LIV Golf Heads Into Season 2 With More Drone Coverage, Enhanced Virtual Graphics, a Spot on The CW
A live telestrator, unusual for golf coverage, is also in the plan
As LIV Golf tees up its first year on linear TV following a deal with The CW, the league will continue to push the boundaries of traditional golf coverage with an abundance of innovative production technologies. In addition to boosting its use of live drones and fine-tuning its F1-inspired “pylon” leaderboard graphic, LIV plans to deploy unique angles and analytics-driven virtual graphics to illustrate how players attack the course.
“From a graphics and production-features standpoint, we are building off the innovations that we put in place in 2022,” says LIV Golf Chief Media Officer Will Staeger. “We went back to the laboratory for the past three months, and we will have some additional features at season’s launch, and we’ll continue to grow that feature set over the course of the 2023 season.”
Under the deal with The CW, LIV retains full production control of broadcasts. Its Season two production blueprint brings back many key elements from what Staeger calls LIV’s “beta year,” including live drones and a CableCam wired aerial system, while enhancing the broadcast with a live telestrator for analysts, “splash-zone” graphics, putting graphics on the green, enhanced on-course audio, and more.
Director Steve Beim and producer Keith Hirshland are again in the truck calling the shots this season; SVP, Worldwide Production, James Watson and Creative Director Will Newell also return. Veteran Fox Sports executive Clark Pierce is back as head of innovation and production partnerships and once again is working closely with NEP, which provides key production facilities for LIV’s global schedule of tournaments.
Keeping It Live: The Pylon Leaderboard, ‘Don’t Blink’ Replay Packages
LIV Golf’s shotgun start — in which all 48 players are on the course simultaneously, teeing off from different holes – makes the broadcasts unique in the world of golf. Although the format enables a more compact viewing window, it also means that lots of action is taking place at the same time. To keep viewers up to date, LIV last season introduced a leaderboard pylon graphic (driven by Champion Data) that is inspired by Formula 1 broadcasts and intended to provide clarity for viewers, displaying strokes as well as such information as number of holes left to play.
Territory Studio serves as the league’s graphics partner for on-screen graphics, and Champion Data drives the leaderboard pylon operation.
This season, with more focus on LIV’s team-based structure during the broadcast, the pylon leaderboard will permanently display individual and team scores.
“[Last season,] it rotated from individual to team,” says Staeger, “but we’re going to have the top five teams displayed permanently along with the individual leaderboard. It will still rotate, but, that way, you can always track where the team standings are, which matters more as the weekend goes on. We don’t have to run a second leaderboard [graphic] to show the team standings.”
With all 48 players playing at once, LIV’s production team lives by a central mantra: “Never pretend you’re live.”
“We don’t pretend that we’re live like most golf coverage does where shots are taped from two or three minutes ago and played in the broadcast as though they are live,” says Staeger. “We wanted to steer away from that and be authentic right from the get-go. You’re seeing live scoring on the pylon as it happens. Of course, with the shotgun start and all the threesomes playing at once, we’re going to miss some shots. That’s where our ‘Don’t Blink’ packages come in.”
Don’t Blink replay packages run periodically throughout the broadcast and catch viewers up on key shots that aren’t shown live. LIV deploys an editing unit onsite to create these replays, and the commentary team explains the action to viewers — also similar to Formula One’s coverage.
LIV will also bring back Tagboard to integrate social-media content into broadcasts and will feature it more often within the leaderboard pylon in a more “organic way,” according to Staeger.
“We did a lot with social media with Tagboard last year,” he says. “It’s fun because it lets people be interactive. People are watching live all around the world. They get to weigh in and give their opinion and get seen on camera, but also it fuels some of the conversation from our commentators and helps us be regional and global at the same time. It helps to drive the banter and dialogue in our broadcasts.”
Virtual Graphics: Splash Zones, Putting Graphics, a Telestrator
LIVE Golf productions typically feature more than 50 cameras strewn throughout the course, including a pair of drones and a CableCam wired system. This year, LIV plans to incorporate AR virtual graphics into drone shots more often to illustrate where players can expect to score better.
