For Bellevue’s Root Sports Northwest, broadcasting baseball is a whole other ball game
Fans hoping to catch the first pitch of a Seattle Mariners game on TV simply need to settle into their favorite chair and click a few buttons on a remote control. But for those at Bellevue-based Root Sports Northwest who produce those near-nightly summer broadcasts, every Mariners game starts hours before the first pitch.
Four hours before, to be exact. That’s when production call for the pregame show takes place at the buzzing Eastgate office, and all the talent and producers meet to get on the same page. Executive producer Jon Bradford oversees the whole operation.
“It’s controlled chaos, constantly,” Bradford said.
Bradford is usually at home by the time the game starts. He watches each game just as many of us fans do, but rather than cheering for the home team, he’s evaluating his team — the in-house producers hard at work on the broadcast, sent out to Root Sports Northwest’s 3.2 million subscribers across five states.
To survive mentally, Bradford made an oath to himself that when he’s watching television for the fun of it, he would stop analyzing every little thing. Patrick Brown, coordinating producer for the station, also made a similar pact with himself.
“You kind of learn to flip the switch,” said Brown.
“For the most part, you watch it because you’re invested in the program. You go back and say, ‘Who won?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know.’ Or, ‘The Mariners lost, but we had a great telecast,’” Bradford said.
Root recently updated its studio sets to improve those telecasts. There are now more cameras and monitors, a demonstration wall, a desk that can seat four, flexibility in lighting, and wireless microphones and earpieces.
The new set is versatile, and its background can change from a Mariners theme to Portland Timbers or any other team Root covers. The set will even correspond with the yellow and blue alternate jerseys Mariners players wear on Sundays. “We’re more in sync with what’s happening in the ballpark,” said Leslie Cox, a spokeswoman for Root.
A New Organization
Prior to the start of the season, the Mariners brought in a new general manager and a new manager in an effort to get the Mariners back to the playoffs. This year also saw a bigger business shakeup for the Mariners organization. Nintendo of America sold its majority stake in the team, retaining just 10 percent of ownership. The rest of Nintendo’s stake was purchased by First Avenue Entertainment LLLP, which also has a majority interest in Root Sports Northwest.
Playoff dreams are something Mariners fans are well-versed in. The team has the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball.
At Root, an extended Mariners season wouldn’t equate to an extended number of broadcasts. No matter what, Root is finished telecasting Mariners games when the regular season ends Oct. 2. National broadcasters take over once the post-season starts.
Making it Work on the Road
Only half of the Mariners’ 162 games are in Seattle, so Root needs to send some talent and a skeleton crew on the road often. Those costs add up. Different regional broadcasters will share production trucks — RV-style vehicles parked outside the stadium to house a team of producers — or rent them from each other when on the road. “That’s how all of us save a little money doing 162 (high-definition) games,” said Bradford.
Most of that is dependent on a team’s budget — the New York Yankees, for example, have a large national audience, so the team brings or rents multiple trucks for away games.
Cameras, already in place at the stadium, are another thing that are shared with away teams who send operators to a stadium. Root has cameras stationed around Safeco Field and will rent them for away teams to staff.
The truck doesn’t move during home stands, but it’s sometimes used for Timbers and Sounders games, as well.
Root debuted its truck in the early 2000s, back when the station was Fox Sports Northwest, for Seattle SuperSonics games. “It was revolutionary,” said Bradford, because at the time, the technology was up to date in a pre-high-definition world. “Over time, that went from revolutionary to, ‘We gotta go in a different direction.’”
Root’s truck has been upgraded, and it has more wall monitors than the Eastgate-based studio. Root also has a new set positioned in the centerfield stands at Safeco Field, near the station-sponsored outdoor seating area called The ’Pen. The sleek set captures a view of Safeco behind the broadcast talent.
Every night, the team tears down the centerfield set so it doesn’t get rained on when the Safeco Field roof is left open.
Root certainly is about more than baseball. The station puts on more than 350 live events a year, including basketball and soccer contests. It also broadcasts a Seahawks all-access show.
Root spends part of the baseball off-season gathering images and graphics for the season’s telecasts, such as maps used during away games. “If we have the luxury of having an off-season, we should utilize it,” Brown said.
Because when spring training comes around, the Root staff is back to work at each and every ballgame — hours before you sit down to watch the game in your home.