Live From the U.S. Open: Mike Davies on the Massive Production Efforts for the Open and World Cup, 5G Tests
Two major events occupy teams in Shinnecock Hills, Moscow, and Los Angeles
This weekend has been circled on the Fox Sports calendar for four years. It’s when the production team has two major events on its schedule: the U.S. Open and the FIFA World Cup. And, when Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports, says this is Fox Sport’s biggest undertaking ever, it is not hyperbole.
“It has been a long road leading up to this day, and now we’re into it,” he says. “There was a big part of us that just wanted to get started on this, and here we are. It took an immense amount of planning and forethought. You always get bit by one thing or another, but I am impressed with the amount of forethought that went into both projects.”
Three years ago, Fox Sports took to the air in its first year of U.S. Open coverage at Chambers Bay outside Seattle, and that effort coincided with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was based a couple hours up the road in Vancouver.
“Three years later, we are doing the same thing but this time in Shinnecock Hills and Moscow,” says Davies. “And, since then, there has been a tremendous amount of work for Kevin Callahan [VP, World Cup operations], Brad Cheney [VP, field operations and engineering, who is overseeing the U.S. Open], their teams, and all of our vendors.”
Today is Day 2 of the World Cup, and there are three matches on the schedule. Tomorrow, the challenge for the Fox Sports production teams intensifies, with four matches plus a full slate of golf coverage.
“That is when the system is going to be on full load,” says Davies. “The people on the road [in Shinnecock Hills and Russia] can focus on their own project, but our broadcast operation [at the Pico facility in Los Angeles] is a point of convergence, and people there need to follow the ball on both events.”
The U.S. Open operation, he adds, is run very much independently, with the vast majority of production done onsite to help lighten the load to allow the Los Angeles team to focus more energy on the World Cup, which relies heavily on the broadcast center in Los Angeles.
“The editing is done there, our match-control rooms are there, and an awful lot of voiceovers and other integration is done there,” Davies points out. “The World Cup production is taking place at the IBC in Moscow, the studio in Red Square, and at the venues and in Pico. Getting the overall scheduling for that has been interesting.”
For example, World Cup Tonight is shot in a studio at Red Square, but the control room is in Los Angeles, and camera shading takes place at the IBC in Moscow. As in Vancouver, Rod Conti, VP, World Cup operations, Fox Sports, is serving in the role of World Cup studio-set landlord. Callahan is the engineer for the entire project and primary liaison with HBS, the team at the center of the host-broadcast operation for the World Cup.
“They are doing really well over there,” says Davies, noting the massive effort, planning, and countless trips to Russia it took for Callahan and the team to get in position for this weekend.
Before the World Cup team kicked into overdrive with the actual coverage of the event, it and the rest of the Fox Sports family got an extra jolt of adrenaline when it was announced on Wednesday that the 2026 World Cup will be held in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
“It was tremendous news, as we have the rights. We can look forward to it being in our backyard, and it gives soccer some upward trajectory,” says Davies. “Eight years is a long time, but it’s hard-coded into the future of the World Cup. To be able to cover that on our first day of being on-air from the World Cup was great.”
The current events are the most technologically advanced U.S. Open and World Cup productions ever for a number of reasons. There is coverage in UHD and HDR, new production workflows, new viewer enhancements, and, most notably, the use of 5G technology to deliver 4K HDR camera signals wirelessly. Fox Innovation Lab worked with Intel, Ericsson, and AT&T on the project, which uses two 5G cell sites on Hole 7 (one on the tee, one at the green) to help deliver the signals.
“It’s helping us get our heads around the opportunities and limitations around 5G and to also give the broadcast industry a seat at the table as this technology is being developed,” says Davies. “The sky is the limit. I don’t think I have run into a technology that is as overarching as 5G.”
To date, 5G is seen as a next-generation technology for cellular phones, but its potential for delivering camera signals wirelessly cannot be understated. Cheney says that, at the U.S. Open, data rates are 880 Mbps down and 690 Mbps up.
All involved see the workflow in use at the Open evolving and becoming streamlined quickly. “Right now,” Davies observes, “it’s a bit like two cans and string.”
The 4K cameras are wired into an Ericsson AVP encoder, which sends an IP signal to an Intel 5G MTP (Mobile Trial Platform), which then transmits the signal in millimeter wave spectrum via a 28-GHz link to a 5G cell site, where an Ericsson AVP converts it back to IP and sends it on to the fiber network for delivery to the truck, where it is converted back to 4K.
“The other potential use case for 5G,” Davies says, “is customization of broadcasts and taking some of the cool things we are doing on the OTT service, like featured groups and holes, and make a more customizable offering.”
Davies is in Shinnecock Hills for the Open and will head back to Russia for the World Cup in the coming weeks. He sees his role as supporting those who work on his team, not the other way around.
“When you get smart and responsible people like Brad, Kevin, Rod, and [Director, Field Operations] Sarita Meinking, and their teams, you wind up being a mode of serving, offering guidance where needed and seeing things from 30,000 ft. when others may not be able to see the forest for the trees. It’s important to be onsite, available, and reminding people that we are one network, one show, and everyone works together. I’m blessed with some amazing people.”