Human Instant Replay
Throughout Europe teams have begun live streaming their games for the fans at home. Since 2011, Tobias Dietrich has been the face of Legionäre TV. Tobi has just become the new public relations and marketing person for the Buchbinder Legionäre Regensburg and will continue in his on-air duties as well. We sat down with him to discuss a day in the life of a broadcaster.
Tell us about your roles as on-air personality and producer for Legionäre TV.
We started the whole project in 2011. It was kind of based on an idea I had. First I thought about doing some radio stuff. I talked to a friend of mine, Ben, and he was like, ‘Aw, come on, let’s do it for real and do video right away.’ When we started, the stadium’s internet connection was slow. We said, ‘Well, our video quality is so bad that, if we don’t do commentary, no one’s going to be able to take anything away from the whole broadcast.’ Ben was like, ‘Well, I don’t talk.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go ahead and do baseball commentary in German.’
I had never heard any baseball game being commentated in German before so I decided, ‘I’m just going to start it and try to find my own style.’ I’m a person who likes to talk, and I think I’m able to produce coherent sentences most of the time, so I just went with it.
How did you get involved with baseball?
My grandparents, who are good friends with the parents of a former player, were helping the club. We got some free tickets and that was really the first encounter with baseball for me.
Did you fall for the sport straight away?
I was interested in it. I think I understood it rather quickly but it wasn’t that I was super affected right away.
Then why the interest in play-by-play?
I feel like it’s really about allowing other people to get a feeling of what’s going on. In Germany we have a lot of people who are new to baseball and don’t know the game all that well. I can help those people understand baseball better and just connect them to the game in some way.
What made you decide you were interested in being their connection?
I basically came to baseball when the Legionäre were playing in the finals in 2008. I bought a season ticket in 2009. I got to know a few people. I started playing myself a little bit. I was working as a volunteer for the club in 2010. I got to know some more people and decided to do my scoring license in 2011. I had to go to Munich for the exam and, on the train ride back, the idea came to me to do something to get more people in touch with the game. As I said, I thought about radio first. It really all came together from that idea and I don’t really know how I had that idea. I wanted to do something else and that is what I came up with. I felt like this was something I wanted to do. Seeing where the project has gone from that small idea to now, I mean nobody expected us to grow in that way and that fast.
What has been the driving force behind the pace?
Seeing those viewer numbers and seeing that people are interested in what you do, and are appreciating what you do, is really what keeps us going.
What is your game day prep process?
Before game day I stay updated on what has been going on with the visiting team the last couple weeks. How have they been playing? Are there any roster changes? I’ll prepare and enter all the statistical data for the game so I’ll have the player stats ready in our broadcasting software to be displayed onscreen. I’ll also check that I have my pens and some score sheets ready.
What’s a game day like?
Game day I dress in a way that I feel is suitable for being on-air. Then, about three hours before game time, I arrive at the stadium. I meet up with the other members of the broadcast crew. We come together, turn on all the production room equipment and start up the computers. Then we go out and set up cameras in the booth, out at center field and up on the roof. Well, we would not put the camera on the roof yet because we need that camera for pre-game interviews. But we would set it up at 1st base so there’s a camera set up, connected to the video mixer. We check connections and sound, and make sure we have the angles that we need. If we have all that cleared we go ahead and tape the pre-game interviews. Usually we do those in between batting practices. We try to catch somebody from each team.
We get the interviews off the camera and onto the computer, make them ready to be played during the pre-game show and get the camera set up on the roof. We then try to get the lineups as soon as possible. You have to upload the data to the system and I put them into my scorecard as well. After that I try to grab some food with the TV team, everybody together, before the game. Go to the toilet really quick because, I mean, you don’t want to start feeling like you have to go to the toilet in the third inning. Then, I usually start our pregame show.
At some point I talk to Tobi, who does the production on the pregame show, about what we’re going to do. Most of the time Tobi’s going to come up and say, ‘Yeah, what are we going to do in the pregame show?’ I’m going to say, ‘Yeah, um, I’m gonna talk about something.’ I mean I’m going to go through with him what interview we play first, what we play second, stuff like that so he knows what to expect, but besides that it’s really him listening to what I say and reacting.
The pregame show starts 10-15 minutes earlier than game time and the stream has to be on before we go live so, at some point, we start up the stream and check that it’s running. Then, as I said, I’m going to go down to the field where I usually do the pregame show. Following the second interview is a commercial break. During that time I head back up to the booth, take my seat, put my headset on, make myself feel comfortable and we go into the game. Hopefully the umpires have waited for us and I signal them that we’re live and ready to begin.
As producer I’ve got to run everything through the game – take care of commercials being played often enough and do my commentary, keep score for myself, solve some issues here and there if something comes up. I check with the stadium announcer and scorekeeper, between innings, as necessary.
Is it hard to pronounce people’s names?
