Live From the US Open: NEP Out in Full Force — Both Behind the Scenes and on the Court

An army of NEP companies provide distribution, comms, camera tracking, new LED wrap at Arthur Ashe

NEP’s growing portfolio of companies is on full display here at the US Open. In addition to supporting the USTA and rightsholders with content distribution and communications, three NEP mobile units are onsite, Mediatec has deployed a state-of-the art LED wrap display on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Bexel has provided extensive fiber support, Fletcher has an army of robos on hand and its TRACE camera-tracking system as part of ESPN’s ACES productions on the outer courts, and Big Screen is producing content for screens across the grounds.

NEP Mediatec’s Head of Displays and Special Projects Tom Hogan (right) and Senior LED technician Simon Downs

“A good portion of what NEP can provide is here in several different aspects,” says NEP Engineering Manager Nick Romano, who oversees the technical aspects of the USTA operations and distribution/comms for rightsholders. “And that’s the beauty of the company: we are multifaceted and can help out in many different ways. That’s what I love about where we’re at right now at the Open: we’re here to help out however we can, and we’re lucky to have the capability to do that.”

Distribution for All: Comms, Video-Feed Infrastructure for Rightsholders
A temporary two-story structure has once again been erected across the street from Ashe to serve a variety of international rightsholders (a permanent IBC-type structure is planned to be built in time for next year’s tourney). Romano and his team helped create the technical infrastructure to distribute video/audio signals and communications to rightsholders both onsite and remotely.

From left: Bryce Boob, NEP/USTA lead fiber tech; Todd Parsons, ESPN lead fiber tech; Nicholas Romano, NEP broadcast services engineering manager/USTA tech manager

More than 13,000 ft. of Cat 5 cable was installed for the IPTV system, comms, and internet connectivity. In addition, NEP worked with ESPN, Gearhouse Broadcast, and the USTA and installed 2,000 lines of fiber between the temporary structure and the USTA complex, along with another 300+ lines across the street separating the temp structure from ESPN’s production center. Only half of this fiber was terminated in an effort to prepare for the future and the upcoming move to IP.

“The fiber team led by [NEP/USTA lead fiber tech] Bryce Boob have been absolutely amazing,” says Romano. “We worked together to create the fiber plan, communicated with [ESPN lead fiber tech] Todd Parson to significantly expand on the network of fiber that was already here to wire this entire building.”

The comms infrastructure has also been expanded through its facility’s OMNEO Dante network. The network has grown from several individual comms systems to a hosted domestic system, comprising three frames tri-bussed together and an international side, which also has three frames. The NEP NCP8 production unit and the Big Screen operation are trunked into this network separately.

NEP Mediatec has deployed a new eye-popping 14 million-pixel LED fascia display surrounding the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“We continue to expand upon that comms network every year in coordination with ESPN and Gearhouse,” says Romano. “Everything has come together so it becomes one big system, where not only the audio will pass but the data will also pass through so people can key in each other. This was a huge improvement from the first year we were here. And [we were able to give] the other couple of entities that are here and wanted to stay separate four-wire ports and whatever else they needed.”

For rightsholders not onsite, baseband feeds from the hub room are sent to The Switch and converted to its NIMBRA Network for international distribution.

“Compared to my first year here, we’re on a totally different planet,” says Romano. “People have bought into the USTA’s vision, and there is absolute unity among all the [entities] here: Gearhouse, NEP, ESPN, the USTA, everyone. We’re here to do our best for the client and make the best possible show happen.”

Chromium, Nickel, and NCP8 Are Back Onsite
NEP’s Chromium and Nickel mobile units are once again on hand to support the USTA’s world-feed production. In addition, NCP8 is back, serving the ITV multiscreen mosaic production carried by DirecTV in the U.S. For the first time, NCP8 was onsite early this year to serve as home to ESPN’s production of US Open qualifying during Fan Week.

“ESPN told us that we really knocked that one out of the park,” says Romano. “EIC Mark Altman on NCP8 and his team did a tremendous job in making sure that everything that was needed at that time got taken care of.”

Mediatec Surrounds Center Court With Eye-Popping LED Display
In a US Open first, NEP Mediatec has deployed an eye-popping 14 million-pixel LED fascia display surrounding the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Mediatec used more than 2,500 sq. ft. of ROE 3-mm LED (with a canvas width of 35,000 pixels) and is using seven Brompton Tessera SX40 processors with 13 Tessera XD distribution units to offer complete live redundancy. All content is delivered as 12G SDI or HDMI 2.0 signal and routed through a Ross Video Carbonite Ultra switcher and Lightware MX2 16×16 HDMI2.0 matrix.

A similar 5-mm LED system has been deployed by Mediatec at the Australian Open for several years, but the setup rolled out for the US Open is brand new.

Maintaining the color on the Mediatec LED fascia display on Ashe posed a challenge with the changing sunlight throughout the day.

“We worked quite rigorously with the manufacturer to make sure it can withstand tennis balls hitting it at over 150 miles per hour and could work perfectly in extreme heat because it gets quite hot here and in Australia,” says Tom Hogan, head of displays and special projects, NEP Mediatec. “We also have full redundancy so it won’t ever fail on the court. The USTA has been ecstatic about the whole system so far.”

Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment is handling content creation for the massive LED wrap (CLICK HERE for full story). In a tennis setting, the display remains static (typically with a deep-blue Chase advertisement) until the telecast goes to a commercial break between sets. At that time, VWSE incorporates video advertisements of the USTA sponsors as well as creative elements involving the players during the downtime between matches.

The system took roughly a week to install, with a four-person team from Mediatec and NEP’s Creative Technology onsite, followed by rigorous testing by the USTA, VWSE, and Gearhouse Broadcast. Although VWSE handles content, Mediatec has been onsite during the tournament, monitoring brightness and handling QC for the display using a small workstation in the bowels of Arthur Ashe with four monitors pointed at the court.

“The brightness is a big challenge because it’s constantly changing throughout the day as the sun moves across the screens, so we are constantly adjusting the brightness,” says Hogan. “We work with Van Wagner to make sure the content looks good and the colors are correct as well. It’s very hard to get the right ‘US Open blue’ with the changing of the sun. We also work very closely with Gearhouse Broadcast to make sure the color is correct for the broadcast and doesn’t blur out the cameras. It might look good in the stadium, but it might not look good on camera. So it’s a constantly up-and-down process.”