Live From 147th Westminster Dog Show: Fox Sports Covers Every Angle With High-Flying Spidercam, Disguised Camera Positions
Hidden cameras prevent participating dogs from being distracted
A staple on Fox Sports’ calendar for seven years, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a breeding ground for impressive broadcast technologies. In the competition’s first year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, the broadcaster is adding even more enhancements to the 1080p HDR show, including a new Spidercam aerial system within Arthur Ashe Stadium. The operations team is also continuing to disguise camera positions, such as 360-degree robotics in covered bins during Best in Show and POVs hidden in the obstacles used for the Master’s Agility Championship.
“We’ve been able to come up with cameras and put them in different places that a lot of people wouldn’t think of,” says Francisco “Paco” Contreras, director, field operations, Fox Sports. “It has also been nice to be in this facility with a [pre-installed] infrastructure.”
Show-Floor Tech: Spidercam, 360-Degree Bins Headline Camera Complement
Producing the Westminster Dog Show means not getting too close to the canines and not being too far away. To strike that delicate balance, the Fox Sports operations team is rolling out an arsenal of cameras that not only put viewers at the right spots but also respect the space of competing dogs and owners. Up in the sky, a new Spidercam system outfitted with a Sony HDC-P31 is bringing an aerial vantage point to the animals on the show floor.
A familiar fixture at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the annual US Open tennis tournament, the Spidercam will be used for Dog Show for the first time. At Madison Square Garden, the show’s home for many years, the venue’s centerhung videoboard prevented use of this kind of cable-camera system. When the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the show to Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, NY, for the 2021 and 2022 versions, the temporary structure wasn’t high enough for the device to be installed. Because this Spidercam is new and could be a potential distraction to the dogs, a purple ribbon on the lower bowl is the imaginary line below which the camera can’t go.
“If you go too low,” Contreras explains, “the dogs will see that motion, stop, and won’t run the course. It has to be operated at a certain height, especially for larger and taller dogs like a Dobermann.”
For cameras on the course or show floor, Contreras and his team had to get creative in making them invisible. A handful of POVs are hidden on the side of the A-frame and teeter or are inserted through a hole in the tunnel, but the most interesting innovation is a pair of 360-degree Sony HDC-P31’s used during the Best in Show competition. Internally referred to as “Paco Cams” — Contreras, Best in Show Producer P.T. Navarro, and then-EVP, Content Integration & Presentation, George Greenberg came up with that — the rotatable cameras are at the dogs’ height to capture them strutting up and down and are stashed inside two covered bins.
“When we introduced the 360-degree cameras,” says Contreras, “we had a dog stop and look at it. At first, we thought it was going to be an issue, but the dogs have gotten used to them, and it’s a cool angle to see.”
During the 10th Anniversary of the Masters Agility Championship on Saturday, May 6, a 12-camera package was deployed in the venue: besides the Spidercam, four Sony HDC-4300’s (two handhelds, one on a jib, and one hard), four POVs, two super-slow-motion Sony HDC-5500’s, and a Sony HDC-P31 RF MōVI handheld. In addition, SMT supplied time and scoring for the event. For Tuesday’s Best in Show, more than 15 cameras will be in use for the main event, including four Sony HDC-4300’s (three hards and one jib), two super-slow-motion Sony HDC-5500’s, two RF Sony HDC-3500’s, Fox Sports’ customary Megalodon setup, and a RF MōVI handheld.
Live streaming of preliminary rounds on the Fox Sports app, FOXSports.com, and WestminsterKennelClub.org is handled by Tupelo Honey’s facility in Indianapolis.
Heading Into Ashe: Runway Robo, Studio Set Spotlight Dogs’ Jaunt to the Arena
A mixture of elegance and athleticism, both portions of the Westminster Dog Show deserve a buildup similar to other tentpole sports events. To create a high-profile setting and to capture the dogs’ preparation in behind-the-scenes areas, the operations team deployed multiple POV cameras and developed an elaborate studio set. The dogs walk by a NYC-inspired activation as they head down a purple carpet into the main arena.
“We have a robotic [camera] with a wide-angled fisheye lens in the tunnel,” says Contreras. “Everybody thought we were crazy when we did this [for the first time] three years ago. It has become a cool angle of the dogs running in and out of the arena.”
Prior to hitting the bright lights of the big stage, dogs and their owners are interviewed in an elegant studio set. In a set comprising golden-plated spotlights, purple walls with gold accents, and two white couches, veteran motorsports reporter Jamie Little serves as the main correspondent.
Three-Way Collaboration: Fox Sports, WKC, USTA for First Year in Queens
With any production, Fox Sports works closely with valuable partners. In this instance, the broadcaster has two: the Westminster Kennel Club and the United States Tennis Association. The former is in its seventh year working with Fox Sports and continues to allow increased coverage of the prestigious event.
“Throughout the years,” says Contreras, “[WKC has] really learned how the television aspect of this event works. They understand that it’s all about the dogs, so they let us do what needs to get done.”
He and his crew did their due diligence before arriving at the venue last week. Having surveyed the site in November, the crew had six months to prepare. Given that the USTA’s broadcast building opened in 2019 and received permanent fiber in 2020, Fox Sports is operating from a ready-to-go facility.
“At Lyndhurst,” notes Contreras, “we had a lot of temporary infrastructure and were out there for 20 days since we had to set everything up. Here, we arrived last Tuesday since there’s a lot less to worry about.”
Not only are broadcast needs met with the necessary connectivity, but the expansive campus of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has allowed a new event to be introduced: the Dock Diving Competition. In a space parallel to the entrance of Arthur Ashe Stadium, dogs of different sizes and weight classes leap into a large tank of water in an event similar to the long-jump event at the Summer Olympics. Taking place on Saturday, May 6, the event deployed a hard camera and a handheld, the former operated by Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Don Cornelli.
The compound next to the broadcast building houses four main trucks: the A, B, and C units of Game Creek Video Encore truck and a CP Communications mobile unit, which handles all RF needs. Remote graphics and EVS replay are inserted into the show at Fox Sports’ Vault facility in Los Angeles. Two production pairings occupy the front bench: VP, Production, Zac Kenworthy and Director Rich Dewey for the Masters Agility Championship on Saturday night; Director Bryan Lilly and Navarro for Best in Show on Tuesday night.
Super Bowl of Dog Shows: A Passion for Coverage
When Fox Sports was awarded media rights to the Westminster Dog Show, SVP, Field and Technical Operations, Mike Davies assembled an operations team for the first production, in 2017; Contreras was one of its leaders. Now, with a dedicated crew featuring Technical Producers Tom Lynch and Taihe Miller, Remote Studio Operations Manager Anil Leatherwala, Fiber Technician Brian Obert, and Operations Managers Judy Acone, Jennifer Freund, and Pam Chvotkin, his passion for the event has made covering it a fun time on the broadcaster’s busy sports calendar.
“After Super Bowl XLVIII in New York, [Davies] told me that I was going to start doing the Dog Show,” says Contreras. “I had no clue what the Dog Show was. I didn’t realize it that I was going to fall in love with it seven years later.”
Coverage of the 2023 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show concludes with the crowning of Best in Show Tuesday, May 9 from 7:30–11:00 p.m. ET on FS1. CLICK HERE for SVG’s story on The Westminster Kennel Club’s operations at the 147th Westminster Dog Show.