By Barry Janoff
September 29, 2014: Turner Broadcasting has covered Major League Baseball for more than 40 years, dating back to when TBS was home for the Atlanta Braves (1977-2007). In the next evolution of the alliance, TBS broadcast from 2007-2013 the MLB post-season Division Series and League Championship Series.
This season is the first in a new eight-year multi-media rights agreement between Turner Sports and MLB, running through 2021, under which TBS and Fox alternate broadcasts of the American and National League Division and League Championship Series.
The 2014 post-season begins on Sept. 30 with TBS' exclusive converge of the MLB Wild Card presented by Budweiser featuring the AL match-up of the Oakland A's at the Kansas City Royals (8 PM ET). TBS will then be the exclusive TV home for the ALDS presented by T-Mobile (beginning Oct. 2), featuring the winner of the Wild Card Game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in one series and the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles in the other.
The ALCS follows (date TBD) exclusively on TBS featuring the winner of each ALDS.
MLB post-season on TBS broadcast crew includes Ernie Johnson (play-by-play) with analysts and former MLB stars Ron Darling and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. calling the AL Wild Card Game, one of the ALDS series and the ALCS. The other ALDS team features Brian Anderson (play-by-play) with analysts Joe Simpson and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley.
TBS’ studio coverage includes commentary from eight-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez and nine-time All-Star Gary Sheffield, anchored by studio host Casey Stern. On-field analysts include David Aldridge and Rachel Nichols.
Marketing from Turner for its TBS coverage features a humorous multi-media campaign with actor Bryan Cranston, who, as seen in a fictitious One-Man Broadway Show, re-creates iconic moments in MLB post-season history. They include Carlton Fisk's dramatic home run for the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1075 World Series, Kirk Gibson's legendary home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and Derek Jeter's famous back-hand flip play for the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series.
In addition, Turner has a campaign driven by the song "Play Ball," a new track from the soon-to-be released album from AC/DC, Rock or Bust.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Craig Barry, svp-production and executive creative director for Turner Sports, during an event in the MLB Fan Cave in New York to support TBS' coverage of the 2014 post-season.
NYSportsJournalism.com: There was a time where October meant nothing but baseball post-season and the World Series, but that has changed with the importance being put on this part of the sports calendar by the NFL, Nascar, MLS, NBA and NHL. What challenges do you face in getting the baseball messages from Turner Sports and TBS out to fans and the public?
Craig Barry: From the creative side, in speaking to core fans and in trying to reach casual and non-baseball fans, we consider MLB post-season to be one of the crown jewels of sports. Whether it be the NFL playoffs, the NBA post-season, the NHL post-season, MLB post-season is still one of the top draws on TV. We have an obligation to the hard-core fans. They are coming. So we have to do what we can to inform them, give them high-quality productions and make certain that our broadcast team and the people behind the cameras are the best in the business. But we also see this as a great opportunity to grow an audience from among the casual fans. They are thinking, 'Why should I watch MLB post-season?' And, quite frankly, we feel they are thinking, 'Why should I watch MLB post-season on TBS?'
NYSJ: How are you trying to answer those questions?
CB: In our marketing, our campaign with Bryan Cranston, for example. one of the goals we had was to think out of the box, to try to reach a wider fan-base. To try to appeal to people who might be [casual] baseball fans, or who are not certain that they are baseball fans. If we can give them a reason to tune in, give them a reason to watch, then let's try to appeal to them. This is true in all sports, but it's really true with baseball. Can we force people to go there? No. But we feel we can get these casual fans to watch the games if can make it more entertaining, make the studio shows a little bit more fun and informative,. Make sure that we are marketing properly. And when they do watch, make sure we are telling stories, extending story lines and making sure that people are engaged with compelling content. Then we are doing our job.
NYSJ: How have you been able to extend your MLB coverage with social media and other activations that engage fans?
CB: Make no mistake about it: Social media and the Internet are a huge vehicle and distribution platform for us. You hear about ratings. But what is equally important is uniques. It's going to be a lesser number [than watch on TV]. But these are people who are clicking on, sharing, commenting and choosing to engage with the content. And then they are pushing it along. With the Cranston campaign, we launched it via social media, which gave us the opportunity to present the [commercial] in a long-form (five minutes). And then we followed with the TV campaign, which we were able to show it in shorter segments and with other elements, such as Ernie Johnson giving his review of Cranston as if the show was an actual Broadway event. And that, in turn, drives people who haven't seen the full version back to the longer version. So we count on social media to create a saturation that helps to push the whole campaign along.
NYSJ: Cranston has a solid body of work, but a lot of people now know him from the Walter White character in Breaking Bad. How did he get the part in the TBS MLB campaign and did he have any role in the creative?
CB: He is a big baseball fan. And we certainly knew that with his skills he could succeed with any story line that we gave him. Part of [getting him] was thinking out of the box, not to get someone readily associated with baseball. He loved that it was so far out of the box not just for him but for any MLB campaign. Putting on a one-man Broadway show where he re-enacts great moments from MLB post-seasons. He jumped right in. It certainly is a different approach, and people will react to it in different ways, depending on whether you are a huge baseball fan, a Bryan Cranston fan or a fan of comedy.
NYSJ: The broadcast crew includes some legends of baseball. How important is it that fans and viewers know that if they watch TBS they will hear from Ripken, Martinez, Sheffield and the others?
CB: These guys know baseball. They are experts. Their opinions are important. But to a lot of fans, what might be most important is the ability of these former players to connect viewers to their experiences in certain situations,. To express that ss what differentiates them. There are other [commentators and analysts] who are baseball experts. They can tell you what a pitcher might do in a certain situation, or what a hitter or runner might do on a given count. But when Cal Ripken Jr., Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield or Ron Darling connect it to their personal experiences, that's what makes it special. And they are all very different; they have their own unique personalities. Cal is not Ron, Ron is not Cal, Pedro is certainly not Ron or Cal. And Sheff is Sheff. And it really makes for great television when you mix them together.
NYSJ: Have you found that there is what would be called a brand loyalty among viewers, so that if they watch and like a baseball game on TBS they will come back to other TBS programming, be it sports or TBS shows themselves?
CB: We have a unique luxury in that we are an entertainment network as opposed to a 24-hour baseball network or a 24-hour sports network. So when you talk about the casual fan, we have the opportunity to approach it in more of an entertainment fashion and with a little more of an open mind. We are able to use some of the entertainment assets available to us to help promote and amplify the post-season. Regarding baseball, our obligation is to tell stories around the sport, and our second obligation is to be entertaining. And we try very hard to do both.
NYSJ: It seems as if Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees will not be part of the post-season. (Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the Yankees were officially eliminated.) With TBS covering the American League, how might that impact coverage and story lines?
CB: We certainly would like to be covering what would have been his final post-season. At least we got him in as part of the Cranston campaign. But when it comes to the playoffs, any player could emerge as the story line. We're expecting, and excited, to have these story lines revealed as the games are played.
NYSJ: Any predictions?
CB: Yes. From a production standpoint. [Laughs.] For TBS and Turner, with everything in place, I expect we will have a great post-season. This is the first year of our new deal, and we will get better moving forward. We are doing a lot more to push the broadcast, to push the story telling. I believe you are only as good or as bad as your last show. So from season to season and game to game, series to series, I am not doing my job if the production doesn't continue to get better.
For Those About To Rock The MLB Playoffs, TBS, AC/DC Salute You
Bryan Cranston Breaking Balls For TBS MLB Playoff Campaign
Q&A: Cal Ripken Jr. Talks MLB Pros, Challenges, TBS, Playoffs, Marketing, Jeter
Back to Home Page