Major League Baseball on TBS
|Major League Baseball on TBS|
Ernie Johnson, Jr.|
Cal Ripken, Jr.
(for other commentators and announcers, see below)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||9|
|Executive producer(s)||Jeff Behnke, Glenn Diamond|
Various MLB stadiums (game telecasts)|
Turner Studios, Atlanta, Georgia (studio segments, pregame and postgame shows)
|Running time||180 minutes (varies depending on game length)|
|Production company(s)||Turner Sports|
TNT (overflow playoff coverage)
|Original release||July 1, 2007 – present|
Major League Baseball on TBS (also sometimes referred to as Sunday MLB on TBS during the regular season) is a presentation of regular season and postseason Major League Baseball game telecasts that air on the American cable and satellite network TBS. The games are produced by Turner Sports.
- 1 History
- 2 Viewers and ratings
- 3 Scheduling
- 4 Announcers
- 5 Criticism of TBS's coverage
- 6 Digital on-screen graphics
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Pre-2007: relationship with the Braves
Atlanta Braves baseball games had been a local staple on Atlanta independent station WTBS (channel 17, now WPCH-TV; which, like TBS, was owned by Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting System) since Turner acquired the team's broadcast rights in 1973, and subsequently gained national prominence when the station was uplinked to satellite in December 1976, becoming one of America's first superstations. Along with Chicago-based WGN-TV, WTBS was one of the few television stations that broadcast local sporting events to a national audience, with some even giving the Braves the title "America's Team".
On July 11, 1988, the day before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game from Cincinnati, TBS televised the annual All-Star Gala from the Cincinnati Zoo. Larry King hosted the broadcast with Craig Sager and Pete Van Wieren handling interviews. The broadcast's big draw would've been the Home Run Derby, which TBS intended on taping during the afternoon, and later airing it in prime time during the Gala coverage. The Gala coverage also had some canned features such as highlights from previous All-Star Games, a segment on Cincinnati's baseball history, a video recap of the season's first half and, a slow-motion highlight montage set to "This Is the Time" by Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung. Unfortunately, the derby and a skills competition were canceled due to rain. As a result, TBS scrambled to try to fill nearly an hour of now-open airtime. For example, the Gatlin Brothers, the event's musical guests, who had already played a full concert, were asked to come back out and play some more.
When Major League Baseball was realigned into three divisions each within the American and National Leagues in 1994, TBS offered Major League Baseball US$40-$45 million a year for rights to another round of postseason games (presumably, matches from the newly created Division Series). Instead, Major League Baseball along with ABC and NBC formed a revenue sharing joint venture called The Baseball Network (which was dissolved after the 1995 season). Meanwhile, CBS was offering $130 million a year to renew its previous contract (a four-year agreement that began in 1990 and ran until 1993) before being shut out, as well.
During NBC's coverage of the 2000 Division Series between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics, regular play-by-play announcer Bob Costas decided to take a breather after anchoring NBC's prime time coverage of the Summer Olympic Games from Sydney. In Costas' place was Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray, who teamed with Joe Morgan before Costas' return for the ALCS. It wasn't just Costas but all of NBC's production crews who were down in Sydney. The Olympics ended just two or three days before the MLB playoffs started that year, so the TBS crew worked the Division Series games for NBC.
In 2003, the Braves telecasts on TBS underwent significant changes for the first time in many years, reflecting an increase in the network's rights fee payments to Major League Baseball. In turn, national sponsors could fulfill their advertising commitments by purchasing ads on TBS, in addition to ESPN or Fox. In the process, Don Sutton and Joe Simpson assumed duties as lead commentators, while longtime play-by-play announcers Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren had their participation on the broadcasts reduced. This was done in an attempt to combat criticism of Caray's on-air "home team" bias and to market its baseball coverage to fans of MLB teams other than the Braves. Meanwhile, the brand Braves Baseball on TBS was replaced by Major League Baseball on TBS. The move was strongly criticized by Braves fans, Atlanta area media outlets and Braves manager Bobby Cox. Over 90% of Braves fans who voted in an online poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution preferred Caray and Van Wieren to the more neutral broadcasts. The move backfired, and ratings for the TBS broadcasts declined sharply. After that year's All-Star break, TBS brought back Caray and Van Wieren to work with the two analysts, while broadcasts reverted to the Braves Baseball on TBS brand the following year.
