The Padres' Petco Park on May 7. May 7, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; A general view of Petco Park before the game between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

From the outside, MLB’s takeover of San Diego Padres local broadcasts from Bally Sports San Diego has largely looked smooth. After much discussion of the possibility, those rights actually reverted to the Padres and MLB on May 30 (after Bally Sports San Diego parent company Diamond Sports Group elected to not make a payment), and MLB produced their first local Padres’ game the very next day. And they did so with linear and streaming deals in place, and with the same on-air team, and with many of the same behind-the-scenes figures.

But it wasn’t easy to make that happen, as a pair of pieces this week show. First, MLB executive vice president of local media Billy Chambers (who officially joined the league on Feb. 1) spoke to Alex Weprin of The Hollywood Reporter. And he had some notable things to say there about how little notice they had when it came to the actual Padres takeover, but how they were still able to pull it off thanks to advance work:

“When we found out that we were going to have the game, 24 hours in advance, we sprung into action. We had meetings with the crew, with the talent, we had got all of our graphics loaded into the truck,” Chambers recalls. “Yeah, it was an absolute fire drill.”

…The prep work was put into motion on May 31, with one of Chambers’ deputies flying down to Miami (where the Padres were playing the Miami Marlins) to oversee production of the game.

“We knew we might have that game,” Chambers said, noting the deadline for Bally Sports to make its payment. “So we had made contact with the truck, with the crew, with the team, and also with Playfly who does all of the advertising. We were in touch with them in the days beforehand, getting all the advertising elements, and we had everything to go you know as part of a big contingency plan.”

Chambers also talks in there about the elements that were on the go earlier. Following his January hire (with a Feb. 1 start), he brought in three experienced RSN executives in March: Doug Johnson, Greg Pennell, and Kendall Burgess. That team then began building a plan of “If we were starting a RSN from scratch, how would we do it?”, which included work with MLB Network on graphics packages, Mobile TV Group on production trucks, and also production support from companies PPI, Playfly and CTS.

And while MLB wasn’t fully aware if or when they would get Padres rights, they did prepare for that club and others based on the payment deadlines. But this still led to quite a scramble when those Padres rights actually transferred. Jason Dachman of Sports Video Group has a good piece detailing some of the technical aspects of that shift and how things have gone since, and the quotes he includes from Johnson are perhaps particularly notable.

“In the Local Media Department,” says Doug Johnson, SVP/executive producer, Local Media, MLB, “we are excited we were able to deliver for our partner in the Padres. Our goal has always been to make sure the games are delivered each and every night to the fans, and we were able to do that under constant changing and crazy circumstances.”

…Johnson and company knew that the turnaround would be quick if and when they had to take over broadcasts for an MLB team. So one of the first things they did was connect with the MLB Network team led by SVP, Production, Marc Caiafa; SVP, Creative Services, Chris Mallory; and SVP, Operations, Susan Stone.

“It was an all-hands-on-deck situation,” say Johnson. “Chris and his creative team quickly built an entire look for us to use. They had to tailor the look to each individual team’s color schemes. which took countless hours. Within two weeks, we had our first team package built and ready to get us on the air. It was amazing to be a part of such a [high-speed] turnaround like this.”

…Because the entire Padres production team was in San Diego doing cloud-based shows, MLB Local Media brought in its own team to prepare to cover the two games. Johnson says MLB Network Senior Segment Producer Tim Fryer, who ended up producing the two games in Miami, and Senior Graphics Operator Tim Bausch were instrumental in the successful launch.

“By the time we found out, late on Tuesday the 30th, that we were going to have the last two games, we were fully ready,” says Johnson. “Starting on the 30th, it was a whirlwind of meeting talent and finalizing our production plans. [Padres announcers] Don Orsillo, Mark Grant, and Bob Scanlan were incredible working with a new production team, and it led to a highly successful launch the night of the 31st.”

It really is remarkable to see a midseason broadcasting shift of any note, with where games will air something that’s usually decided well before action gets underway. And a particularly unusual part of this one is how uncertain everything has been throughout the whole Diamond Sports bankruptcy process. Indeed, Diamond spokesperson Paul Caminiti said “The idea of rejecting MLB contracts is unequivocally false” in December, less than six months before they’d do just that. So it was unclear if MLB’s creation and staffing up of this local media department would actually come into play this year, especially with Diamond continuing to make payments to many teams even during bankruptcy (albeit with many of those at the last minute or at a reduced level).

But that anticipatory move sure paid off with the Padres. And it could with other teams as well; Diamond paid the Texas Rangers this week (after a lot of questions on if they would), but they still have payments due to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Guardians (July 1) and Cincinnati Reds (July 15). It’s unclear if Diamond will turn over rights for any or all of those teams or not. But if they do, MLB looks ready to step in again. And the experience gained from the Padres’ shift and how smoothly it’s seemed to go so far (which includes the existing San Diego production team taking over after those initial Miami games, which Johnson discusses in that SVG article) will certainly be valuable for them.

[The Hollywood Reporter, Sports Video Group; top photo of the Padres’ Petco Park on May 7 from Kiyoshi Mio/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.