant cost savings to networks. But Ed Desser, a longtime sports media consultant who has worked closely with networks and regional sports teams, said a network still has to pay most people on a TV show to do their job. The average production cost for a game in the pre-coronavirus world was around $50,000, Desser said.

But the savings from simply keeping advertisers at home were pretty small, he thought, because the networks were probably only saving on certain trips and meals. And many advertisers already travel on team charters.