"We even have put together a show on baseball during times of war," says Belinfante. "That illustrates what kind of depth we have."
Rights to individual sports are licensed to Phoenix by Major League Baseball and other professional and amateur governing bodies and rights holders. Phoenix pays royalty fees to those groups, and in some cases—for example, the NBA—Phoenix's license is limited, meaning it can provide highlight clips but is not permitted to produce a show.
Phoenix, first called Major League Baseball Productions, was conceived under league auspices in 1975. The NFL had had its own weekly highlight show for several years, but for baseball there was nothing. "It was a lot more difficult for us, because we didn't just have 13 games on Sunday," says Belinfante. "We had 26 teams to worry about every night of the week."
So video systems were set up in every park to shoot every game, and three-quarter-inch tapes of the games were sent to New York City to be cut up for the sport's first highlight show, This Week in Baseball, which went on the air in 1977. It was an immediate success—and is still one of the highest-rated syndicated sports programs—but in 1985, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth cut it loose. The people who had been running it bought the division from Major League Baseball and formed Phoenix as a private company. In February 1990 they moved to their present offices in New Jersey. The release from Major League Baseball freed Phoenix to produce programming and highlight packages for other sports as well.
During the baseball season Phoenix also fires off live nightly broadcasts to Japan and South America. There is now a Spanish-language version of This Week in Baseball, narrated by Venezuelan journalist Juan Vene, a press-box veteran of 30 World Series, and shown in Central and South America as well as domestically. With baseball becoming a medal sport for the first time at the '92 Barcelona Olympics, Phoenix is working with Major League Baseball to expand the game's international appeal through its weekly program Baseball '91. The show, which began last season, is broadcast across Europe and Australia.
Phoenix edits and scores its video in New Jersey and then, in the case of This Week in Baseball, sends the product to New York City, where the script is recorded and voice, music and sound effects are melded together. In a graffiti-covered building near Manhattan's 10th Avenue, Mel Allen sits in a sound booth and reads the copy. Just outside is an acre or so of mixing boards and television monitors, resembling a launch room at NASA. "Everyone from Springsteen to the Stones has recorded or mixed here," says receptionist Jeffrey Glenn.
"We've changed over the years," says Allen. "With all the highlights that appear nightly on ESPN and local stations, we now focus more on feature material."
But what hasn't changed much is the ever-increasing need to sift through the heap of daily sporting events that carom above the earth's atmosphere. For that, there will always be viewers. "I guess the biggest difference since I started here is that now I don't watch sports very much away from work," says viewer Kristin Pompeo. "How many people can say that?"