Broad Comm Nimbly Provides Radio Frequency Management at the 2021 PGA Championship

As Phil Mickelson made his historic run at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina on Sunday, May 23, to win the 2021 PGA Championship, becoming the oldest golfer at 50 to secure a major, more than 13 million U.S. viewers tuned in to CBS, eclipsing ratings for the Lakers-Suns NBA Playoff game. And that is not counting the millions of international viewers. TV watchers’ screens would have been dark to the game had it not been for the behind-the-scenes work of Broad Comm, which, among other services, provides advanced broadcast solutions and frequency coordination for major sporting events.

Broad Comm is no newcomer in the field, having provided similar services for other high-profile events, including 10 Olympics games, seven U.S. Presidential Inaugurations, 25 tennis majors, multiple Super Bowls and other NFL games, 150 PGA tournaments, the NHL, MLB, NCAA football, as well as numerous TV shows, to name a few.

The scope of work for the 2021 PGA Championship included coordination of frequencies for broadcast rights holders (CBS, ESPN, Golf Channel and Sirius XM) as well as numerous international broadcast companies. It also coordinated two-way radio and microwave frequencies. The Broad Comm team was also responsible for coordinating frequency capabilities for media outlets stationed in the media center, along with other stakeholders, including public safety, transportation, catering, and local facilities.

The event location immediately on the coast presented its own challenges with the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy active in the region. Although the Championship was hosted on a remote barrier island, Kiawah Island’s proximity to Charleston meant that the reach of local broadcast stations rendered many frequencies unusable. Although not unusual to the site, more frequencies were at play than at the pre-pandemic 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage in New York.

Another challenge was the increased use of drones at the 2021 event. While the traditional Goodyear Blimp was present, the use of drones presented a new coordination challenge with their telemetry channels to limit interference with scoring tablets in use for every golf pairing throughout the Championship. Broad Comm employed upgraded capabilities with new spectrum analyzers and other tools for more rapid responses to any emerging interference situations.

While Broad Comm does not disclose the specific number of frequencies in use at the event, those at the 2021 PGA Championship outpaced those at previous professional golf events. But to provide a glimpse of the degree of involvement, nearly 40 microwave cameras were deployed throughout the course, almost twice as many as were in use at the 2019 Championship.

The uncertainty due to COVID presented its own challenges. The event organizer, PGA of America, made the decision fairly late in in the process to reduce the number of credentialed media present. Because of this reduction, Broad Comm estimated its typical compliment of four onsite crewmembers would be excessive. But it had the experience to quickly determine that a full crew was essential to prevent the potential frequency clashes present on the course. While the pandemic limited the size of many broadcast teams, there was an increased number of wireless devices in use.

The presence of non-traditional media and the reduced costs of equipment has led to a rise in social media influencers and bloggers, as well as citizen journalists coming in on regular tickets, adding to enforcement demands. Creating additional enforcement issues, the equipment brought in by some international broadcasters used frequencies not allowed in the U.S., which could have caused major interference to STA holders had Broad Comm not discovered and addressed it before it became an issue.

The lesson learned is that at major sporting events such as this, the shrinkage of available spectrum coupled with the increase in users has made the services of frequency coordination more critical than ever.

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