Las Vegas Ballpark is one of the venues adopting a “two-eyes” rule for videoboard programming. (Courtesy Las Vegas Ballpark)

Minor league ballparks recommit to monitoring videoboard content

After last week’s videoboard controversy at Chukchansi Park, home of the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies minor league baseball team, venues across the country are re-examining their videoboard programming procedures.

The Grizzlies apologized hours later for the Memorial Day blunder, in which the board displayed a video showing Ronald Regan’s 1981 presidential inaugural speech calling out foreign dictators while showing the faces of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro and then flashing a picture of freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Reports of the video drew criticism, and three brands reportedly cut sponsorship ties with team because of it.

“What was supposed to be a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country was overshadowed by a grievous error for which we are truly sorry. The criticism we have received is deserved. The video was not produced, created or commissioned by the Fresno Grizzlies,” the team said in a statement.

The Grizzlies said an employee used a video from YouTube without watching the whole thing.

Justin Walters is director of video and multimedia at Principal Park in Des Moines, where the Iowa Cubs play. The Cubs, like the Grizzlies, are members of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

Walters said he monitors everything that goes on the ballpark videoboards. “A lot of it is programmed ahead of time,” he said. “We have a game tonight, and I will go through the whole package — pregame, in-game, postgame — and organize it.”

Walters’ initial thought was that the person responsible for the Fresno programming goof is probably in a similar position to his.

“We all wear a lot of hats in minor league baseball,” he said. “It was a bad mistake not to screen that clip in its entirety. But that person probably has a lot going on — they had a doubleheader that day, so they were already under pressure.”

Doing the programming ahead of time is one of Walters’ suggestions for making sure nothing slips through the cracks.

“The video was almost four minutes. There are some days when I don’t have four minutes to screen a video, and if I do, I might miss it because I’m rushing through. So, if I’m going to be playing something like a holiday tribute clip, I would start looking well in advance of the game and leave time to screen it fully.”

Walters said there’s seldom a case where the Iowa Cubs take a clip off the internet, but it has happened.

“We’ve had advertisers who want us to use a video, or a group shows up and says can you play this video, and we’ll oblige if we can,” he said, “After this, we’re going to make sure everything’s screened by at least two people.”

Dan Rajkowski, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Triple-A International League’s Charlotte (N.C.) Knights, said his venue, BB&T Ballpark, is also stepping up monitoring of anything that goes on its videoboards.

“We’re studying our procedures so that a videoboard error absolutely cannot happen here,” Rajkowski said.

David Ruckman is BB&T Ballpark’s vice president of entertainment. “We have strict procedures in place here already,” he said. “We watch the content from start to finish. If it comes from a corporate partner or a nonprofit, we’ll get the community relations departments or the corporate sales department in on it, too. It goes through a number of hands before it’s seen by the fans.”

Ruckman sees the Fresno incident as a learning experience. “This incident is a good reminder that vigilance and due diligence should always be our No. 1 priority,” he said.

Las Vegas Ballpark’s director of game entertainment, Gary Arlitz, said he’s reviewing in-house policies surrounding anything that goes on the venue’s videoboards as well.

“Nothing ever goes onto the board that I have not seen,” Arlitz said. “We had a moving flag graphic for Memorial Day which was pieced together by our in-house graphics team. We do not want to mix politics with baseball — just look at what happened to the NFL when politics got thrown into the venues.”

Arlitz is also adopting a “two-eyes” rule on video content. “If it might be controversial at all, I will throw it by our COO or general manger from now on,” he said. “I’m not going to get politics involved with baseball; we’re here to entertain. I want people coming to enjoy the game and not leaving wondering what the heck they saw on the videoboard.”

The Grizzlies did not return calls for comment on what changes they might make but did acknowledge in their statement the need for solid procedures around videoboard programming.

“Nothing we say at this point can take back the harm and pain that this has caused,” the club said. “We have implemented new internal protocols to ensure that this never happens again.”