ESPN Assembles ‘All-Star’ Production Team at Open Championship

Although ESPN has boasted a significant presence at three of the four major golf championships for a half decade, the Open Championship presents a unique scenario. It is the only major for which the network carries all four rounds, from opening tee-off Thursday morning through the final putt on Sunday evening. However, what sets the Open Championship apart for ESPN is that the majority of crew members will be teamed on their lone golf production of the year.

Various groups involved in ESPN's production are housed in 32 cabins onsite.

Various groups involved in ESPN’s production are housed in 32 cabins onsite.

“We’re never together; maybe that’s why we get along so well,” laughs ESPN VP of Production Mike McQuade. “A lot [of the production people] are coming from Wimbledon; a lot are coming off their vacation because they’re getting ready for college football. So I would say the greatest behind-the-scenes challenge and the difference [from other majors] is that we don’t do golf [regularly].”

Since the Open moved entirely to ESPN in 2010, the network has continued to boost its presence onsite each year, taking control of the majority of its cameras, and established a more independent production, rather than relying on the BBC-produced world feed. That will continue this week in Hoylake, England, as the 143rd edition of the tournament tees off at Royal Liverpool for the 12th time. ESPN will carry more than 65 total hours on TV (including live and replayed coverage) and will stream an additional five ancillary feeds on ESPN3.

The exterior of ESPN’s primary control room

The exterior of ESPN’s primary control room

“This is the one event that we produce that lasts all day every day, and it is an extraordinary effort for our group,” says McQuade. “We are fortunate that we are able to get a great group of people from all different facets of production to come together for this one week. I like to call it the all-star team of not only production but also of on-air hosts.”

Cabins Spring Up at Royal Liverpool
The move from mobile units to a primarily cabin-based environment that began last year has continued at Royal Liverpool. Designed by IMG Media and integrated and constructed by long-time production provider CTV OB, a total of 32 production cabins are onsite, including one purpose-built 50- x 60-ft. structure housing the main control room, iso-feed control room, and EVS/tape room. ESPN’s main coverage facilities have been built onsite. The SportsCenter production is located in CTV’s OB 9, and ESPN ITV is in CTV’s OB 1 and MVT 1.

“From IMG’s perspective, working with CTV is always a pleasure,” says Bill Lacy, SVP, IMG Media. “Superior facilities and personnel and very golf savvy — a perfect combination for both ESPN and IMG.”

Among the gear housed in these facilities are four Avid Media Composer editing suites and a total of 16 EVS XT3 replay systems.

Inside ESPN's primary control room

Inside ESPN’s primary control room

ESPN has erected three studio sets onsite: a main set (24 x 24 x 14 meters, 8 meters high) behind the 18th green, a SportsCenter set (same dimensions but 2 meters high) facing the clubhouse, and an ITV studio at the practice range (same dimensions but with an open front and roof overhang). Both the main and SportsCenter sets are equipped with remote-controlled lighting systems and Solarfective polarizing window shades.

Strada Crane, Flight Tracker Are on Hand
ESPN is deploying a total of 65 cameras throughout the course, including three ultra-slo-mos, nine wireless RF handhelds (including ITV and an ultra-slo-mo), three robos (one on the tee at the 10th/11th holes and a high shot on the 18th green), a Strada crane on the 15th tee (new this year), a 72-meter hoist (covering 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18), a fixed-wing aircraft with a 40:1 lens, nine shot-tracker cameras, and three distance readers.

As always, ESPN is emphasizing ultra-slow-motion throughout the coverage with one Intertia Unlimited X-Mo RF hand-held and another X-Mo one ground-level ultra-mo that covers 13th tee Thursday/Friday and moves to the 18th green on the weekend (Inertia Unlimited is also supplying an RF X-Mo to CTV for BBC’s coverage of the Open). In addition, one NAC/Ikegami Hi-Motion II system with a 100:1 lens is at the third green/fourth tee (moving to the ninth green and the 16th green) for reaction shots.

ESPN’s main set at Royal Liverpool

ESPN’s main set at Royal Liverpool

With wind such a factor at Royal Liverpool, ESPN is again deploying Virtual Aerial, an airplane-based system used to illustrate course conditions to viewers with a live aerial view of wind direction in different parts of the course.

Also back this year is the Flight Tracker virtual-graphics system, which will be deployed on six holes this year (three more than last year). The real-time feature tracks drives from behind and in front of the shot with a virtual line on the screen, allowing viewers to see the flight path of the ball from the time it leaves the tee. The trackers are ground-level to waist-height robos on tracks behind the tees at 1, 3, 8, 12, 14, 18. In addition, ESPN has two portable systems roving the practice range and the fifth, 11th, and 17th  fairways.

“This operation is similar to last year, with the addition of the Strada and three tracker systems,” says McQuade. “[We are] trying to capture more X-motion … replays and images and continue our technology with the flight of the ball and the distance of the ball and the distance the balls can roll, something that we’ve dabbled with in the past that we’re continuing to expand on.”

ESPN3 All Over the Course
In addition to the linear telecast, ESPN3 will feature five live feeds of action on the course: one following Tiger Woods’s entire round each day he plays (if he doesn’t advance to the weekend, other players will be spotlighted); live play on the 13th, 14th, and 15th holes (plus player interviews from the practice range, highlights, and features); a Spanish-language feed with ESPN Deportes golf announcers Francisco Aleman and Silvia Bertolaccini; the International View from the BBC world feed; and @TheOpen Live, which covers the general atmosphere of the event and includes fan interviews and news conferences. All Open Championship programming on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3 is available via WatchESPN.

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