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SNY, YES prepare for challenges of broadcasting season during coronavirus pandemic

From left, SNY broadcasters Keith Hernandez, Gary Cohen

From left, SNY broadcasters Keith Hernandez, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling prepare to work a Mets game against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field on June 4, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Just as this will be a baseball season unlike any other when / if it starts later this month, so will it be a season of baseball television with unprecedented challenges.

YES and SNY have not yet finalized their approaches, but the game plans are beginning to take shape, within the strict confines of MLB’s health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, while both networks’ game announcers will work home games from on-site — using multiple booths to enable proper social distancing — no local announcers will travel to road games, per MLB protocols.

Curt Gowdy Jr., SNY’s executive producer, said on Wednesday that Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez will call games off monitors from Citi Field when the Mets are on the road. (The Mets’ radio team of Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo will follow the same plan.)

Why not have the announcers in a studio for road games?

Gowdy said the rationale is that “it’s a comfort zone for them. That is where they work for every game, and it allows us to basically make our [Citi Field] compound our home for both home and away games.”

John Filippelli, YES’ president of production and programming, said that it has not yet been decided where Michael Kay and his analyst partners will be located for Yankees road games.

One option is to have them at Yankee Stadium, where the radio team of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman will work road games. Another is to have them in a studio, perhaps at YES’ facility in Stamford, Connecticut.

SNY reporter Steve Gelbs will work Mets home games, albeit at a greater distance from players than normal, and contribute to studio shows when the Mets are on the road.

YES reporter Meredith Marakovits’ role has not been finalized, Filippelli said.

Gowdy said he expected subtle, ambient crowd noises to be added to Mets telecasts to provide more of a normal game atmosphere.

Filippelli said he does not believe in manufactured sounds but is open to experimenting with enhancements that perhaps bring some fan excitement into telecasts.

“I could put the Bleacher Creatures on Zoom and put that underneath [the screen],” he said. “We have a couple of things up our sleeves. We’ll try a few things."

The technical aspect of all MLB games will be produced by the home team crew as a universal feed to be shared by the road outlet. But the road channel will control a couple of cameras it can use to customize its coverage.

Both Gowdy and Filippelli said their priority is following COVID-19 protocols and keeping their staffs safe. Gowdy said particular attention will be paid in usually cramped production trucks to keeping everyone distanced.

Gowdy and Filippelli both have been in sports TV for more than 40 years and see this as a unique undertaking.

“We go into this with a real open mind, excited to do this in ways we’ve never done before,” Gowdy said. “We have spent a lot of time and effort and a lot of details preparing for this. It’s both a challenge and exciting for us.”

Filippelli said he sees this as a chance to experiment and perhaps find ideas to carry into a post-COVID future. One example: With no fans in the stadium, there might be new camera positions and angles to explore.

“The bottom line is that we still feel very confident we’ll be able to put on the kind of production that people are used to seeing from YES,” he said.

One of YES’ experiments has been carrying preseason workouts and intrasquad scrimmages. The latter had peak ratings on Monday and Tuesday of 0.57% and 0.56% of New York-area homes. Not bad for a practice.

“It’s been fun,” Filippelli said. “We felt that in these difficult times we have a responsibility to sort of be there for our fans and try to give them comfort and relief and a little bit of an escape.”

He said the idea was to create an “interlude” before real games begin.

“[Fans] were really enthusiastic about anything that we could put on the air that had pinstripes,” he said. “We didn’t see this as a throwaway; we saw this as an opportunity to try to something different.”

New York Sports