With the start of the new baseball season, it is the dawn of a new age for SEC Baseball television. Gone forever (hopefully) are the days of overpriced in-house streaming services, sub-Local access cable production quality, and the horrific FSN syndication package that had one of the highest attended baseball games in the history of the sport (Ole Miss @ State last year) bumped off of TV in the final innings for a Dallas Stars game. The SEC will have more games than ever on TV thanks to the SEC Network, but it's the 300+ games airing on the SECNetwork+ digital service that's the real big news.
But it's not all sunshine just yet. For one, while 3 teams had games that started at 3pm CST on Friday, the SEC Network was still airing the awful Finebaum radio show, which in this doldrum period after signing day and before spring camp was probably covering some "really important" topics. The season also got off to a rocky start for some schools while others still need to redefine what counts as a "Broadcast quality product that can be picked up for air on SEC Network television at any time"
Before I commence the bashing, some things need to be said in SECNetwork+'s favor. For one, It's important to note that on opening weekend, outside of the SEC, there were a total of 6 other games available on national platforms, and of those only Florida St's series vs Oakland was broadcast in it's entirety. In fact, thanks to the impromptu doubleheaders in the league on Saturday, SECN+ aired more SEC baseball games nationally in 1 day (16) than the BXII has scheduled for the entire season (9). The games pushed up from Sunday also had the effect of showing another benefit of SECN+: coverage of games won't have to be dropped because of weather delays/rescheduling, a bane of FSN/CSS/CST's regional coverage in years past. And while some schools did a poor job, at least none of us have to pay any of these schools individually anymore to access their not-ready-for-primetime video feeds.
Here's my take on the feeds, ranked from best to worst.
NR: Mizzou (4-0) , Kentucky (2-0, Sunday CCD), Tennessee (1-2)
Three of the SEC's northern most teams started the year on the road in friendlier climates, with Mizzou playing 4 against Iona in Cary, NC, Kentucky in a tournament in Wilmington, NC, and Tennessee dropping a series at FIU. Obviously since they were not home games, they were not broadcast on SECN+. We'll check in on these three later in the season.
Who else was I going to rank 1st? Almost indistinguishable from a Cox Sports broadcast with Rollins and McDonald on the call, but improved because of the SEC/ESPN graphics package. So, nearly perfect. A few of you have mentioned some odd camera angle choices and the pitch count function of the scoreboard breaking early on in game 1, easily fixable issues. There's was also a lot of talk, from LSU fans and others, about how the game feeds throughout the conference were a minute or two behind all the live tweeting from the press box and the radio, but that's not something that's going to go away. Streams are always a bit more delayed from live than TV because of how that system works. I think folks will eventually learn to adjust.
3+ cameras, instant replay, good crew calling the games. This is the standard games on SECN+ should be judged by. Holy Cross wearing another piece of evidence for #StopAdidas2K15.
Another school getting a Cox Sports broadcast with the improvement of an ESPN graphics package. Also an example of how the flexibility of SECN+ is a benefit with an impromptu DH. Why Arkansas doesn't wear their throwback home cream jerseys every game, I'll never know.
South Carolina (2-1)
I believe these guys are transplants from either Comcast Sports South or last year's SEC syndication package. Another TV grade broadcast on all 3 games. "The College" gave USC their first ever opening day loss in the current Carolina Stadium. Another one of the impromptu DHs this weekend.
Ole Miss (2-1)
Not sure where these guys are from, but I don't think they were Ole Miss radio. Great full broadcast for all 3 games, including another impromptu DH. Also, LOL OLE MISS.
Mississippi St (4-0)
Had an issue in the first game of the Stadium PA drowning out the commentators, but they fixed it quickly. Great production, but then Left Field Lounge and it's smoke problems give you a lot to work with. Points deducted for airing 3 games, but not the 4th game State played vs Cincy on Sunday.
The new rule enforcement for batters not getting out of the way of a HBP was called in M State’s game vs Miami OH. In the bottom of the 4th, the Miami pitcher grazes State batter #29's jersey, The ump calls it a HBP and a ball and forces the batter back into the box to swing again. It will be interesting to see if that comes up again.
Georgia gives us an example of how the quality can vary even in the same weekend. From a great 3+ camera setup with instant replay on Friday, to a single (though moving and zooming) camera from the press box for Saturday and Sunday. UGA also just used their radio broadcast straight up for audio for all 3 games, which isn't too much of a hinderance for them because they have a good radio crew. Bonus points also for the well mic'ed Foley Field organist (he also does ATL Hawks games on the side). Also, yes, that's the new backstop at UGA, Foley Field had some major grandstand renovations this offseason.
If you've been following SEC Baseball for a number of years, you've known Auburn's in-house AU-HD service was a broadcast quality product long before the Geaux Zone was even in HD. It's no surprise then that on opening weekend, their broadcast was very well done. The full SEC/ESPN graphics package, 3+ cameras, instant replay, and a high picture quality. They even briefly spent time covering the installation of the new oaks at Toomer's Corner, an important moment in that school's history. I might have ranked them much higher, but they did not air the Sunday game. And a less than standard feed of a game is still better than no feed at all.
The Gators didn't air opening night, and while both games had a good multi camera setup, they also just used their radio feed for audio. Kinda disappointing, but they do get points for still airing the Sunday game after it had to be moved up a few hours for Rhode Island's travel arrangements. The Rams head coach became the first ejected coach of the season in the bottom of the 6th on Sunday and spent a good 5 minutes arguing after getting the hook.
Oh Vandy. If not for the near useless-ness of Bama's broadcast, the defending National Champions would have had the worst SECN+ performance of the weekend. If you've suffered through Vandy's barely functioning streaming service for baseball before, you'll recognize that the Dores still have their decade out of date graphics package, non-HD cameras from the 40's, and a one man radio call from a bathroom beneath Memorial Gym. It seems the only change Vandy made to their broadcast system for SECN+ is that it actually functions now. SHAME ON YOU VANDERBILT.
Bama is playing their entire home season at The Hoover Met while The Joe is torn down to the foundations and rebuilt. They should be given credit then for even having their games on SECN+ at all, but what they did do almost makes it not worth it. That single camera shot, barely moving, not covering most of left or right field, and the audio from Bama radio was all we got all weekend. Worst of the league by far.
I'd like to hear from all of you, and not just the LSU fans, about how your first weekend with SECN+ baseball went. My observations above are obviously from just a few minutes of scrubbing replays, so if you watched a game that ended up having serious issues later on, I'd like to hear about it.