2020 SEA­SON: THE UN­NAT­U­RAL

In chal­leng­ing year, safety con­cerns are fore­most in NBCSCH boss’ mind

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JEFF AGREST ja­grest@sun­times.com | @jef­freya22

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.”

WHITE SOX

Sox play-by-play voice Ja­son Benetti (left) and an­a­lyst Steve Stone.

DAR­REN GE­OR­GIA PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

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.

Kevin Cross

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