As The Players Championship Shifts to March, NBC Sports’ Production Is Bigger Than Ever
High-tech tools are deployed to provide unique perspectives on iconic holes
NBC Sports Group’s annual pilgrimage to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass arrives early this year, with The Players Championship shifting from May to March as part of the revamped 2019 golf calendar. The Peacock also has a new partner in covering golf’s unofficial “fifth major” this week, collaborating with new Comcast-owned sibling Sky Sports to offer the most coverage ever from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. As is par for the course for NBC, the network has once again deployed a cavalcade of high-tech production tools to cover the par-3 17th hole’s island green, providing fans with unique perspectives on one of the game’s most iconic holes.
“The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of golf’s most iconic and familiar venues for viewers, in particular the par-3 17th hole,” says Ryan Soucy, VP, golf operations, NBC Sports Group. “As a result, NBC Sports for years has employed a technologically advanced production at The Players in an effort to bring viewers as close to the action and excitement as possible. It has also become a great opportunity for us to introduce new technology elements that further enhance the overall viewing experience.”
As Action Moves to March, Sky Sports Joins the Party
The Players’ move to March has proved a positive one for NBC Sports’ operations team, slotting The Players right in the middle of its seven-week run of PGA TOUR coverage.
“It has been a wonderful transition back to March, when the event was originally staged until moving to May in 2007,” says Soucy. “We’re in the midst of our exciting stretch of seven consecutive weeks of live PGA TOUR coverage on Golf Channel/NBC, with The Players in the middle. Our team enjoys the challenge that this stretch presents, and The Players in particular works well in March instead of as a standalone production for our NBC Sports team in May.”
With Comcast having acquired Sky last year, The Players marks the most extensive production collaboration to date between NBC Sports and Sky Sports. NBC Sports’ week-long coverage includes several collaborations with Sky Sports Golf, which has rebranded itself as “Sky Sports: THE PLAYERS” for the duration of the Championship. Sky Sports Golf is airing nearly 25 hours of live simulcast coverage of Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS, and the two organizations are sharing content across their respective digital platforms and social-media handles.
“Our operational workflow remains the same,” says Soucy. “We are collaborating across our Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS news coverage, with coverage windows being simulcast on Sky Sports Golf, and vice versa. We’re also utilizing ‘analyst’ swaps, with Golf Channel and Sky analysts appearing on the other’s respective news coverage.”
At 17: FlyCam, Cranes, and Dedicated Reverse Toptracer System
When it comes to The Players, it’s all about the 17th hole.
NBC has deployed eight cameras to cover the par-3 hole, including a microscopic lens embedded in the lip of the tiny bunker fronting the green. A cable-suspended FlyCam system provides unique vantage points by flying over the body of water between the par-5 16th- and 17th-hole greens. A camera crane positioned 150 ft. in the air offers aerial views of Holes 16-18, and another on the island adjacent to the 17th green captures reactions of those playing No. 17.
“Our use of FlyCam this year gives us greater flexibility to cover the entirety of the hole,” says Soucy. “We’ve added a dedicated Toptracer tee system on No. 17 as well and have the incoming reverse-Toptracer on the green.”
Beyond 17: 60+ Cameras, Toptracer Across the Board
NBC Sports Group has rolled out more than 60 cameras to produce more than 150 hours of multiplatform live programming surrounding The Players, including 22 live hours of tournament coverage across Golf Channel and NBC. The camera complement includes 27 hard cameras, 14 handhelds, three RAT cameras, six wireless RF systems, three high-speed cameras, seven POVs, and a fixed-wing airplane for aerial shots.
In addition, NBC has Toptracer technology capability on all 18 holes, including two RF Toptracer systems that can be used for fairway and second shots as well as on the driving range. Virtual Eye technology, provided by ARL Sports Graphics, also continues to play a big role in the coverage.
“We have great partnerships with both Toptracer and ARL,” notes Soucy. “We’re employing a lot more tracing equipment this week as compared to last year.NBC and Golf Channel live tournament coverage will be complemented by more than 60 hours of live news, analysis, and features within Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS and Morning Drive; nearly 45 hours of PGA TOUR Live coverage on NBC Sports Gold; and more than 20 live hours of The Players “Launch Pad” coverage on DirecTV.
Studio Shows On-Site: Golf Central Live, Morning Drive, PGA Tour Live, and Launch Pad
As in past years, the Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS set is located to the golfer’s left at the 17th tee. Twelve dedicated cameras capture the set, practice areas, media center, and designated player-interview area. Morning Drive is originating from TPC Sawgrass Thursday-Sunday with two dedicated cameras.
Prior to live tournament coverage going on- air, Golf Channel is using splits of the NBC cameras on the 17th hole to showcase those in the field who are playing the hole prior to the tournament coverage window each day. This included coverage of Tiger Woods’s practice round on Tuesday morning, a few near–holes-in-one during practice rounds, and a marriage proposal, according to Caputo.
This also is the second year that Golf Channel is partnering with Toptracer on the driving range, using the Toptracer Range Multi Tracer to track every shot each player hits during a given practice session and during pre-round warm-up sessions.
In the Compound and Fully Connected With Orlando, Stamford
Inside the compound, NBC is deploying its standard golf configuration with NEP’s ND4 (A, B, and C units), and Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS is sharing ND7 (A, ,B and D units) with DirecTV Launch Pad coverage featuring the 14th hole (airing Thursday-Sunday). BSI is serving as the network’s RF vendor for the first time at The Players.
NBC Sports is also utilizing its NEWBERT remote flypack to connect the onsite production at TPC Sawgrass with Golf Channel’s home facility in Orlando. The flypack features an Evertz SMPTE ST 2110–based IP transmission system, which was first used by NBC at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
The Switch is serving as NBC’s fiber vendor for primary transmission and data, providing a 1-Gbps dual redundant circuit. NBC has partitioned 310 Mbps for IP video, 14 transmits to Orlando, and eight return paths. 500 Mbps is used for data needs, including FileCatalyst file transfer, corporate internet, and comms. Two ASI circuits are also established for tournament delivery to NBC and Golf Channel.
“The additional transmit and receive paths create efficiencies [to allow] Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS to be able to keep EVS, ChyronHego, and Vizrt [replay and graphics operators], as well as live tournament social-media graphics [at the Orlando facility],” says Marc Caputo, senior director, remote operations, Golf Channel.
FileCatalyst is being used for bidirectional file transfer of graphics elements and video clips between Golf Channel in Orlando; the NBC Sports broadcast center in Stamford, CT; and the NBC Sports TV compound at TPC Sawgrass.
“We started using the file catalyst in 2017 at THE PLAYERS,” says Caputo. “Since then, we have doubled the size of the pipe, and file-transfer workflow continues to grow. FileCatalyst is allowing remote edit to get clips from Golf Channel’s archive and allows tournament EVS clips to be transferred to Golf Channel for use during Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS pre- and post-game shows, along with Morning Drive and edit.”
PSSI is providing C-band satellite uplink backup for both live tournament coverage and Golf Central Live From THE PLAYERS.