NEP, ESPN, NBC Form Broadcasting’s Team USA at Ryder Cup
By Carolyn Braff
When the 37th Ryder Cup tees off this week at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, KY, the talented teams competing on the green can’t help paling in comparison with the production team putting the show on-air. With a half dozen production trucks, nearly 100 cameras, and three domestic networks — not to mention the international component — to coordinate, NEP, ESPN, and NBC have formed an all-star team of their own for this epic production.
“This is one of our biggest events as far as facilities,” says Glen Levine, VP of mobile engineering for NEP Supershooters. “Our NASCAR coverage rivals this, but it’s up there with the large events, certainly from our standpoint because we have so many NEP employees, clients, and facilities on-site.”
The Equipment Arsenal
NEP is providing nearly every piece of equipment in use for this year’s Ryder Cup coverage. ND 4 HD will be the main truck for NBC’s weekend coverage as well as for ESPN’s first-round effort. The truck will have its full complement of A, B, and C units on-site to provide edit support, extra EVSs, and audio effects. NEP’s Engineering Setup Unit (ESU) will also be in NBC’s portion of the compound to serve as a transmission and routing truck.
SS17 HD will support ESPN’s SportsCenter coverage, SS12 will be behind the Golf Channel’s live show, and Turner’s PS1 truck, serving as a substitute for NEP’s normal support unit, will be in the international compound. CTV will rely on the services of SS10 A, B, and C, the former HD12 truck that NEP recently acquired from NMT.
To ensure that all of those units are properly equipped and parked, NEP has four tech managers, 20 engineers, and a half dozen drivers on-site, in addition to Levine and NBC/NEP technical manager Ken Carpenter.
Keeping Track of It All
With nearly 100 cameras on the golf course — NBC has 45 of its own — managing the technical details of this show is no easy task.
“It’s a lot of gear to keep track of,” Levine says. “Fortunately, each of these groups is run by a tech manager and a group of engineers. They each keep track of their own world.”
Still, plenty of work must be done behind the scenes, especially in the field shop and operations department to make sure every equipment load is labeled and accounted for.
“It’s a one-time event, as opposed to NASCAR, where all the gear is all together and it travels week to week,” Levine says. “This is hundreds of pieces that get put in for all these different trucks and all these different clients. When we’re all done, whether it’s NEP field-shop gear or rental gear, it all needs to be sorted out and deployed back to where it came from.”
An Unexpected Challenge
The popularity of the Ryder Cup warned organizers as to the amount of gear they would need to support the event, but the crews had far less warning when it came to the weather. Ike, by then a tropical storm, blew through the area over the past weekend, causing some havoc on the course.
“Quite a few camera towers were blown over and/or made unusable,” Carpenter explains.
Tents, tree limbs, scoreboards, and bleachers all sustained damage during the storm, but the course was nearly back to normal by Monday.
“Luckily,” Carpenter says, “we didn’t have any cameras up, so we had no camera damage.”
A Different Kind of Deal
While NEP was rounding up the necessary equipment for the broadcast, ESPN was busy acquiring the rights, and, according to John Wildhack, EVP of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, there has never been a negotiation quite like this one.
“It is no doubt the most unique negotiation that I was involved in,” Wildhack says. “It was part of a package in which we acquired the Ryder Cup through 2014, some expanded footage rights to the Olympics, and the two Triple Crown races that NBC has.”
In return, Al Michaels was allowed to exit his deal with ABC in order to move to Sunday Night Football on NBC, marking the first time, to Wildhack’s knowledge, that an announcer has been traded for an event, so to speak.
Building the Team
ESPN’s first-ever Ryder Cup coverage will be handled by ESPN’s announcers, but like the networks’ arrangement for U.S. Open coverage, Friday’s first round will be produced by NBC, using mostly NBC personnel.
“Since they have a different graphics look, they bring in a couple of different graphics machines that they use on Friday,” Carpenter says, “but it’s our camera crew, our audio crew, our tape crew.”
The Magic of Match Play
Where Ryder Cup coverage veers radically from the established, however, is in its format, as match play between 16 golfers often requires more focus than scored play among 80 golfers.
“Match play is such a different thing to cover because what you see a player do with a shot directly affects the next shot that’s going to be played,” explains Mike Tirico, host of ESPN’s Ryder Cup coverage, noting that the on-course reporters are often the best guides to lead an audience through match play. “You’re watching four matches on the golf course, no more than 16 golfers at a time, yet it can almost be more difficult to cover properly than the 70 or 80 golfers out on the course that you’d have on a normal Thursday or Friday.”
To make that leap to the caliber of coverage that the Ryder Cup demands, NEP, NBC, and ESPN must set aside their differences and work as a team.
“We certainly compete in a lot of different arenas,” Wildhack says, “but this is a week where you put that aside, and collectively, we work together to put on the best presentation of the Ryder Cup to serve sports fans in the U.S.”