Live From the U.S. Open: With World Cup and Open Coinciding, Fox Sports’ Mike Davies Says Production Team, Partners Are Essential
Operations in California and France are enhanced by dedicated expertise
For the third time in five years, the Fox Sports production team will be a global force, simultaneously producing coverage of both the U.S. Open golf championship from Pebble Beach Golf Links in California and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. Interest will peak on Sunday when the U.S. women’s team faces off against Chile at noon ET and the final round of the U.S. Open gets under way at almost the same time.
“One of our mottos for the World Cup is, all eyes on us. And this will be one of those weekends when all eyes will be on us,” says Mike Davies, SVP, technical and field operations, Fox Sports. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time and knew this was going to be a big weekend, just like last year [when the FIFA Men’s World Cup was being played at the same time as the U.S. Open].”
Davies will spend the weekend with the U.S. Open production team, overseeing a team led by Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. The Women’s World Cup production is in the hands of Kevin Callahan, director, World Cup technical operations, and Rod Conti, VP, World Cup operations.
“We’re lucky to have some really talented people like Brad, Kevin, and Rod,” says Davies. “They lead the charge on these events. We have others who do the same, as we still have baseball and NASCAR going on, and, this year, we also have the Gold Cup at the same time. We’re getting better so that no one is too overworked, but it’s a tall order during this month.”
Experience is the key to getting through a month when the Fox Sports team has massive events to tackle. In 2015, Fox Sports produced coverage of both the U.S. Open from Chambers Bay outside Seattle and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was based in Vancouver. Last year was the team’s second chance to gain experience: the U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock Hills in Long Island, NY, and the FIFA Men’s World Cup operations were based in Moscow.
“Things this year are going really well. We learned a lot from Russia in terms of cobbling together a good team and being on foreign shores,” says Davies. “When the first Women’s World Cup was in Canada, there were things we didn’t have to worry about. Russia certainly provided a massive amount of lessons for our team as they just want to keep getting better. I think we’re getting better: we understand the crush of work that comes up at a time like this, especially the lead-up to all of this in terms of the prep and the setup. That is where the difficult bit is.”
When Fox Sports acquired the rights to both the U.S. Open and the World Cup, the production team quickly understood that having dedicated teams was a key to organizational success.
“You can’t overlap,” says Davies. “Kevin’s level of expertise is knowing how to work with our partners at HBS and getting things together; he’s not only the lead engineer but the project lead from an operations standpoint. And Rod Conti, who is his partner in Paris, is an expert on studio stages. What we have in Paris is a truly unique location, and, as always, the reward is directly proportionate to the challenge involved. Brad has been working on this event for a long time, and we have some other really talented people who are good at putting on these large shows.”
Davies also credits a lot of the consultants, contractors, and freelancers who play a critical role bringing their own expertise from one show to the next.
“Everybody plays a role: the PAs, runners, and utilities whose work we build the rest of the production on,” says Davies. “What I like about the U.S. Open show is that, because there is no other golf going on this weekend, we have the pick of all the people who work on golf for CBS, NBC, and others. We have an All-Star team here, and it’s great to see everybody come together. It’s unique.”
It’s also a difference maker, Davies says: the challenge Fox faces with golf coverage is that the production team has to hit its stride in one show.
“Brad and the team he put together have allowed us to enjoy a pretty predictable setup,” he says. “Familiarity with the crew means, we have some muscle memory so that we aren’t inventing things from one year to the next.”
Even though the Fox Sports golf team has only a few days to shine on the global golf-production stage, some of its efforts, such as expanding the use of shot-tracking technology to more and more holes, has left an indelible mark on golf coverage.
“It’s satisfying to see that, when we were newbies and came up with some ideas — like using Virtual Eye, Toptracer, and Trackman — others followed. That is the clearest form of validation,” Davies says. “We’ve come a long way since Chambers Bay, and it feels good.”