2007–2013: Going national
On July 11, 2006, TBS signed an agreement with Major League Baseball which earned the network exclusive rights to all Division Series playoff games, one of the League Championship Series, as well as rights to the All-Star Selection Show held in late June or early July, from 2007 to 2013. A national Sunday afternoon baseball package was also planned starting with the 2008 season. As a part of the deal, the Turner Broadcasting System management decided to limit Braves games to local telecasts within the Atlanta market. On October 1, 2007, the Turner Broadcasting System severed the ties between WTBS and the TBS cable channel, converting the Atlanta station into an in-market independent station that assumed the call letters WPCH-TV, branding on-air as "Peachtree TV".
Along with this, Comcast and other cable providers within the Atlanta market began carrying the national TBS feed for the first time. WPCH-TV continued to air Braves games, but they were only broadcast within the team's designated market area and throughout Canada; in the latter case, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission never allowed the TBS cable feed to be eligible for carriage on Canadian cable and satellite providers as a superstation, only giving permission for the Atlanta area signal (whose programming largely overlapped with the national version of the channel outside of public affairs and E/I-compliant programming seen only on WTBS). WPCH would lose television rights to the Braves after 40 years in 2013, when Fox Sports South – which took over production responsibilities for the games from Turner Sports after the Meredith Corporation, owner of Atlanta's CBS affiliate WGCL-TV (channel 46), assumed WPCH's operations through a local marketing agreement formed in 2011 – acquired the regional television rights to the station's 45-game package beginning with the 2014 season. Although the channel is not available in the country, TBS's game broadcasts are carried in Canada on Sportsnet. All games include a Spanish language play-by-play feed that is transmitted via the SAP audio channel.
Since TBS assumed rights to the regular season package, several contests that have aired on the network have featured the Braves. On October 7, 2010, TBS carried its first Braves postseason game since the package began: Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants (a 1-0 win for the Giants).
On the July 2, 2011 edition of the CBS Sports Spectacular, TBS's Atlanta-based Major League Baseball studio crew of Matt Winer, Dennis Eckersley, Cal Ripken, Jr. and David Wells presented a 2011 Major League Baseball midseason report. This was followed by MLB 2011: Down the Stretch, which aired on September 24. CBS Sports and Turner Sports have in the past, partnered together to provide coverage of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament and the Winter Olympics in 1992, 1994 and 1998. On August 29, 2012, The New York Times reported that CBS and TBS may strike a potential alliance for a Major League Baseball television contract effective with the 2014 season. According to the report, CBS "would most likely want only the All-Star Game and World Series", an arrangement almost similar to the one NBC had with Major League Baseball from 1996 to 2000.
For the 2012 and 2013 seasons, TBS was awarded the rights to televise both Wild Card Playoff games that occur the day before the Division Series games. In exchange, MLB Network was awarded the rights to televise two Division Series games, rights that previously belonged to TBS. TBS retained the right to air any tie-breaker games to determine the team that moves onto a Wild Card Playoff game which are considered part of the regular season; this occurred in 2013 with a match between the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.
- First program: July 1 – The 2007 MLB All-Star Selection Show
- First game: October 1 – The one-game playoff between the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies (called by Don Orsillo and Joe Simpson) for the 2007 NL Wild Card.
- First postgame show: October 2 (Eastern Time Zone), October 1 (Rest of the country) – Inside MLB presented by Captain Morgan hosted by Ernie Johnson, Jr. and Cal Ripken, Jr. immediately after the NL Wild Card playoff.
- First pregame show: October 3 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time – Chevy MLB on Deck
- First postseason game: October 3 – Game 1 of the NLDS between the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies.
