Full-speed ahead to playoffs for TBS

Full-speed ahead to playoffs for TBS

NEW YORK -- David Wells was driving a New York City S train from Grand Central's Track 3 to Times Square, and Cal Ripken and Ron Darling were clinging to the overhead straps like your average subway rush-hour commuters.

"That's Boomer," Ripken said. "With him, you never know what he's going to say or do next."

"I'm a little worried when Boomer is piloting anything, to tell you the truth," Darling joked.

With two weeks remaining in Major League Baseball's regular season, it is full-speed ahead to the playoffs, with the occasional, unpredictable twists and turns along the way. This was how TBS announced its forthcoming exclusive broadcast coverage for all four Division Series and the American League Championship Series: a novel rolling press conference in a train fully wrapped in splashy Postseason decor featuring stars like Derek Jeter, Cliff Lee, Evan Longoria, Jason Heyward, Joe Mauer and more.

Millions of Big Apple commuters -- some of whom gazed curiously here on Monday morning -- will see that unmistakable message over coming weeks. And millions of baseball fans will see two AL Division Series and one National League Division Series open on Oct. 6 on TBS, followed a day later by Game 1 of the other NLDS. TBS's contract with MLB goes through 2013, and as usual, it calls for a rotation in the LCS, so that this year FOX will have the NLCS and World Series.

Look for a couple of key additions to this year's TBS coverage, including cable cameras moving along with the action and a brand-new lead play-by-play crew. John Smoltz, veteran of 25 postseason series now in his first year of retirement, will work alongside Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling as the lead play-by-play team for TBS. Other crews are to be announced. The studio team will feature Ripken, Wells, Dennis Eckersley and, replacing Johnson in the studio, host Matt Winer.

"Smoltzie's one of my favorite baseball guys to talk to," Ripken said. "He's always been very analytical as a player, just very good to talk baseball with. We're going to miss Ernie in the studio, but people are going to want to watch them this fall."

Not surprisingly, the one team that seems to be commanding the attention of the TBS analysts on board was Philadelphia. The Phillies are going after their eighth consecutive victory on Monday night, opening a huge NL East showdown at home against the Braves. Meanwhile, the Rays and Yankees start an equally crucial showdown series at Yankee Stadium with Tampa Bay trailing the Bombers by a half-game, yet leading 8-6 in the potentially important season series -- the first tiebreaker if needed.

If the postseason began right now, the four Division Series openers would be Rays at Twins, Rangers at Yankees, Braves at Giants, and Reds at Phillies. Those speculative matchups change almost daily.

"The playoffs are more of a crapshoot," Ripken said. "Once you get to the playoffs, you have an equal chance as anyone. It's about who's playing well, and who's pitching well. The Phillies have that Big Three (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt), the offense seems to be coming back, they seem to have that momentum and an advantage."

Darling predicts another Yankees-Phillies World Series, saying, "It still goes through New York."

"The big question, though, is what happens if the Yankees clinch the Wild Card," Darling said. "Will they go for the division [title] in the final days, or put the focus on resting key players? That'll be an interesting story to watch. To me, that's important. There's an invincibility you get when you get hot down the stretch and through the end of the regular season -- as opposed to your important game being 10 games ago."

For TBS, one of the big questions is how long their series will go. That has been an issue since TBS started broadcasting MLB playoff games in 2007. Consider:

2007: 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-1 in DS, then Rockies 4, D-backs 0 in NLCS.
2008: 3-1, 3-1, 3-0, 3-1 in DS, then Rays 4, Red Sox 3 in ALCS.
2009: 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-1 in DS, then Phillies 4, Dodgers 1 in NLCS.

That's 15 series that TBS has broadcast in the postseason, only one of which went the distance. Nearly half of the Division Series have been sweeps.

"Long series would be really appreciated," said Turner Sports executive vice president/chief operating officer Lenny Daniels. "More games. We're set up pretty well. We've got big markets looming in this. I do believe we'll have more competitive series this time.

"There's an economic point of view, but more than that, you just lose momentum with short series. You want to keep that momentum going, keep the fans involved right into the LCS. You've got to work twice as hard when it's short, to keep people engaged, starting over in some cases."

Daniels, who said he anticipates continuing this TBS relationship with MLB beyond 2013, joined other execs and talent in making sure MTA New York City Transit riders "Never Miss a Moment" of this year's coverage through a comprehensive marketing campaign that kicked off with this elaborate Times Square/Grand Central Shuttle subway takeover, with first-ever sponsored video-screen footage and sports-themed head-to-toe wrapped design, all driving awareness for TBS's coverage.

Riders of this Shuttle have the opportunity to experience the excitement of MLB Postseason on TBS. Whether they are entering the subway station and spot one of TBS's subway dioramas, or seated inside a branded subway car designed to capture the look and feel of a baseball stadium, fans will be surrounded by TBS messaging. In addition to being surrounded before and after work by some of MLB's marquee players, passengers will experience video screens within the subway car, featuring up-to-date information on matchups.

"This ride is really a symbol, to tell you the truth," said Darling, "an L and 7 train guy" who calls Mets games for SNY during the regular season. "It's about TBS and Turner feeling very confident and comfortable with doing baseball in the postseason now that we've been at this for a while. This train symbolizes there have been stops and starts, but we're on a roll now."

The idea for the Subway introduction belonged to Christina Miller, senior vice president, Turner Sports Strategy/Marketing/Programming.

"It was just an opportunity to break through the clutter and do something meaningful in local markets," she said during the ride. "It's critical, because our local fans are the ones who are watching and they make a difference. They see these iconic stars around them and they identify. Postseason in New York is always a big moment for sports fans, and this is an opportunity to excite the local fan base."

"As people are commuting home and making decisions on what to do with their evening, Turner will reach millions of potential viewers in a creative way with messages about the excitement of the postseason," said Tim Brosnan, EVP of business for MLB.

TBS's marketing campaign will extend beyond New York to the national baseball community. The network's multiplatform marketing campaign surrounding its exclusive MLB postseason coverage will include a wide presence across all media platforms. The microsite MLB.com/TBSHotCorner will feature dedicated footage and information for postseason coverage.

In addition, TBS is teaming up with Kid Rock to create an exclusive full-length video featuring his soon-to-be released song "Born Free." The video, which debuted earlier this month in National CineMedia theaters, includes exclusive footage from a recent concert outside of the singer's hometown of Detroit. The song will be used throughout TBS' marketing campaign for its MLB postseason coverage, including shorter versions of the video which began running earlier this month.

"Sports overall is on an upswing," Daniels said, "and we want to ride that wave. Baseball is hot already, and really all sports are on fire right now. We have really high expectations going into this postseason."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.