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Fox’s alternative, sabermetric-oriented broadcast of the NLCS gets mixed reviews

old TV

Over the weekend, Fox offered an alternate broadcast of Game 1 of the NLCS featuring its Just a Bit Outside crew, including Rob Neyer, Gabe Kapler, C.J. Nitkowski and Kevin Burkhardt, all of whom were joined by Padres manager Bud Black. The idea was to provide an analytical/sabermetric experiment in calling a game.

I didn’t see it for various reasons, but I’ve read a couple of reviews of it all from sources who one would assume are sympathetic to the exercise: one from Baseball Prospectus and one from Beyond the Box Score. UPDATE: Here’s another good review from The Big Lead. The verdict: mixed.

Both reviews laud the effort and note times of interesting and novel insight. Both, however, noted that there may have been too many voices involved, the commentary didn’t track the game so well early, focusing on broader concepts and that the split-screen approach (the game on one side, the commentators and various graphics on the other) further served to disconnect the commentary and the viewer from the game. As the game went on, however, adjustments were made, more full-screen action was featured and the analysis tracked the game action more closely.

On a more big picture scale -- again, with the caveat that I didn’t see this broadcast and that I’m going off the reviews here -- my sense is that networks would do better to integrate more advanced analysis and fresher voices into existing broadcast paradigms rather than silo it off in its own sabermetric world. Just as baseball teams have integrated old and new school methods into team construction, broadcasts would do well not to overload on one approach but, rather, to take the best aspects of conventional and unconventional broadcasting techniques to make something that is smart enough to appeal to those who want more from their broadcast but accessible enough for the majority of people who are content with someone giving you a more in-the-moment play-by-play.

All of that said, I think you have to give Fox credit for trying something new, and the hope that this is merely the first stab at an ongoing experiment to rethink how games are broadcast and not a one-off. That network has the rights and lots of games to broadcast, so there is no reason it can’t play around with the format a great deal and see if they can’t find a fresh approach.