- First regular season game: April 6 – Boston Red Sox vs. Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
- First interleague game: May 18 – Milwaukee Brewers vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Terms of 2014–2021 contract
On September 19, 2012, Sports Business Daily reported that Major League Baseball would agree to separate eight-year television deals with Fox Sports and Turner Sports through the 2021 season. Fox would reportedly pay around $4 billion over eight years (close to $500 million per year) while Turner would pay around $2.8 billion over eight years (more than $300 million per year). Under the new deals, both Fox and TBS' coverage will essentially be the same as under the terms of the 2007 to 2013 contract with the major difference being that Fox and TBS will split coverage of the Division Series, which TBS had broadcast exclusively dating back to 2007. More importantly, Fox will carry some of the games (such as the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week) on its new national sports network Fox Sports 1, effective with the 2014 season.
- TBS' postseason coverage would continue, but would be modified. TBS would now be the exclusive home for the entire postseason for the American League in even numbered years and the National League in odd numbered years. The other league's playoffs would be covered by Fox, with the exception of its Wild Card Game which would be carried by ESPN and select early afternoon games broadcast by MLB Network.
- TBS would also air afternoon games with new co-existing rights on the final 13 Sundays of the regular season as part of the network's Sunday MLB on TBS Game of the Week package.
- TBS would lose the broadcasting rights to the MLB All-Star Selection Show to the MLB Network.
Viewers and ratings
TBS typically begins game coverage with the pregame show MLB on Deck, followed about 38 minutes later by the first pitch of the first game. Each day's coverage ends with Inside MLB (which is formatted similarly to sister network TNT's Inside the NBA). TBS does not show commercial breaks after the third and sixth innings (and also after the ninth inning, if the game goes into extra innings). Instead, it airs a "Game Break" allowing the studio host and analysts more airtime (similar to what is done for British television coverage of an American sporting event). The studio shows originate from Studio J at Turner Sports's headquarters in Atlanta, which is also used for TNT's NBA coverage.
During the regular season, TBS broadcasts a weekly game nationally on Sunday afternoons, under the title Sunday MLB on TBS. These games are not exclusive to TBS and are blacked out in local markets, to protect the stations that hold the local broadcast rights to the games. In the affected areas, simulcasts of programming from sister network HLN air in place of the games. Under the deal, TBS can show an alternate game in those markets, but the network has elected not to do so thus far.
Despite initial reports that TBS would carry games on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, these holiday games are not part of the contract. For many years, games on these holidays were shown on ESPN, but that network has discontinued them, with the occasional exception of when they fall into the regular Sunday/Monday/Wednesday night slots.
TBS released a partial schedule of its inaugural slate of Sunday games on February 27, 2008. More games would be added as the season progressed, generally two weeks before each telecast date. TBS has the second pick of game after ESPN.
Consequently, due to its non-exclusivity, highlights of a scheduled game that aired on MLB on TBS are not shown on the ESPN baseball highlight show Baseball Tonight, nor are live simulcasts and highlights of the said game on the MLB.TV subscription service; instead local broadcasts of the scheduled game are shown. However, highlights of an MLB on TBS game did air on the MLB on Fox weekly program This Week in Baseball (until it was canceled in 2011), as well as MLB Tonight on the MLB Network.
Before the postseason, TBS will air any tie-breaker games for divisional and one of the two wild card games. Should multiple tie-breaking games be played, or if multiple Division Series games are going on at the same time, those additional games air on TBS' sister network, TNT. However, games between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are subject to be moved to Fox.
From 2007–2010, when TBS aired every Division Series game, start times were staggered throughout the day from early afternoon to late primetime. The first game was usually scheduled to start at 1:07 and the last game was usually scheduled for 9:07. If a game ran long, the start of the next game would be shifted to TNT (the game would move back to TBS during the first commercial break after the end of the earlier game, with an announcement from the in-studio crew to switch to TBS)For the LCS round, TBS would show all of the games at a start time pre-set by MLB. All coverage was followed by Inside MLB. This schedule was brought back for 2013 only, with the exception that MLB Network aired the two games scheduled for the early afternoon slot.
With TBS only holding the rights to half of the postseason beginning in 2014, the network aired games at start times that did not conflict with Fox, ESPN, or MLB Network's coverage of the postseason, and airs Inside MLB following the conclusion of its own coverage instead of at the conclusion of all games on a given day.
