“Ready camera two, take camera two.” I must have said that line over 10,000 times during my four years (three full-time, one intern) producing Lancaster Barnstormers. As an outsider looking in, you never quite grasp how much goes into putting on one minor league baseball game, let alone 70 games per year. Every piece of the game that we can control is scripted strategically to provide the best experience for every fan in attendance while allowing our staff to make it from the seating bowl to the suites and back down the field for each promotion.
One thing that isn’t a surprise to many is the fact that sponsorship is the driving force behind game presentation. Almost anything in a minor league baseball game can, and often is, sponsored. What you don’t see are the multiple meetings where many of the ideas to each promotion are born. Each event that takes place during a game not only needs to be entertaining, but it needs to make sense for the sponsor. Those two things alone will force anyone in minor league sports to tap into their creative side to appease sponsors while keeping the fans entertained during the game. Once the promotion is sold and the sponsor is on board, the production team needs to fulfill it every game,or every other game, or every third game, or just on Sundays, or the first Saturday of each month. Every contract is unique, and it is up to the production team to make sure these contracts are met. From picking the contestants to handing out prizes, the production team is responsible for making sure the promotions run smoothly each time. When there’s a walk, and walks are sponsored by Mean Cup because it’s “only a walk away from the stadium” then you better believe someone is taking coupons to a row of people in the stands whenever there’s a walk. Missing promotion deliverables is simply unacceptable, which is why it takes an entire team to put on each show.
SCHEDULING THE SHOW
And when I say show, I mean show. Each promotion has to be set up in a way that works for everyone. The cameras have to know exactly where the Fun Patrol is going to be with each contestant. When we have a contest on the field, we need to run a commercial during the next inning break just in case there’s a three pitch inning. The commercial will give our team a chance to get last inning’s contestants back to their seats with their prizes and pick up the contestants for the next promotion. The schedule or “rundown” we used not only outlined what promotion we were running, but it also outlined what was on the video board in left field, the scoreboard in right field, the fascia boards on the mezzanine, and to some extent, what song would be played for the promotions. We would even target certain demographics for each promotion based on who the sponsor was targeting in their own sales efforts. After the rundown is created, the computer systems and graphis have to be put in order to coincide with the show. Any new graphics that are unique for that night specifically must also be loaded into whatever computer pogram you are using.
The majority of game-day employees in minor league sports are freelancers. They have a passion for the team and their craft, and they work extremely hard to put on each show. It’s much more difficult than just showing up to the stadium, pointing the camera at the ball, and going from there. Everyone on the staff needs to have a strong understanding of each promotion, how long it should take, and where it will take place. Every pre-game meeting will outline every event that is going to happen during the game to make sure the entire staff is on the same page.
Dance teams, commercials, stadium tours, upcoming promotions, first pitches, the national anthem, and the team taking the field. Pregame is easily the most jam-packed time during a Barnstormers game. There is typically a different performance each night, and these performances need to be entertaninig while staying under a certain time limit as to not delay the game. When the performances inevitably go longer than scheduled, the entire team needs to adapt and shift things around to stay on schedule for the start of the game. Starting late is unacceptable.
Once you actually get to the game, you’ve already been at the stadium for close to 10 hours preparing and refining the show. In baseball you have no idea how long the game is going to go, and you need to be ready for anything. The producer is generally in charge of making sure the entire show runs smoothly. Graphics need to match up with PA annoucements, camera shots need to be on point, contestants need to be on and off the field in two minutes. Everything is communicated from the production booth to the field via radio, and communication is the most important key to success. A silent production booth will never garner the results anyone is looking for from the sponsors to the front office staff to the fans.
It occured to me early on in my career with the Barnstormers that the perfect game production is virtually unattainable, and that’s actually a good thing. I always said, “The fans won’t know the difference unless you let them know something went wrong.” There is always room for improvement as you chase that perfect production, and through that chase you refine your process from game to game.