NBC Sports’ U.S. Open Tackles Major Production in Record Time
More than 70 cameras capture the action; NEP facilities at center of a truly global production
Producing a golf major typically takes one (if not two) full years of planning. So, when NBC Sports took over the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot from Fox Sports, it kicked off an accelerated planning process that would challenge any production team.
“I am really proud of the golf team and the great work between our engineering team, remote-ops team,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports. “They’ve done a great job in such a short window.”
The result of all the effort is a production that has upwards of 74 cameras, an aerial shot, a massive compound featuring NEP and BSI production units, three on-course studios, and aspects of the production being done from New Zealand, Sweden, the UK, and Orlando.
“The USGA did a great job with the compound,” says Ryan Soucy, VP, golf operations, NBC Sports. “They set up the compound with [NBC Sports Technical Manager] Keith Blatchly as he had done for many, many years. Keith coordinated with the USGA and got us in here.”
NEP’s ND4/Double Eagle A, B, and C is at the core of the production. Also in the compound are XL1, Fiber 1 and 2, Supershooter 17, Supershooter 29, ST1, ND6, and ST21. ND6 and Supershooter 28 are handling DirecTV’s 1080p HDR feed covering featured holes (6th, 10th, and 17th), which is being distributed in 4K by DirecTV and Comcast.
The production is an international effort. NBC’s Stamford, CT, facility is handling the DirecTV mosaic production, with the announcers for the featured holes in Orlando along with editing. ARL, as it did during the rest of the 2020 PGA TOUR season, inserts augmented graphics from South Island, New Zealand, and Top Tracer for “Live From” on Golf Channel is being produced out of Sweden.
In terms of circuits, there are 13 hitless J2K outbound paths, four hitless J2K paths inbound, and 2 Gbps of data.
With respect to health and safety protocols, NBC Sports is following the lead of the USGA, which worked very closely with New York State to ensure that the U.S. Open could be held safely. There is testing onsite, self-monitoring, and temperature checks by the USGA for crew members entering the compound.
“Things have gone really well,” says Soucy. Given the long days, there are also two production teams, and the teams work out of different mobile units.
Getting ready for an event like the U.S. Open is about so much more than the production. Managing the crew, the early and late hours, the need for transportation and lodging take months of planning, and Allison McAllister, senior director, golf operations, NBC Sports Group, touched base with Fox Sports and made use of existing hotel information and other logistical details.
“We do want to thank Fox Sports for their time. They were very gracious with us,” says Soucy. “And then we went through the USGA Amateur Championship [at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort Aug. 10-16] and got into planning for this.”
One of the challenges that came up was travel bans: NBC Sports Group Lead Golf Producer Tommy Roy lives in Florida.
“He knew the course, but he wasn’t able to come up,” Soucy explains. “But our director Doug Grabert lives in the area, so he was able to do the survey with me and our tech manager.”
At the time of the survey, it also wasn’t clear if there would be fans, but Soucy says the team planned for there being no fans in attendance. “The USGA allowed us to place our cameras where we wanted, but it was pretty much the normal setup.”
As if there weren’t enough challenges, the days are shorter than on Father’s Day weekend, when the event is traditionally held. In June, there is nearly 14 hours of daylight; this weekend, about 12 hours. Split tees and threesomes are helping speed up the action.
With respect to studio operations, host Mike Tirico is located on the 18th hole of the East Course, and the main announce team is on the West Course to the right of the 18th hole — both looking at the clubhouse.
“Our ‘Live From’ studio actually has a great location at the practice facility on the other side of the clubhouse,” adds Soucy. “We have the usual setup with our taller structure, and we also have three robotic cameras on tracks for that show.”
In terms of bells and whistles, the compressed preparation timeline limited the opportunity for innovation although Sky UK is handling production of the PinPoint 3D course graphics.
“We have a couple of guys working out of there,” notes Soucy.
The last time the team was all together was at THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass, an event that never made it past the opening round due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Open Championship, NBC’s other golf major, was canceled in April. When Goss and the team heard that the U.S. Open would return in late June, it raised their spirits.
“It was great news to hear that it was coming back,” says Goss. “The executive team worked hard to bring it back. Hopefully, next year, we will get a little more time to plan, but we’re really excited and hit the ground running in late June. The accomplishment here is really because of the experience of people like Allison, Ryan, Keith, and Craig because, with a short timeline, that is what you rely on.”