As stated earlier, TNT is TBS's outlet to air the beginning of LDS games in case of an overrun on TBS. When the TBS game finishes the TNT game is switched back to TBS.
However, in 2011 and 2012, TNT aired its own slate of postseason Division Series games, due to MLB's desire to air fewer LDS games in the early afternoon. This was the first time TNT had ever aired regularly scheduled MLB games, however it used TBS's announcers and production crews with the only difference being the TNT logo in the scorebox replacing the usual TBS logo.
Criticism of TBS's coverage
TBS's coverage has been met with criticism by some observers. As with TNT's NBA playoff coverage, MLB playoff games on TBS are not made available to local broadcast television stations in the participating teams' designated market areas. Under the previous contract, ESPN was required to make those games available over-the-air in these local markets.
Following the Philadelphia Phillies' victory in the 2009 NLCS, studio host Ernie Johnson went to the podium to present the championship trophy. Upon announcing what a pleasure it was for TBS to cover the series, the Philadelphia fans responded with a heavy barrage of boos, to which Johnson quipped, "Why, thank you."
Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which in 2013, had its first winning season as well as its postseason appearance since 1992, took TBS to task for not broadcasting the traditional pre-game player introductions, "The Star-Spangled Banner", or ceremonial first pitch during their coverage of the National League Wild Card playoff game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Following Game 1 of the 2016 World Series, Fox affiliate WJW in Cleveland, home station of the Cleveland Indians, aired a brief commercial criticizing TBS, in light of the mistakes and errors that had run rampant throughout their playoff coverage.
Some sports media critics were critical of the announcers used in the coverage as being more skewed towards the National League than the American League, along with the choice of Chip Caray (who along the way, was criticized for making factual mistakes during postseason broadcasts) as the lead voice of the network's coverage, as he had only done Braves baseball telecasts during the 2007 season before TBS assumed rights to playoff coverage. In response to such criticisms, Caray said, "It wasn't the job that I had when I came here in the first place. It would be like being a pinch-hitter or being a relief pitcher that works once every ten days. I'm better when I work more." TBS and Caray parted ways following the 2009 playoffs. Ernie Johnson, Jr., Dick Stockton and Brian Anderson began handling play-by-play duties in his place.
Besides that of Caray, Dick Stockton's performance has in particular, been subject to criticism. Stockton, for instance, during the 2013 NLDS (St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh) was cited as often misidentifying players, generally appearing confused at times, and never having hosting chemistry with his analyst Bob Brenly. Meanwhile, Joe Simpson, who was the only holdover from the Braves TBS Baseball days, has been accused of not really adding anything to the booth and often deferring to John Smoltz during their time together on the 2013 Boston–Tampa Bay series.
Ernie Johnson Jr., meanwhile, has been accused of not playing to his strengths as a broadcaster in his role as TBS's lead play-by-play man. More to the point, Johnson was accused of (in part because of his very conversational announcing style in the booth) never really seeming to be able to capture the big, exciting, transformational moments during his broadcast of the 2014 American League Wild Card Game between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics. For example, there was Johnson's rather subdued call of Brandon Moss’s second home run that gave Oakland a 5-3 lead in the top of the 6th.
During the bottom of the third inning of Game 5 of the 2015 National League Division Series between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, TBS's cameras caught a tense exchange between Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and outfielder Andre Ethier. So when TBS went to an interview conducted between innings by Sam Ryan in the Dodgers' dugout with Mattingly, the assumption was that Ryan would ask Mattingly what happened. Ryan then proceeded to ask Mattingly instead, how he thought Zack Greinke was pitching, what he thought of the game so far. Later in the broadcast, Cal Ripken, Jr. brought up what we had all seen when Ethier came up to bat again in the fifth, saying, "We’re still guessing what that argument was all about."
In Game 2 of the aforementioned Mets-Dodgers NLDS, Ripken was quick to categorize Chase Utley's slide into Mets shortstop, Rubén Tejada (which broke Tejada's leg) as a clean play, "a little late," and nothing more than "competitive baseball." Ironically, Ripken's whole career was built on playing more consecutive games than anybody else in baseball history. Therefore, the whole streak that would’ve more than likely, been vaporized had anyone slid into him that way.
