SVG Alert: Hurricane Irene Blows Trouble Broadcasters’ Way

With a crowded schedule of sports programming this weekend and one of the largest, most complex events on the sports calendar set to begin Monday, Hurricane Irene could not have hit at a worse time for CBS, ESPN, Fox, Turner Sports, and several other broadcasters.

“We could not have any more events happening at the exact wrong time,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of Operations, Engineering, and Production Services for CBS Sports. “We have a lot of events on the East Coast, but we have rolled with the punches and worked most around [the storm] in most cases.”

Among the events affected by Hurricane Irene: US Open tennis on CBS, ESPN, Tennis Channel, and others; The Barclays golf tournament on CBS; MLB baseball on TBS and Fox; and several NFL games on various networks.

The US Open
The USTA will lock down the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center from 5 p.m. ET Saturday until at least 5 p.m. on Sunday, severely limiting CBS, ESPN, and Tennis Channel’s production preparations.

“The biggest thing is that the timeline at the Tennis Center has been adjusted here dramatically on-site,” says Jamie Reynolds, VP, Event Production, ESPN. “This means you have [production] people trying to get as much done as possible before they have to leave the compound tomorrow, while operations people are trying to get as many moveable assets and infrastructure locked down and elevated to avoid any rain damage or flooding.”

On Sunday, crews will be sent to their respective hotels, and gear will be put away on the highest ground possible. Whether or not the Open will still begin Monday morning (along with Open telecasts) remains up in the air.

““From an equipment and camera point of view, we are going to have to take almost everything down and will reset it Sunday night or Monday morning,” says Aagaard. “You have $20 million worth of equipment out there, so you have to be careful. But I’m confident that, whenever they start playing tennis again, we will be ready.

It’s not just the US Open that the hurricane is disrupting however. Broadcasters have been forced to make some major changes to a slew of weekend sporting events.

CBS Sports
The PGA Tour has trimmed The Barclays, being held in Edison, NJ, to 54 holes to ensure that play concludes before the storm hits late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. In place of its planned Sunday coverage, CBS will air a preproduced highlights program from Saturday’s action and the 2010 Barclays.

“We will pull as much as we can down and get it packed away in the trucks on Saturday,” says Aagaard. “We will take a lot of our crew that was going to go to the Tennis Center for the US Open and put them in a hotel so everyone will be safe.”

Arthur Ashe Kids Day, a US Open-related event that CBS planned to air on Sunday afternoon, has been cancelled entirely. In its place, the network will air a preproduced program featuring previous Arthur Ashe Kids Days.

CBS Sports is also carrying the NFL’s Patriots at Lions on Saturday evening, but Aagaard predicts that few viewers on the East Coast will even have the opportunity to watch the game because local stations will preempt the game to cover the effects of Irene.

In an effort to avoid any potential Irene-related issues at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, all CBS Sports programming will be sent to CBS Television City in Los Angeles on Sunday for transmission to affiliates.

“[The Broadcast Center] is in a flood plain, so, if there is any surge from the Hudson [River], we could have a real problem. But the bottom line is, we have protected ourselves so that our sports programming will be backed up on the West Coast for Sunday.”

Turner Sports
Turner Sports was also forced to change its Sunday MLB on TBS 2 p.m. ET national game from the New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles to the Chicago Cubs at the Milwaukee Brewers. Turner Sports is using it own mobile-production unit for its Sunday-afternoon games, so it was able to simply reroute the trucks with minimal effect on the crew.

“Changes like this happen a couple of times a year. You have to be prepared as with any outdoor sport that is affected by weather,” says Tom Sahara, senior director, IT and Remote Operations, Turner Sports. “We go through a similar exercise if a baseball game or car race is rained out, except, with a hurricane, you have a couple of days rather than hours. There are always added costs when you change things at the last minute: airline fees, hotel rates, rental-car availability, notifying distribution partners, promotions and marketing, etc.”

Fox Sports
Fox was stripped of one of the prime games in its 4 p.m. ET Saturday MLB broadcast window, when the Braves-Mets game in New York was canceled as a result of Irene. Markets that had been assigned to Braves-Mets have been reassigned to one of Fox’s three remaining games: Detroit-Minnesota, Colorado-L.A. Dodgers or Pittsburgh-St. Louis. The MLB on Fox pregame shows will originate from Target Field in Minneapolis.

Once the Storm Clears
The broadcast compound at the Tennis Center is on the north side of Arthur Ashe Stadium, providing at least some cover for network trucks and equipment, according to Reynolds. However, the area is also primarily low-lying marshland, ground particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“I would think it’s going to be a real swamp [after the storm],” says Aagaard. “You’re going to have a lot of water that is going to have no place to go.”