2020 SEASON: THE UNNATURAL
In challenging year, safety concerns are foremost in NBCSCH boss’ mind
As excited as NBC Sports Chicago boss Kevin Cross is to have live White Sox games returning to his network, he has much more to think about than the broadcasts.
Can play-by-play voice Jason Benetti and analyst Steve Stone stay six feet apart in the booth? Can the crew work safely in the tight quarters of the production truck? No one has fallen ill at the network. Can Cross keep everyone healthy?
“When you get through all of that, then you can sit back and say, ‘Wow, it’s great that we’re going to have baseball back,’ ’’ said Cross, NBCSCH’s senior vice president and general manager. “But it’s not a normal situation where it’s just pure joy for baseball coming back.”
Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has turned Cross into a pseudo-health adviser. With the risk of infection still prevalent, every aspect of a broadcast will be rooted in safety. Crew members must maintain social-distancing. Plexiglass will help keep production staff safe in the truck. And the situation will remain fluid through the 60-game season as the network learns what works and what doesn’t.
The other big change under Cross’ purview is the “world feed.” Production crews won’t be traveling this season, so the home team is in charge of a shared feed that the road team’s viewers will watch, too. It will be a challenge keeping everyone happy.
“You have to make sure that your coverage is objective enough that it’s good for our feed as the home team and it’s good for the other team’s feed, as well,” Cross said. “All of the away teams’ broadcasts are going to expect to get a clean feed that works for their audience because we’re going to expect that when the White Sox are on the road. We’ve all got to essentially do right by each other.”
That will mean having an open dialogue between crews. But Cross
doesn’t want that to prevent his crew from trying new ideas with Sox fans in mind. He said the staff is still working on plans that adhere to safety measures and would accommodate both teams’ broadcasts. He also didn’t dismiss adding crowd noise, which has been a hot topic in sports TV.
“I don’t know if we really know what the fan wants until we try it,” Cross said. “I think that whether it be piped-in crowd noise or different camera angles,
I think we need to not be afraid to try some new things and not be afraid to see those things maybe not work. If the fans say, ‘I’m not into it,’ then maybe we’ll revamp it. As long as no one’s in harm’s way, why not try to do something that’s a little different?”
Field reporters could see their job description change in this environment. Chuck Garfien has reported from the Sox’ dugout and among the fans at Guaranteed Rate Field, but neither will be the case this season. Though Garfien will remain part of the coverage, Cross said the network has yet to determine if he’ll be at the ballpark.
Benetti and Stone will be. The plan is for them to call every game, home and away, from the booth. They’ll try to bring some normalcy to a broadcast that might strain for it at times.
“These are very unique times, and our broadcasts will be unique and there will be things that will change, things that we may add, things that we may move away from if they’re not working,” Cross said. “It will be a very different season just because of the condensed nature of it, and it should be very exciting.”
Sox play-by-play voice Jason Benetti (left) and analyst Steve Stone.
NBC Sports Chicago has yet to determine if Chuck Garfien, who has reported from the dugout and among the fans, will be at the park this season.