Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Baseball Broadcasts: Behind the Scenes

Broadcasting Baseball

Ever wonder how the game gets from the field to your television set? We're sharing a behind-the-scenes look.

Baseball Broadcasts: Behind the Scenes

Oct 26 2012 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

NOTE: This post is part one of a three-part series. Click here for Part Two and/or Part Three.

2006 World Series at Comerica Park

2006 World Series at Comerica Park (Photo Credit: Kevin Ward)

2006 World Series at Comerica Park (Photo Credit: Kevin Ward) It’s October and that means post-season baseball, including currently, the 2012 World Series.

Tens of thousands of fans will be packing Comerica Park as was the case at AT&T Park: those who are lucky enough to get tickets for the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants match-up.

Many more will be tuning in to the live television broadcast on FOX. Certainly that’s not the same as taking in a game in person, but the added camera angles and replays certainly add some benefits.

As a sports broadcasting professional, I thought this might be a good time to share a little insight into what it takes to put on a broadcast like this.

Different networks and stadiums obviously necessitate slightly different setups. The crew needs of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball looks totally different than say that of the American Legion World Series on ESPN3. Having worked in the past with people who’ve worked on one or the other, obviously the main difference is one of scale.

MLB broadcasts easily push the number of cameras to double digits. Other broadcasts use only four or five. Regardless, the concepts behind-the-scenes are the same. It’s perhaps easier to learn about and understand these concepts by looking at the smaller scale productions and building from there.

The Five Camera Setup

If you watched the 2012 American Legion World Series or one of many minor league game broadcasts this past season, you were looking at a five camera setup. The coverage broke down something like this (parenthesis indicate cameras per location, assuming five total):

High Home Camera at PNC Park

Located in the upper deck behind the backstop, this is the high home camera in PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Photo Credit: Brendan Shick)

High Home ( 1 )

Basic Setup: This is the camera situated behind home plate, usually in the upper deck (hence the moniker), but always at main level concourse height or above.

Function: The most important function of this camera is to follow the ball in play. A fielder must possess the ball to make an out, so having a camera dedicated to following the ball means you’ll never miss the most important action. It’s also easy to understand geography from this location. Viewers at home will never be confused where the ball is from this angle, so you can switch to it at any time without running the grammar of your cuts.

5+ Camera Setup: When you’ve got cameras to spare, you might want to put some extras behind the plate to cover other targets. A single shot from a lower angle along each foul line is desirable for replays on a close fair/foul call. Likewise, a camera even with the players’ eye-lines comes in handy for intimidating closeups of the pitcher or for reviewing close ball/strike calls – you’ll often see the extreme slo-mo cameras placed here. In more basic setups, a single high home can cover all of this.

Center Field Cameras at PNC Park, Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Center field setup at a Major League Pittsburgh Pirates game. The batter’s eye can be seen in the left of this image. (Photo Credit: Brendan Shick)

Center Field ( 1-2 )

Basic Setup: Located just past the outfield wall and just beyond the edge of the batter’s eye (the big unobstructed green backdrop required in straight-away center field), a single center field camera may be manned or unmanned in a pinch.

Function: It’s from this angle that you get that classic baseball shot that you will see more than any other over the span of the broadcast – a basic two shot of pitcher and batter, with the catcher and umpire lurking in the background. Most pitches are seen from this angle. It’s also desirable to have this camera follow the batter as a play develops, providing a good alternate angle on any force or tag plays he encounters.

5+ Camera Setup: At the American Legion World Series, they actually opted to put their fifth camera out in center. While visiting PNC Park this past season, there were no less than four cameras placed in center field. So, clearly there’s plenty out here worth covering if you have some extra equipment. One typical angle for a second camera out here is essentially the same shot as the first, but zoomed in quite a bit more so that it’s effectively the batter’s closeup. This is a great angle to pull up the hitters stats in a lower third graphic – major league broadcasts do this to great effect.

Dugout/Concourse Cameras ( 2 )

Basic Setup: Here’s where things start to vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. You might see a camera placed in each team’s dugout, but which end of the dugout varies from park to park. Sometimes a small camera platform above or next to the dugout is used or the cameras are all the way back on the concourse (roughly straight behind first and third base).

If you have only five cameras to work with, choose one of these spots. Place one camera on the first base side and one on the third base side.

Third Base Concourse Camera, PNC Park, Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

The third base concourse camera at PNC Park stands by with a beauty shot ready to go 30 minutes before a Tuesday evening broadcast. (Photo Credit: Brendan Shick)

Function(s): These cameras also provide a shot of the batter from the side. The camera facing the batter (third base for lefties and first base for righties) grabs this shot, either as a closeup for graphics or to show something specific that a commentator wishes to highlight. When a closeup is not necessary, a wider shot is used to show the batter from head-to-toe (great for replays showing the ball’s height thru the strike zone).

The camera facing the batter’s back is free to cover any baserunner(s). This means there’s a shot ready whenever there’s a stolen base, pick off, or at any other time the director feels the need to show the baserunner(s).

If there are no baserunners, this second camera typically finds a shot that will add something to the broadcast. Interesting fans, bullpen warmups, players in the field or dugout (especially ones the commentators are highlighting), or even beauty or bump shots are all valid options.

5+ Camera Setup: Of course, at the MLB level, there’s usually a camera in each dugout and at least one on each concourse. The concourse height is ideal in many situations because players (especially base coaches) block the action on the field from the dugout camera level. In contrast, the dugout camera is closer to the action and thus has the edge for certain shots.

Wireless Cam Op at Parkview Field, home of the Ft. Wayne TinCaps

Although it’s been more than a full season now, I often operated the wireless camera for the Ft. Wayne TinCaps broadcasts back in the day. (Photo Credit: Wendy Shick)

 Wireless (Roving) Cameras ( 0-1 )

Basic Setup: Being wireless, these cameras can go anywhere and everywhere in a hurry.

Functions: At my job with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, we opt for a wireless camera in part for the fan entertainment that happens on the field and in the stands between innings. This is fairly typical in many of the minor league cities, even though most other teams don’t have an on-air broadcast.

For the broadcast component, regardless of the level of play, this camera might capture a certain player on the field, shoot a postgame or pregame interview, or get interesting shots of the fan experience, whether it be the cheers following a home run, or the delicacies at a concession stand.

5+ Camera Setup: The drawbacks of price and relative signal reliability aside, this is the most versatile camera in the arsenal. When the budget allows, it don’t hurt to have several operators on wireless strategically placed around the park.

Easy Ways to Build on This Setup

Once you’ve got these first 5-6 cameras down, you’re doing pretty good. Again, this is the extent of many minor league and ESPN3 setups. They might add a unmanned camera (perhaps even a GoPro HD) in each dugout and bullpen for an occasional cutaway, but that’s typically it.

Even a major league broadcast is using these basic 5-6 cameras about 85% of the time. Obviously, they add some more angles to supplement this (think replay angles and extra beauty/bump shots – I’ll have more details on this in part two).

Ultimately, these are extras though – amazingly, you almost always get two angles of the relative action (regardless of what happens) from just the first six cameras.

NOTE: This post is part one of a three-part series. Click here for Part Two and/or Part Three.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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