The broadcast of Sunday’s Red Sox game must be considered inherently contemporary simply because of where and how it is airing.
Their 11:30 a.m. game against the White Sox stands as the debut for the NBC streaming service Peacock’s “MLB Sunday Leadoff” package, which will feature an exclusive late-morning/early-afternoon game over each of the next 18 Sundays.
While the broadcast of this particular game will be simulcast on NBC, the Peacock MLB schedule is one more example of how live sports rights are extremely desirable programming for streaming services — even if the divvying up of rights (NHL games on ESPN+, MLB on AppleTV+, NFL Thursday night package on Amazon, etc.) complicates matters and budgets for viewers.
“I read social media like everyone else, so I understand,” said Rick Cordella, Peacock executive vice president and chief commercial officer, on why fans who pay for cable might be frustrated that they need streaming services to watch some of their favorite team’s games.
“But it’s happening everywhere. It’s happening with entertainment. It’s happening with movies.
“The pay-TV bundle used to have everything, and now some of the best shows … [and a] litany of other content is spread across four or five of the biggest streamers, and sports really is no different. We hope at some point that Peacock is as ubiquitous as the pay-TV ecosystem and this is a moment in time.”
In other words, get used to it. There’s no doubt this is a complicated modern world for those who just want to turn on their television and watch the game. But it’s somewhat reassuring to know that Peacock’s broadcasts will build in some old-school elements that should be appealing. Retro is almost always welcome on a baseball broadcast.
Cordella and Sam Flood, executive producer and president of NBC Sports production, were vague on some details for the sake of Sunday’s reveal, but the broadcasts almost certainly will feature graphical and musical callbacks to NBC’s fondly remembered heyday of baseball coverage in the 1970s and ‘80s. Vin Scully, who teamed with Joe Garagiola on NBC’s No. 1 broadcast team for its “Game of the Week” coverage in the ‘80s, will narrate a special show open at 11:30 a.m., right after the half-hour pregame show.
Most intriguing, “MLB Sunday Leadoff” each week will feature an analyst from each of the two teams playing, with the outstanding Jason Benetti on play by play. The analysts Sunday will be Kevin Youkilis from NESN and Steve Stone from NBC Sports Chicago, Benetti’s usual broadcast partner on White Sox games.
Using broadcasters from the participating teams is reminiscent of how NBC used to include team-specific voices as part of its World Series coverage for years. In the 1975 World Series, for example, the Red Sox’ Ned Martin was part of NBC’s booth for two games and Dick Stockton for two others, including Game 6 when he called Carlton Fisk’s legendary winning home run in the 12th inning.
Benetti, who also calls baseball and college basketball among other assignments for ESPN, has a well-established rapport with Stone; their White Sox broadcasts regularly rank among the most popular in MLB. Benetti knows Youkilis from his half-season with the White Sox in 2012, so the analysts he will work with Sunday are much more familiar than they will be in most weeks.
He said he’s looking forward to working with the different analysts.
“I’ve done a lot of games with a person once, and the way I see it is when you sit down to do a game, the audience does not care at all if you’re best friends with somebody or if you just met them for the first time,” Benetti said.
“And so it’s on us, it’s on me, it’s on everybody in the booth, to understand each other and maybe have a meal before the game or talk on the phone or whatever.
“But I would say this: I watched a ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ episode from either last season or the season before where they were having a dinner party, and there’s this whole discussion about who’s the best dinner party ‘middle’ — who the best person is to sit in the middle of the table to keep the conversation going. All of us aspire to be that at dinner parties if we’re at all an extrovert, even a little bit.
“I do plan — I watch a lot of major league baseball in the first place, so I think I have a feel for what everybody is good at — but I do plan to talk to everybody before the game and get a sense of what makes them go.
“But it is my favorite part of the job. It’s sitting down with somebody who I’ve never met and doing a show that people enjoy. So when I heard about this, I was like, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ This is fantastic. It’s going to be an amazing challenge.”