Live From The Players: NBC Sports Delivers Comprehensive Coverage Across Two Networks

62 cameras, improved tech are deployed for NBC, Golf Channel

NBC Sports’ coverage of The Players heads into its final two days of competition. Given that the tournament is always played at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL, the NBC Sports and the PGA have refined operations over the years, and the improvements continue to be evident.

“We know the people, and the working relationships are great,” explains Allison McAllister, director, golf operations, NBC Sports. “Because of that, we just know the ins and outs of the course.”

Onsite at The Players: (from left) Allison McAllister, director, golf operations, NBC Sports; Amanda Short, senior production manager, Golf Channel; and Kristin Xippolitos, senior director, operations, Golf Channel

The biggest improvement to on-course operations this year is that there are no longer cable ramps on the course: a lot of effort was put into cutting cable access paths so that all cables could be buried. In the past, upwards of 40 cable ramps would be on the course, but now the 42 miles’ worth of 12-strand cable is out of sight, an important step for an event that is determined to close the gap with The Masters.

The core of NBC’s coverage is 62 cameras, including 34 wired hard cameras, 13 wired handhelds (including a jib), four wireless RF mini cameras, three tee box robos, a POV bunker cam on the 17th hole, one robotic camera in the scoring cabin, three small sub-tower robos, an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo, and a FlyCam between the 16th and 17th holes.

The cameras are getting plenty of use. Golf Channel and NBC Sports are delivering 90 hours of live programming surrounding the event. Golf Channel and NBC will combine to provide 22 hours of live tournament coverage, which has been complemented by more than 60 hours of live comprehensive news, analysis, and features across Golf Central Live From The Players and Morning Drive on Golf Channel.

The most notable evolution in golf coverage continues to be the rollout of Trackman and Toptracer systems that allow balls to be traced as they fly. Trackman is in use at the tee boxes on Holes 2, 7, 9, 11, 14, and 15; Toptracer is found at the tee boxes on 3, 6, 8, 12, and 16. There are also four RF Toptracers on handheld cameras on Holes 2, 5, 11, and 14 and an additional unit on the 17th green, which captures the ball as it flies onto the green.

“It’s good for the viewer and becomes more common and expected, like 1st & Ten,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports. “And Toptracer is now used on the interim shots.”

New this year at The Players is the use of Toptracer Range, which allows Golf Channel to bring shot tracking to the coverage of the players practicing on the range.

“And then we have Pinpoint wind weather stations and one blimp,” says McAllister, noting, “Pinpoint can be moved to any hole.”

NEP’s ND4/Double Eagle is the main production truck, with SS24 handling the additional camera and replay resources required for the larger golf tournaments. Also on hand are NEP ESU and ND7, producing Live From, which uses 13 dedicated cameras, and Launchpad for DirecTV, focused on the 14th hole. CP Communication’s HD11 unit is overseeing RF demands.

“NEP does a tremendous job for us engineering-wise,” says Goss. “We continue to be very happy with their facilities, and the R&D and support we get from them on the other golf tournaments and events really pay off for these bigger shows. We just had the Kentucky Derby and then right to here, so we’re off to a successful start to our championship season, and it’s because of our partnership with NEP.”

According to Marc Caputo, senior director, remote technical operations, Golf Channel, this is also the first year that The Switch is involved at The Players, providing 1-Gbps circuits split 50/50 between video and data. And, with the use of FileCatalyst graphics teams in Orlando, FL, and Stamford, CT, can remotely create graphical elements (ChyronHego operations are still onsite). It’s just the latest example of production teams’ being able to leverage fiber connectivity to cut travel costs and allow production professionals across various locations to work as one.

“It’s been an incredible team effort,” says Goss, “We’re at our best when we work as a team.”

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