Live From the PLAYERS Championship: Sky Sports Elevates Production as 2023 Season Shifts to High Gear
The pay-TV service has organized golf operations into four levels to better serve viewers
Sky Sports was on hand at the PLAYERS Championship, taking advantage of additional feeds provided by the PGA TOUR that let the UK-based pay-TV service offer golf fans comprehensive coverage from the first tee shot every morning to the last shot every night. It also continues to streamline its production philosophy around golf to free up resources and bring the latest innovations to viewers.
“We end up creating a whole new kind of feed that is seen only in the UK as we cover everything from the first tee shot,” said Sky Sports Golf Executive Producer Jason Wessely prior to the tournament. “We took the PGA TOUR guys around to see our broadcast operations during the opening round, and they couldn’t believe that we were on-air from 6:30 in the morning. We did a 20-minute build-up beginning at 6:30 ahead of the first tee shot at 6:50, and then UK customers can watch until the end of play.”
Sky Sports took advantage of the PGA TOUR’s two Featured Group feeds, two Featured Hole feeds, and two extra feeds from the PGA TOUR’s Every Shot Live coverage and around 40 camera feeds from NBC Sports, producing its coverage from a control room in London. According to Sky Sports Golf Production Manager Katie Harrison, 48 feeds were brought into the EMG T-Wiz truck and used by Sky for its U.S.-based golf efforts.
“From here,” she said, “we send the signals back to Sky or through our Simply Live systems, and, at Sky, the gallery cut those shots into the feed they are creating.”
Along with a main coverage feed, viewers could watch the Featured Group, Featured Hole, and Every Shot Live feeds separately, giving them seven feeds to choose from.
“While we don’t expect a huge amount of traffic,” Wessely said, “it’s great marketing to say that we’re providing a portfolio of options.”
Sky didn’t have a Sky Zone at the driving range at the PLAYERS but instead deployed a platform along the 16th fairway, providing backdrops ranging from the 16th green to the island green as well as the stands filled with thousands of fans around the 17th hole.
“It’s a great spot,” said Harrison of the set location.
The Sky touchscreen was back onsite with upgraded software courtesy of ChyronHego. Talent was also onsite, except for Ewen Murray and Andrew Coltart, who were back home in the UK.
“We have a hybrid talent solution here,” noted Wessely, “with Nick Dougherty presenting and the commentators here and Wayne Riley walking the fairways and calling great shots from the fairway.”
The Sky Sports golf-production team traditionally embraces next-generation technology to help viewers better understand a golfer’s swing. This year’s innovations — Force Plates and Zen Eye — were launched a couple of weeks ago with the support of Audi. Force Plates measure the force a golfer uses to create their unique swing; Zen Eye illustrates putting by showing audiences the perfect pace and line for any type of putt with a display on the green. Though not deployed for the PLAYERS Championship coverage, both systems will be featured during the rest of the season both on-air and via social media.
“When we are in our studio, we can add in certain innovations,” says Wessely. “One of those innovations is Force Plates, which are measuring devices built into the floor and the hitting mat. They measure the weight transfer that you impart both down into the ground and up into the body when you make a golf swing. It’s a cutting-edge way of instructing players, and more and more pros are using it because it teaches you about the three different forces — vertical force, lateral force, and rotational force — within the golf swing.”
The challenge, as always, is taking that complex data and making it understandable and helpful for viewers.
“We’ve devised a clever graphic to simplify it for the viewer so they can see where the forces are,” he adds. “We hope to be able to get players onsite at Open Zone to record their data, and we will bring that back into the studio and maybe combine it with their volumetric Sky Scope videos to provide the whole picture of the player.”
Harrison has been Stateside since the Waste Management Open in Phoenix in February, kickstarting new facilities deals with EMG and T-Wiz and sorting out a new production philosophy that sees four levels of production. The PLAYERS is a level-two production; a major like the Masters or PGA Championship is a level-one. A level-three production has talent but no touchscreen, and level-four will have only an on-course reporter onsite, with everyone else in the UK at Sky’s production center.
“The new levels,” Wessely explained, “give us a chance to reinvest savings in new technology. We are looking at things like new ways to transport player images into the studio when we’re doing interviews against a green screen. Or it could be using Strike Meter on more PGA TOUR events and developing that with the PGA TOUR. Or it could be more player audio. The new levels give us opportunities for more innovation.”
The PLAYERS coverage begins a string of larger productions that make the 2023 season a busy one when it comes to big-time golf events.
“We’re working on the Masters production now,” Harrison said. “Things are going great as things are picking up and constantly moving.”
AddsedWessely, “It’s just keeping ahead of the game as it’s easy to get behind, especially when, at the end of September, we will have the Solheim Cup in Spain and the Ryder Cup in Italy in back-to-back weeks. That is always in the back of our mind.”