Apr 29, 2022 - Sports

ESPN leans into mic'd up moments

Screenshot of the ESPN broadcast with Bryce Harper.
Screenshot: YouTube

Some of the best moments on baseball broadcasts come from mic'd up players, and ESPN is making sure those gems become a regular occurrence.

State of play: ESPN's goal for every MLB broadcast this season, largely comprising its 25 "Sunday Night Baseball Games," is to feature one player wearing an earbud and microphone during game action.

  • So far, that list has included Joey Votto, Kiké Hernández, Ozzie Albies and Bryce Harper, with Francisco Lindor getting the honors this Sunday.
  • The minimum requirement is a half-inning of conversation with the booth, but Lindor can keep the earbud in all game if he wants, which produced great results last Sunday with Harper.

What they're saying: "Most of the time Bryce wasn't talking, but then we'd get into how the ball was flying, the strike zone, just getting his perspective," Phil Orlins, ESPN's VP of production, tells Axios.

  • "He became like a part-time analyst, and having access to Bryce Harper's opinion in the moment is pretty rare."
  • "If there's one headline that comes out of this, [it's] the willingness of baseball to be more fan-friendly and progressive and take chances."

The backdrop: ESPN began experimenting with mic'd up players during 2018 spring training, increased the trial in 2019 and brought it to the regular season and playoffs in a limited capacity in 2020.

  • Last year it took a step back with the labor standoff brewing — "let's just say we were not allowed the access," says Orlins — but with the new CBA it's back and bigger than ever.
  • "Huge credit to MLB and the teams and the players' association for agreeing that a modest risk is worth the advancement in how their sport is perceived."
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