ESPN Makes Open Championship an Exclusive Offering

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Open Championship from St. Andrews Royal & Ancient Golf Club in Fife, Scotland, ESPN is throwing the event an exclusive party. For the first time, ESPN will provide complete-round coverage of all four rounds, keeping all programming on ESPN, instead of switching weekend coverage over to ABC. The decision is part of ESPN’s championship strategy, which includes moving marquee events, like the BCS Championship, from broadcast to cable.

Because all four rounds of the Championship will be broadcast on ESPN, not shared across sibling networks, ESPN has much more flexibility in its coverage plan. The network plans to use Thursday and Friday, when coverage begins at 4 a.m. ET, as lead-up to the weekend.

“ESPN has become a destination for sports fans on Saturday and Sunday mornings with our news and information programming,” says John Wildhack, EVP of programming and acquisitions for ESPN. “Habits have been formed by viewers. The time period that we’re in, Saturday and Sunday, the Open Championship, and the way that we will present it across different platforms allow us to reach an audience in a wider variety of ways than just conventional broadcast television.”

Separating the Show
Those platforms include ESPN3.com and ESPN Mobile TV, which will benefit immensely from the higher-quality images being produced in Scotland. For the first time, all programming from St. Andrews will air in HD, and ESPN will supplement the world feed with 35 cameras of its own.

“Those cameras will allow us to really separate ourselves from the BBC [world feed] and produce our own broadcast for the first time,” says Mike McQuade, VP of production for ESPN. “Being in HD for the first time is a huge step forward for this event, and I think the viewer will really benefit from that.”

The viewer will also benefit from new graphics and animations, touchscreens on the studio set that provide scoring information and course maps, and “Putt Zone” on holes 2 and 11, which will show the path needed for the player to hole the putt. The Putt Zone feature, developed by ESPN’s Emerging Technology team, will show a virtual line from ball to cup that calculates an optimum putt path, as well as a zone representing a family of successful putts. The real-time graphic is based on data gathered by a scan of the green and on the physics involved in striking a golf ball.

Ball Track Green, another emerging-technology enhancement, will show a virtual graphic of the path the ball takes after the golfer putts. Ball Track Green can be laid over Putt Zone to compare the path the ball followed with where it would have gone had it been hit perfectly.

In the Strada-Sphere
All together, ESPN will have access to more than 90 cameras over the course of the four-day event, including two super-slo-mo cameras, but McQuade is most excited about the Strada crane camera that will be located behind the 17th tee.

“We think it’s a game-changer,” he says. “It changes how you cover the sport. The sweeping panoramic shots you get with it really show off the depth, clarity, and overall scope of the venue.”

The Strada crane, which sits 90 ft. high, is the world’s tallest camera crane. It will be used primarily to track tee shots over the Old Course Hotel, which obstructs the view of the green from the tee box. In addition to the Strada crane, ESPN has developed Ball Track Tee, a real-time hit-tracking system for the 17th hole that will display the flight and landing of the ball by merging data from multiple camera positions. The graphical display will show the drive from various angles.

ESPN will also have access to three bunker cameras and an airplane that can fly in winds up to 50 mph, providing aerial coverage of the event. An enhanced telestrator will allow analysts to break down swings more thoroughly than before.

Overall, July 14-19, ESPN will produce 93 live hours of televised coverage of the Open Championship, which will be simulcast on ESPN3.com and ESPN Mobile TV.

“The amount of hours that we’re doing is a phenomenal task,” McQuade says. “On Thursday, we will start at 4 a.m. on the East Coast and go until 3 p.m. to make sure we get all of Tiger’s first round. This is the first time that I can recall that we have expanded the hours like that.”

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