ESPN Team Puts U.S. Open Front and Center; New Robotic Camera Impresses

More than 200 ESPN staffers at the U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD, are helping make sure the U.S. Open golf championship is front of mind for viewers of Sportscenter, ESPN, and ESPN’s DirecTV multicast. And this weekend, even though the network cannot offer live cut ins or live coverage of golf action the Sportscenter team is still in high gear.

Game Creek Video’s Larkspur unit is home for Sportscenter while ESPN’s interactive TV package resides in Game Creek Video’s Fox A, B, C, and D units.

“Having the production team for ESPN Sportscenter and Game Day operating out of Larkspur gives ITV the growth,” says Don Burkhart, ESPN technical manager. “And having Larkspur gives us self-contained logistics for set up and that overcomes a big hurdle of trying to set up [ITV] and Sportscenter in the same truck.”

The U.S. Open efforts are overseen Burkhart as well as Senior Operations Producers Bob Swider and Jay Gleeson and Terri Hermann, ESPN U.S. Open operations manager. Luther Fischer is technical manager for the ITV channels.

ESPN has 14 cameras that supplement NBC’s golf coverage and those cameras are also used for the needs of the other ESPN offerings like ITV product seen on ESPN3, DIRECTV, USGA.org, and more. There is also a set overlooking the 10th hole that is used by ESPN that features one piece of new technology: Aerial Camera System’s SMARThead remote head.  Among its features are a programmable shot box, reduced cabling need courtesy of requiring only a single fiber cable, and a unique control deck for controlling the camera.

“It can store an unlimited number of presets for zoom, pan, and focus and you can hit it 50 times and hit the mark every time,” says Burkhart. “It’s far superior to other systems and also has a lightweight head and is self contained, very robust, and very durable. Most robos need a heavy amount of TLC to keep them working.”

On top of that the operator at the U.S. Open is operating it from the broadcast compound that is more than 3,750 feet away from the camera.

This weekend NBC Sports took over broadcast coverage of the tournament so the focus at ESPN is on creating highlight packages using an Avid editing suite and taking advantage of Global Crossing fiber links to deliver packages back and forth between ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol.