ESPN Looks To Make US Open a ‘Coming-Out Party’ for Revamped National Tennis Center

Network kicks off its second year of an 11-year exclusive-rights deal with USTA

As ESPN returns to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for its second US Open as the exclusive domestic-rights holder and the host broadcaster for all international distributors, there will be a mix of both usual suspects and welcomed newcomers on hand. Although ESPN will once again have a cavalcade of familiar tech toys at its disposal — including Intel’s 360-degree replay technology, Spidercam, Rail Cam, and Hoist camera crane — it will be covering a wholly made-over Tennis Center featuring the much ballyhooed new retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, a rebuilt Grandstand stadium, and an additional outer TV court.

The new retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The new retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

“The way to frame this one is, this is the USTA’s coming-out party,” says ESPN VP of Production Jamie Reynolds. “If you look at their new house, the National Tennis Center, and what [COO] Danny Zausner and his group have done … this is their coming-out [party] where it’s all about the venue this year. The debut of the roof and the outer courts is pretty spectacular. So everything from our perspective [in] capturing the event, both as host broadcaster and domestic carrier, is designed to feature that.”

Coming off 2015’s most viewed US Open in four years, ESPN will deliver 130 live hours of US Open coverage on television, including at least 10 hours per day on ESPN and ESPN2 throughout the first week.

In addition, WatchESPN, which more than quadrupled its live-minutes-viewed total at last year’s US Open, will stream a record 1,300 hours on WatchESPN with daylong matches from as many as 12 courts — up from 11 last year. The US Open Chase Review Multicam is back this year, displaying a mosaic of three feeds from Ashe, Louis Armstrong, and Grandstand stadiums. In addition, for the first time, WatchESPN will provide a feed dedicated to the main press-conference room at the Bud Collins Media Center all day every day (beginning with Media Day today).

Broadcast Center, Tech Toys Back for Year 2
In its second year of an 11-year exclusive-rights deal, ESPN returns with the streamlined broadcast and administrative facilities it erected last year. In a marked departure from previous years, when a carnival of interconnected trucks and trailers served a variety of broadcasters, ESPN has created a two-story core broadcast facility that serves both its own domestic-broadcast needs and those of international rightsholders.

With an 11-year commitment in tow, ESPN has installed a variety of permanent production tools at the Tennis Center for its coverage, all returning for year 2.

Rail Cam, a robotic camera that moves silently along the base of the wall on the southern end of Ashe Stadium, will also be back at the Open. The system provides a superior ground-level look versus the traditional static camera at a higher angle and is particularly useful for providing angles of a player’s footwork and action from the player’s point of view.

An exclusive staple of ESPN’s US Open coverage since 2010, the Spidercam aerial camera system will be added to the world feed for the first time. The three-dimensional aerial system with pan-tilt-zoom capability will once again hover over Ashe throughout the tournament.

“What did we learn last year with the hardware we brought to the dance? Spidercam is coming back. That’s part of the host-broadcast feed this year,” says Reynolds. “We’re at a point now where that ought to be not a discrete asset but a shared asset for the world. Same thing with Rail Cam on Ashe. We kept that installed on the south wall.”

The Hoist camera, a 70-ft. crane that can extend as high as 150 ft., will also return to provide epic beauty of the Tennis Center grounds, but in a new location.

“Rather than being on a footprint, we actually have it go onto the park’s grounds just outside the venue, shooting back. That’s on the southwest corner shooting back into the venue. It features a prominent presentation of the new Grandstand stadium in that southwest corner of the venue. That’s kind of cool.”

Intel’s Voya Axis 360-degree replay technology (rebranded from FreeD when Intel acquired Replay Technologies) deploys an array of 36 cameras installed around Arthur Ashe Stadium to freeze a moment in time and virtually spin the image in a full 360-degree rotation. ESPN, the only network to use it at a major, debuted it at last year’s US Open.

“We’ve committed to a three-year package with [Intel]. They’re in their second year of three with us,” says Reynolds. “That 360 technology will stay as a discrete asset for ESPN.

“We’re embellishing the roster of toys,” he continues, “the Steadicams and cameras that we’ll have around the grounds to be able to move around, take advantage, display as much of what this tennis facility has to offer.” 

Hawk-Eye To Cover a Quintet of Outer Courts
With 12 TV courts now in play, ESPN will once again cover seven linear-TV courts with traditional manned cameras/audio and a control room; five (up from four last year) outer courts will have Sony’s Hawk-Eye SMART (Hawk-Eye’s Synchronized Multi-Angle Replay Technology) with automated robotic cameras following the action.

“Hawk-Eye is a good solution where we can guarantee multicamera coverage but do it on a scale that is commensurate with action on those courts,” says Reynolds. “We’ve made a commitment to continue to increase [outer-court coverage] to get as many courts as possible … and have them available not just for ESPN or E3 and our clients but also for the world. It’s valuable for the USTA to be able to market them internationally if they have the opportunity for a discrete feed. In the global expansion of the event, it’s attractive.”

ESPN’s US Open coverage begins today on WatchESPN with the singles bracket draws. Linear coverage begins Sunday at 1 p.m. ET with an expanded 60-minute SportsCenter on the Road preview show on ESPN2 at 1 p.m., followed by Arthur Ashe Kids Day on ABC at 2 p.m.

Check out Sportsvideo.org for SVG’s live coverage from the 2016 US Open. 

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