“We were proud of our drone coverage in 2022,” says Staeger. “This year, we’re going to do a lot more enhanced player tracking and visual effects on top of those drones, including a splash-zone graphic. It’s basically a green circle [virtual graphic] from the drone shot: you can see where a player will hit his drive or his second or third shot as he is trying to come up to the green. We used that feature a few times last year, but we believe we have perfected it and will use it much more this year.
In addition to splash-zone graphics, LIV Golf broadcasts will integrate virtual heat maps, tee-shot visualizations, wind graphics, and player-identification technology.
LIV Golf’s shot-tracer technology is provided by Visual Vertigo, which is currently developing putting visuals to better show the undulations of the green.
“We hope those [putting graphics] will give some insight to the choices made by the players once they arrive on the green,” says Staeger. “While those kinds of graphics have been done before, what hasn’t been done is doing those graphic features live with handheld cameras.
“It’s certainly nice to have some visuals from a wide shot,” he continues, “but it’s not as insightful because you can’t see the changes in elevation as well on a fixed camera. We’re working on some interesting graphics that show you the contours and the ideal putting lines but with handheld cameras. It’s in the works, and we expect to have it online sometime this season.”
This season, analyst Jerry Foltz will also have a telestrator at his disposal — a tool not often deployed in golf coverage.
“The telestrator is something we’re pretty excited about because it hasn’t been used much in golf before,” says Staeger. “It certainly has been done in other sports, and it can be distracting if done wrong for golf, but it can be really effective if you have an expert using it well. I think we’re going to have some fun with Jerry and that telestrator.”
All-Access: Audio in the Course, Talent in the Booth, Players Behind the Scenes
LIV Golf will deploy more than 60 microphones across the course at each tournament, including miking caddies, dedicating parabolic mics to players, and installing hole mics. LIV has yet to be able to mike players on a regular basis, but Staeger is hopeful that the production team may break that barrier this season.
“So far, technology has not made it comfortable for players to wear mics,” he says, “but, over the offseason, we’ve done some development on some wearable-mic technology that we’re excited about. You may not see that in our first event, but we think, over the course of the season, we’ll be able to have some actual players mike up, not just the caddies. And then, we’ve got some other microphone placements that are unique and that we will keep moving around on the fairway and the greens to get some audio that you have not heard before.”
The LIV on-air announce team is also back this season, with Arlo White on play-by-play alongside analysts David Feherty and Foltz, and Dom Boulet, Su-Ann Heng, and Troy Mullins providing coverage on the course and in feature segments.
“Our announce team has incredible chemistry,” notes Staeger. “We’ve styled much of how they interact off one of our favorite shows, Inside the NBA [on TNT]. I call it the Vin Scully coverage style: in addition to calling shots and providing insights, there’s also entertaining conversation. Viewers can feel like they’re friends with our commentators, who are making fun of each other, talking about their travels that week, and going behind the scenes about their interactions with the players on the traveling circus that is LIV.”
LIV Golf is producing a series of all-access features with both players and on-air talent, including segments titled “What the Feherty,” “Heng Time,” and “Another Round With Foltzy.” Emmy Award-winning producer and documentarian Michael Mandt is back as executive producer of non-live, social, short-form, and preshow content, and his team will shoot behind-the-scenes content with all 12 teams throughout the year and will produce an original docuseries throughout the season.
“I think we found a resounding fan response to our broadcast-coverage innovations in 2022 in our beta year,” says Staeger, “but now it’s time to take things to the next level. We have a dream team of talent both on camera and behind it, and we’re always looking to innovate. We are not going to bring innovations just for the sake of innovation; it needs to serve the storytelling and narrative, but there’s just so much that has not been done in the coverage of golf. It has been a little stagnant for the past 15 or 20 years, and we’re here to shake things up.”
The expanded 14-tournament LIV Golf season tees off at 1 p.m. ET today from Mayakoba, Mexico. Round 1 coverage is streaming on The CW App; Saturday-Sunday coverage will be available on The CW and The CW App.