SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Media

Talent, technical changes ring in new MLB season for ESPN

ESPN’s MLB coverage has undergone its most extensive set of on-air changes in the network’s 21-year history of covering the league.

ESPN executives have settled on a series of talent and technical changes to its telecasts that has its roots in a restructuring of its production department last September.

ESPN is testing a live K Zone application.
The moves organized production by sport; previously ESPN had split production responsibilities between studio and live programming. As part of the changes, ESPN put Mike McQuade, vice president of production, in charge of MLB productions, reporting to Jed Drake, senior vice president and executive producer.

One of the first — and most public changes — came in November, when ESPN decided against renewing the contracts of longtime “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcasting duo Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.

“If you believe in reinventing organization and oversight, it’s incumbent upon you to reinvent the faces that are delivering it,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president of production. “That created a domino effect on other nights.”

ESPN chose Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine to handle “Sunday Night Baseball.” Sean McDonough, Rick Sutcliffe and Aaron Boone will be in the booth Monday nights while Dave O’Brien and Nomar Garciaparra will handle Wednesday’s games.

“Everyone likes to focus on the talent changes,” Williamson said. “To me, that’s a small part of it.”
Taking a page from its popular “College GameDay” program, ESPN is putting its “Baseball Tonight” studio at the “Sunday Night Baseball” location.

“We’re not going to have a bunch of deck chairs just outside the foul line,” Drake said. “We are putting our announcers with a major presence adjacent to these ballparks, where fans will be flowing past them. It’s going to feel big. It’s going to feel urgent. It’s going to feel fun.”

On the technology front, ESPN is looking to bring viewers inside the action. In a new feature, it will time — to the hundredth of a second — how long it takes for a ball to leave the pitcher’s hand and hit the catcher’s mitt, or how long it takes a runner to go from first base to second base.

“We will detail down to the hundredths of a second why somebody had a good break or why somebody made a good throw,” Drake said. ESPN developed the technology in-house and is calling it “Diamond Track.”

ESPN also is testing a “K Zone Live” application in spring training. ESPN executives have not decided whether the application, which shows where a pitch goes over the plate, will be rolled out for the regular season.

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