Live From the U.S. Open: Fox Sports Evolves Its Compound Layout
Combining trailers houses multiple departments, promotes collaboration
Last year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock saw two developments in compound layout that have carried over to this year. First, space constraints required some of the personnel and operations (such as camera and audio support) to be moved to a Technology Tent located closer to the course. But another change was to move beyond a compound full of office trailers lined up next to each other. Instead, under the direction of Fox Sports’ Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, and Sarita Meinking, director, field operations, multiple trailers were combined, literally eliminating the walls between the operations, production, digital, PR, and other departments.
“We did the math and saw we were spending money building stairs and platforms and also wasting space,” says Cheney. “We just said, Why not smash the trailers together?”
This year’s Operations Complex is a bit smaller and comprises seven trailers: three for operations and four for production, digital operations, PR, and marketing.
“It’s a massive bonus for us because you don’t need to walk out of a trailer and down and up stairs to talk to someone,” says Cheney. “It’s all in this zone, so there is no running around to different places. It’s a huge benefit to be operating this way.”
There are three key partners for Fox Sports. Game Creek Video provides the production facilities; CP Communications, fiber and RF infrastructures; and Filmwerks, handles power needs.
“Game Creek, CP Communications, and Filmwerks are amazingly collaborative parts of our package,” says Cheney. “We couldn’t ask for better partners as they are doing things for us that I honestly don’t know if other vendors would do for us.”
The core of Fox Sports’ U.S. Open coverage has been mobile units from Game Creek Video, specifically Encore A, B, and C, which have been at the center of all five of the network’s U.S. Open broadcasts.
“We have more cameras and more audio,” says Cheney, but the core technology is still running on a truck that is doing its fifth U.S. Open. It’s amazing to see the evolution. Game Creek has done an amazing job keeping up with us, and the truck has a great design. It’s at the core of our world here, and there is also some new engineering leadership from Game Creek: [Engineering Managers] Dan Nabors Jr., and Mike Ryan, who are doing a phenomenal job keeping the ship straight and working with us on a shorter turnaround than usual.”
Pride A and B are also onsite, handling audio submix, super-slo-mo replay, graphics, HDR-video support, engineering, and an emergency production area.
“We did cut down one B unit, as we are doing two of the three digital feeds back in Charlotte,” says Cheney. “Featured Holes, however, are done here because it’s an HDR show and it’s easier to manage and control from here.”
Making all of it work is a massive fiber infrastructure overseen by Carlos Gonzalez, technical producer, Fox Sports, and his team. CP Communications worked alongside the Fox team on installation of the fiber cable, which measures more than 50 miles. Gonzalez and his team manage the fiber from a cabin located near the Technology Tent.
“We have over 550 strands of fiber from the main compound coming here, and, from here, we have 144 strands to the Tech Tent and 144 to the back of the course and the rest spread out from the driving range to 18 green and all the way to 7 green,” says Gonzalez. “This year, we also have a few fiber strands from the house, so, in case the trunk line goes offline, we have a backup and true redundancy. The operation this year is 10 times better than last year.”
Cheney gives props to the Fox team. “It’s a phenomenal group,” he says. “[Production Manager] Penelope Prior is here for a second year running the event, and we couldn’t be happier with what she has been able to do. And [Operations Manager] Nicole Perrin is managing the Women’s and Senior Opens around this event. We can’t all be together, but the whole operations team and the people they have pulled in have been phenomenal and made our lives easier. It’s very difficult to grasp the fact that they are putting more than 600 people in hotel rooms and [obtaining] credentials for the over 700 that are actually working the show. Add on that we are a mile from the course and they are managing that between themselves, the operations support team, and the runners. They have been phenomenal.”
Cheney also credits Tech Producers Doug Fuchs, Zaque Meyers, Ron McGugins, and Kevin Walter, who manage the production-control rooms, which keep things moving each day across the two production centers at Pebble Beach and two others in Charlotte, NC, more than 2,300 miles away. They are supported by Gonzalez, who oversees the fiber infrastructure and field techs, along with Field Technical Producer Pete Chalverus, who oversees the audio and camera teams and the camera-tower placement with director Steve Beim and the USGA.
“He’s been great,” says Cheney. “And Carlos has been managing our fiber for this event since 2015; there is no one who knows better how to run cable across a course, do it professionally, and the grounds crews love him. Not only that, he is technically one of the smartest fiber people in the country, so he is not only developing the plan but executing it at the same time.”
Along with overseeing fiber deployment, CP Communications is also managing the RF operations. Frank Rafka, technical manager, CP Communications, is onsite with the CP team to make sure the 27 RF cameras in use by Fox and international broadcasters as well as 40 wireless microphones and 400 radios are all working optimally.
“We have 32 receive sites across the course as well as 60 radio channels for comms,” he says. “It’s a challenging environment with the marine layer as signals 100 miles away can bounce off the oceans and clouds and cause interference, but it hasn’t been that bad.”
The CP team is using frequencies in the 1.4 GHz, 2 GHz, and 3 GHz bands with the majority of cameras in 3 GHz, five or six operating in 1.4 GHz, and as few as possible in 2 GHz because that is where other users reside.
“We used to have two mobile units,” says Rafka, “but now we have just one unit here, and that makes it easier: we need just one spot, and we need less infrastructure in the compounds. We have a 64×64 router, and each receive site has four inputs so we can switch those inputs to any antenna, which helps us maintain our video quality.”
The biggest issue, he notes, is keeping a clean mesh network: “We are running into problems as it is closer to the public Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz range. With so much public Wi-Fi, that is where we tend to struggle.”
Filmwerks is also onsite, providing a megawatt of power across the compound via a redundant set of generators, as well as a UPS providing both environmental and technical power to the trucks.
“The team at Filmwerks has been outstanding,” says Cheney. Our goal is two-fold: limit the carbon footprint and use less fuel because fuel is money. If we can be as safe and redundant as possible and still provide a quality level of service, then UPS is the way to go. With multiple UPS units, we are not tied to any single unit, so there is no single point of failure.”