USTA Reinvents Broadcast Space at US Open
The U.S. Open Tennis tournament has become so popular that five networks requested their own broadcast studios at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. To accommodate all five, USTA Director of Broadcast Operations Steve Gorsuch utilized every nook and cranny of the Flushing Meadows complex, building eye-popping sets that reinvent the traditional concept of “broadcast space.”
Bigger and Taller
Once again this year, ESPN and CBS are sharing the most visible stage on the grounds, located near the fountains in the South Plaza. That stage, however, is 4 ft. larger this year than it was in 2009.
“They needed more depth for their jibs and everything else, so we made it 4 ft. deeper,” Gorsuch explains. “They also wanted to add monitors to the front. They wanted to make it more like a game-day atmosphere so people could gather and watch their feed, so we have monitors up front.”
Also in the South Plaza is a stage for Eurosport, located above a USTA merchandise store.
“The reason it’s so high is because we wanted to be selling stuff underneath the stage, but I would guess, next year, that would come down,” Gorsuch says. “They like the location because there are people here. They want to be immersive and want to be part of the action. People don’t like shots of just the Unisphere anymore because they say that is just wallpaper. They want to see people and have them see us.”
On-site for the first time is Sky Sports, which has a very large production, including its own mobile unit and a brand-new stage located above the practice courts closest to the West Gate. The stage will certainly be coveted by broadcasters next year since it provides views not only of Arthur Ashe Stadium but also of the practice courts where the seeded players warm up.
“I’ve had that in my pocket for years as what I thought would be a great location,” Gorsuch says. “Sky Sports actually surveyed a different location, and then the production team came back, saying they didn’t really like where they were, and I said I think I have one you’ll really like. I think now other people are going to make a pitch for that location, but, if Sky Sports comes back, it’s theirs.”
High Above It All
Russian broadcasters have taken over the space above Louis Armstrong Stadium that Tennis Channel used for its stage last year. Tennis Channel, in turn, moved to the southwest corner of Ashe Stadium and, 24 ft. off the ground, has a stage that is truly one of a kind.
“There was some space outside the kitchen of the player dining area, and, if you get up high enough, it has the Unisphere in the background,” Gorsuch explains. “A lot of the ground level is curtained off because there is support for the restaurant there, but we invented this thing. We built a stage 24 ft. above the ground, and we added a spiral staircase to get up to the top.”
Last year, Tennis Channel was located on the roof of Armstrong Stadium, where it was hard to get players to visit after their matches. The new set, however, is located just down the hall (and slightly above) the players’ locker room, so it is far easier to attract players for post-game interviews. The camera shot still has the Unisphere in the background but also includes the outer courts and people coming up and down the stairwell. The height of the stage, though, made its construction a chore.
“This stage required a lot of engineering for weight distribution because there had never been anything planned in this area,” Gorsuch says. “The other day, finally, we get here, and we were getting killed by the sun, so we went to a patio store and bought some umbrellas. They actually tie in and look great up there.”
Follow the Northern Lights
To create all five stages, Gorsuch contracted production company Northern Lights, which worked with CBS to create the network’s on-field stage for last year’s Super Bowl. Based in Wisconsin, Northern Lights creates broadcaster-friendly staging but was pushed to new heights — literally — to create the five stages scattered throughout the Tennis Center grounds.
Northern Lights arrived at the Tennis Center three weeks before the first ball was hit to begin building the five stages. Once the broadcasters arrived, they spent their first few days modifying those stages.
“There was a lot of last-minute scrambling, because you had stage designs and then broadcasters trying to figure out exactly what they’re going to do now that they have a stage,” says Gorsuch. “They had to decide how they wanted to rig it and how many cameras they were really going to have, so that has become a challenge.”
Getting power and fiber-optic cable to these out-of-the-way positions was no walk in the park, either.
“A lot of these stages are in places where we haven’t had stages before,” Gorsuch points out. “There was also a lot of on-site engineering done to be sure that the stages could support the weight they had to. Quite exhaustive engineering studies were done for each stage.”
His on-site engineering team provided the initial cabling from the broadcast compound to each stage. The final extensions are up to each broadcaster, as is the content they produce from each unique location.