Yes, that is quite a challenge. It’s not that big of a deal with the German and American names, most of those go pretty well. But, since we’ve also been doing European Cup and European Championship stuff, you come across all those French, Dutch and Italian names. Those are a challenge.
I think a great way to do it is to just approach the team before the game and ask them. What Tim Collins, broadcaster for EuroBaseballTV does, and it’s actually a really clever thing, is he has a coach read out all the names on the roster and he records it with his phone so he can listen to it and rehearse the names. Most of the time you are not going to get everybody perfect, but I always feel it’s okay as long as you are making an effort to get it right, and you take the criticism if you mispronounce someone and try to do it better next time.
It’s gotten easier over the years because most of the people in the Bundesliga you come across every year. There are some difficult German names as well, for example Tristan Gerdtommarkotten. You just look at the name and you have no idea how to pronounce it.
What happens at the end of the game?
When we get through the game we run highlights afterwards, right away. They are played from our replay systems so I don’t really have to take care of that a lot besides turning on the feed. At that point we’re going to radio out to our camera guys that we’re running highlights now so their job is done.
The first thing we’ll do after that usually is break down the cameras and bring them back up to storage. While that’s happening we’re trying to export the video footage. We usually go eat something, talk to people a little bit and then post-production begins.
What do you do for post-production?
Right away we usually make sure that the recording of the game is, at least on the way to the server, get the highlights exported for the replay machine and put that onto YouTube, then get the footage for our local TV station ready. We send their package with some game notes as well.
How long after the game ends do you close up shop for the night?
1 ½ -2 hours. We usually do split games so we do 8 hours/day, 16 hours over the weekend. Maybe a bit less but something like that. When we had the European Championship in Regensburg in 2014, we had a rainout the first day. Usually we had a schedule with three games a day and we had a game moved to the second day, so we had four games the second day. I think the first game started at 9:00am and the last game started at 8:30pm. I was at the field at 7:00am and I left after midnight I think. I did four games that day and I was so done. Talk about long days.
How is your advertising revenue used?
Equipment, of course. Things tend to break and so you would need some new stuff from time-to-time, so that’s one big part of the budget. The main expense after that is road games. Going to the playoffs and traveling to whatever club for a weekend. You have to stay in the hotel two nights with six people. You need something to eat or drink, and we try to cover all those expenses for our volunteers. They are already giving enough back, being willing to spend their time, so we try to cover most of it. That’s really where a big part of the money goes. You need a van to go there with all of the equipment, some gas to drive there, all those things together, it is a lot of money.
Best thing about road trips?
It’s really nice to finish the game, get a short rest and then go out to do something together. That’s the best part of the road games because its something you don’t get the chance to do that often with the home games.
What would surprise people about what you do?
What would surprise people is to see me do the broadcast. I remember one game, and the head of our club Armin Knight likes to tell this story, I was doing what I usually do: the TV broadcast, this was before we had replay so I was doing the video cut and commentary, I was doing official scorekeeping, and, at some point, the person doing the broadcast scoreboard who was sitting next to me went to the toilet and so did the person doing our stadium scoreboard. So, I did Legionäre TV, I did the broadcast scoreboard, I did official scoring and I did our stadium scoreboard. Armin was sitting at a table behind me. After the game he told me he thought about asking if he should take over something but he felt like I was in control of everything so he didn’t want to disturb me. Ben always says he’s waiting for a third arm to grow out of my back and I remember somebody else saying I look like an octopus while doing Legionäre TV.
What’s really tough is to, on the one hand keep the whole broadcast running but at the same time, being able to capture all those small things - everything that’s happening on the field and in the dugouts - which you can tell the viewers to make it a living broadcast, to give them the feeling that they’re part of it.
What motivates you on days you’re not feeling it?
I do love the game and I just enjoy watching baseball. Especially in Germany, where the community is rather small, you really get to know people. It really is every year, or every week, you talk to people who say, ‘Hey, what you’re doing with Legionäre TV is so great. I love it. I enjoy watching those games online so much.’ Having all of that positive feedback, and having people tell you that what you’re doing is really something people appreciate, is something that motivates me a whole lot. It also really motivates me to keep improving the project and spending time on it.
What is the most challenge piece?
For me personally, with the commentary I always feel like it is a bit challenging to provide the viewers with new information week-after-week. In Germany often there’s not really much to find about the visiting teams, so it’s not that easy to provide new content every game.
For the project as a whole you want to provide something new to the viewers, not every game but season-wise I would say, and to really keep up the standard we have. Finally, keeping everybody motivated to keep their head in the game. Just keep everything running, keep it all together, to keep up the standard we’ve been able to reach now.
Anything you want the world to know?
We do Legionäre TV because we want people to love the game as much as we do. Despite trying to make money with the project, obviously to fund it, it really is all about spreading the game. If everybody tries to spread the game and work together, and work on this common goal of growing baseball, it would often make things easier.