NBC, Belmont Reunite for Triple Crown’s Closing Act

After a five-year hiatus, NBC has returned to Belmont Park and, in doing so, brought horseracing’s Triple Crown back to the Peacock. NBC Sports Group will produce 6½ hours of Belmont Stakes coverage over two days on NBC and Versus. The Triple Crown’s return to NBC also brings director Drew Esocoff back to Elmont, NY, after a 10-year hiatus. Sunday Night Football director and producing partner Fred Gaudelli have revamped NBC’s coverage in their first year working the horseracing trilogy.

“Aside from the big-event feel, there are really no similarities between [SNF] and horseracing,” says Esocoff. “Here, you have hours of programming leading up to a two-minute event, rather than a three-hour football game with a few minutes on the front- and back-end, where the event carries the show. Here, it’s all about choreographing and drawing up a plan that will keep the audience interested for a two-hour window with just a two-minute payoff.”

Belmont Gets Preakness Treatment
Esocoff will direct the NBC show from Belmont on Saturday evening; Versus’s 4½ hours of coverage on Friday and Saturday will be directed by Doug Grabert and produced by Rob Hyland. NBCSports.com will stream the Belmont Stakes live, giving viewers the option of watching an iso-camera shot of Kentucky Derby Winner Animal Kingdom.

NBC will roll out 34 cameras (about the same as for the Preakness), and NEP’s ND3 truck (NBC’s Sunday Night Football mobile unit) will be on hand to run the show. Among the network’s arsenal of cameras will be an X-Mo on the finish line, a grandstand-side super-slow-motion camera 50 yards past the finish line, and an additional super-slo-mo located on turn one to capture the action out of the gate.

“The camera complement gets reduced a bit at the Preakness and then, depending on what’s at stake at the Belmont, those resources will mirror either the Derby or the Preakness,” says Esocoff. “Because this is not a [potential Triple Crown-winning race], it mirrors the Preakness.”

Avoid Obstructions
In terms of camera positions, Esocoff preaches clear angles that avoid potential obstructions at any point on the track.

“You can really get burned in this sport getting blocked by hedges or camera stands or hospitality tents,” says Esocoff. “The infield obstructions vary at each track. So we try to position cameras where the race view is going to be unobstructed the entire way around. It’s easy here at Belmont because they keep the infield pristine with no hospitality areas in there.”

In an effort to avoid potential obstructions, NBC Sports Group has focused on a variety of high, wide shots, including a crane camera outside the final turn that was integral in covering the backstretch at the Derby and Preakness.

“The idea is to cover the race as cleanly as possible with as few camera cuts as possible,” says Esocoff. “For a long time, horseracing coverage had been a wide pan camera on basically the whole field and then a tighter camera on the battle for the top three or four positions. But, with the advent of HD, you can use that wide pan camera to clearly see the whole race unfold right before you.”

In addition, Esocoff has deployed the blimp camera for live race coverage at times, a practice rarely used for racing coverage in the past.

“I have used [the blimp], and I may use it here,” he says. “But you can’t count on the blimp going into the show, because any weather problems grounds it immediately. We’ve had the blimp positioned on the grandstand side so that the cut to the blimp works out fine if you want to use it live. Obviously, it’s one of the first shots we go to for replay.”

SMT Graphics Back for Another Go-Round
Also returning for its third time out will be a bunch of data-driven graphics elements from SportsMedia Technology (SMT), including an on-air display of real-time odds and payouts; a Live Leaderboard showing the running order of the top six horses; a Track Map virtual thumbnail graphic in the corner of the screen showing the horses’ location on the track; virtual distance-to-the-finish indicators on the track surface down the backstretch; and an iso Tracking System that tracks each horse individually.

It makes the horse race easier for the casual fan to follow. People who are around the sport every day can pick out the horses and really understand the sport. But anything that can help the casual fan understand the sport more easily is a benefit to the viewer. The graphic presentation allows all viewers to absorb what they are seeing on the screen.

A Blue-Collar Track
With just two minutes of live action during a sprawling two-hour telecast, the personality of Belmont Park and nearby Manhattan figures heavily into the telecast. Esocoff plans to use a variety of scenics from the Manhattan skyline and Belmont Park for bumpers in and out of commercials.

“Belmont has a more working-man’s kind of feel to it. The main grandstand area is wide open. It’s a great family day out; there are playgrounds and picnic areas. We’ll try to show how it is a track geared more towards everyday people. But we’ll also sprinkle in scenics from Manhattan.”