ESPN Tees Up Expansive PGA Championship Coverage
NEP ND7 is home for featured-group coverage
This morning marks the beginning of ESPN coverage of the PGA Championship as part of a new rights deal. For the broadcaster’s production and operations team, though, it is the culmination of 17 months of planning, creating, and embracing new health and safety guidelines, and an important partnership with CBS Sports that builds off their relationship at The Masters.
“It’s very exciting and a long time coming,” says Andy Davenport, manager, remote production operations, ESPN. “Working closely with CBS at The Masters helped in terms of getting this off the ground, and we have been in step with each other all the way. It has been a very rewarding experience.”
ESPN’s will carry live coverage all day, beginning at 10 a.m. ET, and will also broadcast two featured groups on ESPN+ in the morning and afternoon (including the dynamic trio of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas at 11:33 a.m.) for all four days. On Saturday and Sunday, it will also offer featured-hole coverage of the 18th hole as well as five hours of coverage before CBS comes on-air. And there will be a major SportsCenter presence all weekend.
“We do a lot of shoulder programming on SportsCenter,” notes Davenport, adding, “We have a double-decker studio out at the 18th hole that we are really proud of. It’s impressive, and our team worked with Filmwerks to put it together.”
The top level of the studio will be home to SportsCenter and tied to the Lyon 14 production truck. The lower level will be used for ESPN’s play-by-play team of Scott Van Pelt and David Duval for Saturday and Sunday.
“We had extensive planning to get the design and everything else lined up,” says Davenport. “It went very smoothly, with the structure build starting on July 18. And then scenery, lighting, and technical equipment were brought in and we were up and running on Aug. 2.”
The upper level has three cameras, including a jib; the lower level has room for an A2 and a researcher as well as two couches to give a second look. There is no stage manager, just the announcers and a single camera operator, the A2, and the researcher. There is also no makeup onsite, and catering is just boxed lunches.
The main production today will be produced out of NEP Supershooter CBS (back nine) and Game Creek Encore (front nine) while NEP ND7 is home to the featured-group coverage. The A unit has two control rooms, one for each group. The B unit is handling audio and replay for one group, and the C unit is handling audio and replay for the second featured group.
“The thing that impacts the featured groups the most is, the eight announcers are offsite, although we have two roving announcers on the course,” says Davenport. “Six of the offsite announcers are using ESPN’s commentary kits at their homes, while Matt Barrie will be calling the action from the ESPN studios in Bristol. Andrew Catalon has a home kit that CBS uses and that will be tied into ours.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also moved two editing bays offsite, the result of an evolving plan that involved weekly calls with CBS Sports that grew more frequent as the event approached. The original plan was for the PGA Championship to be held in May, and, when it was shifted to August, the operations involved new plans and plenty of finger-crossing in the hope that it would actually be held.
The health and safety plans are a mix of philosophies. CBS Sports has two functional groups: members of the red group can go inside the trucks and facilities; blue can access only the course and 18th-tee broadcast studios. ESPN, in addition, has letters assigned to different areas to create even smaller bubbles for staff.
“It’s been very gratifying that we have gotten to this point,” says Davenport. “This is the first major of the year but it is also the most prestigious event and first championship for a major sport since the Super Bowl and we’re proud to be part of it. Speaking personally, the team we have is a big one, and there are so many tentacles, and we have all been working together through all these months. To be on-air and moving forward with all these tremendously talented groups at ESPN and CBS Sports is great.”
ESPN and ESPN+ will offer 12 hours of traditional coverage of the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, streaming on ESPN+ 10 a.m.–4 p.m. ET with two-time defending PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka beginning his first round at 11:11 a.m., along with Gary Woodland and Shane Lowry, and will be covered in the ESPN+ presentation. Coverage will then move to ESPN at 4 p.m.–10 p.m.