MASN plays tiptoe with lasting imprint

March 14, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network should be almost up to speed by next month, when its two cable television channels begin full-season coverage of both the Orioles and the Washington Nationals.

The only thing left to do is make sure Orioles and Nationals fans know where to go to get all the action.

Here's a hint: When you're channel surfing and you come to a local radio show that isn't in high-def, that's probably the channel that the Orioles will be on come April.

MASN has been broadcasting for some time now, but much of the programming has been classic baseball footage, college basketball and various live radio sports programs. There has also been a Ravens tie-in, some other medium college sports and a smattering of original programming, but there's a name for the way the new network has tiptoed onto the local sports scene.

It's what TV execs call a "soft launch."

The plan obviously has been to conserve resources until the start of the season, then make a big marketing push to get our eyeballs focused on their baseball. I know this because Fort Lauderdale Stadium was invaded yesterday by a film crew that shot a series of MASN promotional spots.

I'm no television expert, but it seems like a curious time to be just starting that kind of thing. The regular season begins in three weeks, and the shooting was on such a tight schedule that Miguel Tejada's spot had to be canceled yesterday because he fell ill during morning practice.

Tejada is OK, but he returned from a medical checkup too late to film his part in the network's new campaign. He'll likely be included in the next set of spots, but he is marquee player the Orioles are built around, so it certainly would have been nice to have him featured prominently in this new wave of commercials.

What MASN hopes to convey is that the new network will give fans total access to their favorite team, from live pre-game and post-game coverage to solid play-by-play to a variety of other programs that get fans up close and personal with the players and coaches.

That sounds pretty good, as long as the wall-to-wall coverage is not so sanitized that it insults the intelligence of the viewers. It's already been established that Orioles ownership is a tad sensitive to unvarnished analysis of the team, but it will be interesting to see if new play-by-play man Gary Thorne will bring a new level of objectivity to the broadcast booth.

The regional sports network is the key to the Orioles ever being in a position to compete economically with the Yankees and Red Sox, so I'm all for it. I'm just not sure why it has taken so long to find its legs.

Major League Baseball contributed a reported $75 million to help with the start-up costs and acquire a minority ownership stake for the Nationals, but until the production trucks pulled up this week at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, the network looked from afar like a shoestring operation.

Not yesterday. The commercial shoot was serious business, with actors and extras and a film crew of 27, which probably means that a couple of assistant producers may have to be cut to get down to 25 by Opening Day.

I was particularly impressed with the attention to detail. Early yesterday morning, I tried to walk across the infield to talk to one of the Orioles coaches, only to be overtaken by a young production assistant.

"Sir, could you not walk on the grass," he said. "We're going to be shooting here."

I'm still trying to figure that one out. I would have understood if somebody were lining up a putt, but we're talking about a patch of grass where dozens of fairly large men run around wearing metal spikes all day. Clearly, these Hollywood types are a high-strung bunch.

Can't wait to see the commercials, which I've heard are pretty clever. Nick Markakis is featured in one spot. Sam Perlozzo and Adam Loewen filmed another after the Orioles got back from their exhibition game against the Florida Marlins in Jupiter.

Of course, everybody knows the best promotional campaign is a winning team, but I'll settle for a few promo spots that show the Orioles' organization has a sense of humor.

In the meantime, call somebody from Makeup. There's a footprint on the infield.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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