Live From the U.S. Open: NBC’s Allison McAllister, Marc Caputo Reflect on Championship Efforts
The 2022 US Open golf championship is in the books from the Country Club at Brookline, MA, and with it a new champion in Matthew Fitzpatrick, another step back to normal for big event golf, and another successful golf major production for the NBC Sports golf team.
“Things went really well,” says Allison McAllister, NBC Sports, VP, Golf Operations. “This is a major championship so we’re beyond happy and proud of how things went, and working with the USGA has been wonderful as they’re great partners. And everyone at Brookline has accommodated our needs to show this championship to the world so it’s been a real pleasure.”
With a crew of 600 descending on site for the production and 91 cameras, 106 mics, and more than 34 miles of fiber covering the course, one of the biggest challenges early on was just figuring out how everyone would get around a relatively tight course. The mix of 25,000 spectators moving around the course along with dozens of golfers can make it a challenge for even the most seasoned golf production professionals to figure out how to get cameras, talent, and other elements around the course.
“There were lots of changes to golf cart routes to get around, but we put in some really good policies and plans to get people from point A to point B,” adds McAllister. “We even partnered with the Brookline police and state troopers to get cameras moved around and while safety is the number one priority, they realized how important this is.”
This is the third year that NBC Sports has tackled the U.S. Open and it’s the first of the three that feels fully “normal” during the ever-evolving pandemic. For example, the Golf Channel LIVE FROM team was on site all week and some of the vendors that worked remotely the past two years also were on site.
Explains Marc Caputo, NBC Sports, director, remote technical operations: “Last year the Pinpoint equipment was on site, but the operators were in the UK while this year we have some operators here. And ARL, which operated out of New Zealand, is also here this year.”
Sky Realty, based in Jacksonville, FL, was also on sight providing the live drone coverage.
“Ben McClung [Sky Realty founder] and his team handled the pre-shoots for things like the tee-to-green and they’re also on site for the live coverage,” says McAllister.
Watching only a few hours of coverage showed how much major golf coverage continues to evolve. More specialty cameras, more graphics, more audio sources, and more data integration continues to give viewers more insights into the game than ever.
This year’s production also proved that the use of a Fly Cam or other cabled camera system can be done discreetly and almost blend into the environment.
Explains Caputo: “When we had the original plan to get Fly Cam up the officials said it was too close to the 18th green and the Country Club was concerned because they have a lot of historic trees on the course that they’re very proud of. But about 10 days before the Open the Fly Cam crew came up here and worked on a solution. It’s shorter than we originally planned but it’s been breathtaking and really shows off the clubhouse.”
How discreet? U.S. Open Producer Tommy Roy texted Caputo last Monday morning and asked when the Fly Cam would be up.
“I told him it’s up because LIVE FROM is using it,” says Caputo. “That’s how much it got hidden it is with everything going on,” says Caputo.
The use of things like Fly Cam and drones were only a few years ago the exception for a production of one of the four golf majors. The crowd-free pandemic atmosphere created a lot more freedom for systems like those to be established and now they are expected and even beginning to become a part of other PGA TOUR tournament coverage.
“Everything has its challenges but the more you do it the easier it gets,” says McAllister. “So, you can build on that and that’s what we’ve been doing. And we also have great vendor partners who know our formula. We’re in a good spot.”
At the center of all the activity, managing the personnel, the vendors, the gear, are five NBC production managers that make it all happen and keep things running smoothly.
“Bridget Cugle, Tavi Wright, Kristen Moorby, Casey McKee, and Lauren Maochi…they are the unsung heroes,” says McAllister.
NBC’s Newbert fly pack once again played a big role at the U.S. Open, handling transmission of 16 paths back to NBC in Stamford and then nine return paths via The Switch which handles transmission via J2K. All intercoms are also trunked back to Stamford, something that began during the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
“For LIVE FROM we had four Telemetric robos on the set and then four Robovision robos in different areas of the practice area that were shared with the tournament,” says Caputo. “We also had two Rover Cams which are portable handhelds that did reporter interviews with different backgrounds like the clubhouse or alternates to our main set.”
NBC’s coverage was highlighted by an extensive use of Ross augmented reality graphics that gave a unique look to displaying leaders and other information like elevation drops on the course and more (including an AR field goal graphic on the 15th hole where the tee shots had to “split the trees” on both sides of the fairway. McAllister says the production team works closely with the graphics team during the course surveys to find those opportunities around the course.
“And then we have historians that give us information and they brainstorm with graphics to see what elements they want to make with our art directors,” she says.
It’s all part of a massive effort that involves NBC’s team, freelancers, and, of course, vendor partners.
“Our vendors are great, and we have a great partnership with NEP where they really go above and beyond for us,” adds McAllister. “We all realize how special the U.S. Open is and they help us out when we come in and change things. And that goes for everyone like Ross Video, TopTracer, ARL, Pinpoint, and the others.”
The U.S. Open also saw the continued evolution of the relationship between NBC’s golf team and the golf team from Sky Sports as both are sister organizations in the NBC Universal family.
For example, Sky Sports (see related article here) in London has their own cameras but also take plenty of sources on site in their Telegenic TWiz trailer. In addition, they have access to the feeds NBC sends back to Stamford, all part of a workflow that was created out of necessity during the height of the COVID pandemic when the UK personnel were not able to come over to the U.S.
“Katie Harrison [Sky Sports Golf production manager] is awesome and we’re lucky to have Jason Wessely [Sky Sports Golf executive producer] and the entire Sky team working with us as it’s a partnership that keeps growing,” says McAllister. “There’s really good synergy from both sides, and over here, where we’re bigger, we’re happy to help. And they’re bigger over in the UK so they’ll help us next month for the Open Championship. It’s a nice partnership with flexibility to go back and forth.”
Of course, between now and then is more golf as on Thursday both the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship tee off and then on Friday the Golf Channel fires up coverage of the U.S. Senior Open. Two of the three Newbert systems will be used for those tournaments while the third will be heading across the pond for the 150th Open Championship which will be played on July 14-17 at St. Andrews.
“We’re in really good shape for the Open and we’re packing stuff up and getting it to our warehouse in Connecticut where we’ll then shup it out across the pond,” says McAllister.