Play-by-play promotion puts fans behind mike

AIRING THEIR FANTASIES

August 25, 1993|By Brian Fishman | Brian Fishman,Staff Writer

Did you notice the Home Team Sports booth on your last visit to Camden Yards? Ever wonder what it would be like to sit there and broadcast an Orioles game?

As a few hundred fans have discovered this summer, there's a way to experience the next best thing.

Fantasy Play-By-Play was introduced to Orioles games April 29, allowing fans the opportunity to broadcast an inning (or more) from a makeshift television booth. The house feed -- from HTS, WMAR or the opponent's network -- is used for video images, and the fans' dialogue is dubbed onto a videotape, which the fans-turned-broadcasters get to keep.

This interactive promotion is new to Baltimore, but it has been used in major-league stadiums since 1987. Feedback from participants at Oriole Park has been the same as everywhere else.

"We have found that the fans love it once they get to know it," said Orioles marketing assistant Kathy Case, who handles the project. "Some people will come up to the reservation booth and say 'What is this?' We explain it to them and in many cases they will buy an inning."

The Orioles have designed the promotion to be an actual television broadcast, right down to the press credential. Once a fan pays for an inning at the reservation booth in the lower concourse -- $30 for one person or $50 for two people -- he or she heads for the broadcast booth, located above left field on the club level.

The broadcaster sits behind a table and wears headphones. There's a camera in front and green walls for background. Press notes are provided from the Orioles and the visiting team.

A brief introduction is fed onto the tape and then the fun begins. The camera provides a close-in shot of the broadcasters and they have a minute to explain the game situation. Then the tape cuts to the television feed at field level and the broadcasters are left to call the game.

A monitor sits on the table directly in front of the announcers so they can see what will appear on the tape.

The quality pictures are only part of the broadcast's realistic nature. Between innings, a beer commercial is fed onto the tape. And during the inning, the announcers read messages that give sole broadcast rights to the "Fantasy Play-By-Play Network."

Once the tape begins, fans can say whatever they want. Some of the notables:

* A common theme has been criticism of Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.

* Many have questioned the effectiveness of the Orioles' pitching staff.

* A girl brought her younger brother into the booth for an inning. She ended up putting him down the entire time for knowing little about baseball.

* One person who worked alone pounded on the desk to create a door-knocking sound and brought Robin Leach, Rodney Dangerfield and Jack Nicholson "on the air" with almost-perfect impersonations.

Fantasy Play-By-Play participants may feel cheated when they are asked to leave after six straight batters are retired, but the pair who broadcast the Orioles-Mariners brawl had almost an hour of air time. During a rain delay, the tape doesn't stop and fans can relate their favorite baseball anecdotes.

The mastermind behind Fantasy Play-By-Play is Fred Greene, head of Greene Creative Services of San Rafael, Calif. Greene worked as production director of KSFO, a San Francisco radio station that carried Oakland Athletics games.

The A's approached him for ideas during the 1986 off-season and came up with Fantasy Play-By-Play, which debuted at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum in 1987.

"The reaction was excellent," Greene said. "It gave the A's something new to promote and the fans accepted it. We ended up with a local sponsor for backing."

This season, 10 major-league teams are using Fantasy Play-By-Play. Greene also has booths set up for NBA games in Detroit, Orlando and Sacramento and in the St. Louis Arena for Blues' NHL games.

Greene supplies the equipment (VCRs, cameras, mixers and tapes), sets up the studio at each ballpark and shares the profits with the club. In the Orioles' case, the team's portion goes to the Orioles Children Charities.

Case has kept track of her customers and found that the most typical broadcast combinations are husbands and wives, fathers and sons or friends. Some fans have worked an inning at another park and they want to duplicate the experience in Baltimore.

Mike Jefferson and Michael Agro of Parkville worked the first inning Aug. 8 against the Indians.

During their time "on the air," Mark McLemore robbed Albert Belle of a home run with an over-the-fence catch, then came back and slammed a home run in the bottom of the inning.

"We had a chance to call two exciting plays, and you can't expect that coming up here," said Agro.

In the fourth inning of the game, Bob Goldman of Essex and Ed Ferrandi of Chase had their turn.

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