Technical difficulties and other miscues
TBS was unable to air most of the first inning of Game 6 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, airing a rerun of The Steve Harvey Show (which TBS held rights to at the time) in its place. TBS began airing the game just prior to the last out in the bottom of the first, with announcer Chip Caray apologizing to viewers for "technical difficulties." TBS acknowledged there was a problem with one of the routers used in the broadcast transmission of the relay of the telecast from Atlanta.
During the network's coverage of Game 1 of the 2011 American League Division Series between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays, TBS was alleged to have featured doctored headlines with incorrect attributions. On October 1, during the middle of an at-bat during Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, TBS suddenly cut to an ALDS game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers, which was airing on TNT, for about 14 seconds. Moments later (as TBS was coming out of a replay and showing the Tigers' dugout), cameras missed Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher making a diving catch (instead showing Yankees pitcher Iván Nova walking off the mound and pumping his fist). TBS (in particular, throughout their coverage of the 2011 postseason) has also been criticized for placing the center-field camera precisely in the center. Therefore, every time a pitcher began his windup, his head would block the view of home plate.
During the 2012 American League playoffs, TBS was criticized for its graphics and game preview packages. At the start of its coverage of the American League Wild Card Game between the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers, a graphical snafu resulted in Cal Ripken, Jr., who was calling the game, being credited as "Carl Ripken, Jr." During Game 1 of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, TBS showed a graphic depicting players who played in the postseason before the age of 24 and after the age of 40. In the graphic, Willie Mays's name was misspelled as "Willie Mayes".
During their coverage of 2014 AL Wild Card Game, TBS put a graphic that incorrectly said that Oakland manager Bob Melvin was in his fourth straight playoff appearance, but this was only his third straight (2012, 2013 and 2014). Throughout the evening, TBS's broadcast was cited in not having enough adequate camera angles for replays that provided value to viewers. As opposed to productions that bring extra resources and cameras to playoff games, TBS's broadcast of this particular game was cited as feeling more like a weekly or regional telecast. That was arguably manifested in Kansas City Royals legend George Brett being forced into a "Very Funny" promo.
During the top of the third inning of Game 3 of the 2016 American League Division Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, TBS's Matt Winer was doing a live interview with Texas third base coach Tony Beasley, when Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus hit a home run. Winer had to cut off Beasley during the interview to tell the audience that Andrus got "a double", before then realizing it was a home run. When Andrus finally rounded third base, Winer said, "Excuse me, that's not a double; that's a home run." As a direct result of all of this, there wasn't full screen of the Andrus homer, nor was there a proper play-by-play of the home run.
During the 2016 season, TBS debuted a new scoreboard design that was criticized by viewers for its large size. The following season, TBS was criticized again for having initially made its scoreboard too small.
Digital on-screen graphics
Before TBS gained rights to broadcast MLB postseason games in 2007, the network used a score bug on the top left-hand corner of the screen for its Braves telecasts. It was upgraded midway through the 2004 season and used through 2007.
The on-screen score graphic during this period covered the entire top of the screen, unlike the Braves TBS Baseball graphic, which only took up the left half of the top. The look is almost identical to that used during Fox's baseball coverage, except that the illustration of the basepaths is near the left side of the screen instead of flushed on the right. The batting order starting lineup used beginning in 2008 resembles that of a cellphone. There is also a pitch tracker that can only be seen on the network's high-definition feed.
With the start of the 2011 postseason, TBS planned to introduce the following
- Bloomberg Stats: TBS would use Bloomberg Stats as means to integrate comprehensive statistical information into each telecast.
- Liberovision: An innovative 3D interactive telestrator meant to give fans a new perspective of instant replays.
- New graphics that intend to feature improved functionality with a nostalgic feel.
- Pitch Trax: An in-game technology that illustrates pitch location throughout the games.
TBS's standard definition feed now airs a letterboxed version of the native HD feed during game broadcasts to match Fox's default widescreen SD presentation, allowing the right side pitch tracking graphic to be seen by those viewing the SD feed.
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