MLB Network (US) will throw a couple of firsts with its game coverage of the American League Division Series.
Baseball's in-house network will present the opener of the Boston-Houston encounter Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. ET, and follow the next day at 5 p.m. with the second game of the Cleveland-New York Yankees set.
"We're very excited because it's the first time in the six years of covering two Division Series contests that MLB Network will televise a Game 1," said MLB Network President Rob McGlarry in an interview. "It's a great pitching matchup with [the Red Sox’s] Chris Sale and [the Astros'] Justin Verlander. And it's important to Houston, with all the area has gone through [with Hurricane Harvey]."
McGlarry said the other telecast not only pits the Indians' looking to end what is now the sport's longest World Series drought — dating back to 1948 after the club lost Game 7 in extra innings to the Chicago Cubs in 2016's Fall Classic — against its winningest franchise, but marks the first time MLB Network will run its postseason games on back-to-back days.
"We think that the continuity and promotion from the first game are going to build awareness and viewership," he said.
So, too, should an expanded playing field of sorts, as MLB Network is once again working with distributors on a free preview period that starts Oct. 4 and extends through Oct. 11. McGlarry said the free preview will expand the service's reach from some 62.4 million households to north of 90 million.
The free preview is being offered by an array of distributors, which are opening their networks up to a broader group of their subscribers, including: Altice USA Inc. (Optimum), Comcast Corp. (Xfinity), Cox Communications Inc., Frontier Communications Corp., RCN Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.'s FiOS. The network's reach is also being widened on AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV and U-verse video platforms, as well as virtual distributor DIRECTV Now.
McGlarry called the free preview "a win, win, win": for more subscribers gaining access to the games; for distributors, adding value to their packages, and for the channel, whose wider availability can serve as an acquisition tool.
"This gives more fans a chance to see the games and our network," he said. "We see a significant spike in viewership and that can drive more subscriptions."
Game coverage aside, MLB Network will present some 175 hours of live coverage of the 2017 postseason, chronicling the clubs' playoff push with press conferences, interviews, highlights, commentary and analysis, the executive said.
Continuing practices seen during its originally produced "MLB Network Showcase" games this season, the channel's presentations will feature continuous game coverage during pitching changes with a two-box approach that not only depicts the warm-up, but a flanking commercial. A countdown clock graphic indicates how long until telecast will resume with game action.
MLB Network’s playoff game coverage, presented by Geico, will also include the split-screen approach during select visits to the mound by a coach, manager and/or players, with the network integrating 15-second units.
"The idea is you want to keep viewers engaged, while also delivering value to the advertiser," said McGlarry.
The playoff telecasts will include plenty of information and graphics from Statcast, MLB Advanced Media LP's tracking technology, powered by Amazon Web Service, according to McGlarry.
"With [Yankees] Aaron Judge hitting home runs so far out of the ballpark, exit velocity has become part of lexicon of the game," he said, adding that New York's bullpen also leads the bigs when it comes to pitch speed.