Hyland Lines Up on the Front Bench for NBC’s Preakness Coverage

Rob Hyland has been producing horseracing for NBC for more than a decade, but, on Saturday, he will take a chair at the front bench of NEP’s ND3 mobile unit at Pimlico Race Course to produce his first-ever Preakness Stakes. Having produced the lead-in coverage on Versus (now NBC Sports Network) for all three legs of the Triple Crown last year, Hyland has succeeded Fred Gaudelli as lead producer and brings his own style of storytelling to NBC Sports Group’s Triple Crown coverage.

“My goal is to make sure the audience gets to know the horses, not just the humans associated with those horses,” he says, crediting Gaudelli and Executive Producer Sam Flood for laying the groundwork for NBC’s current coverage philosophy. “Horses have personalities and are obviously a huge part of the race. To me, we are no longer in the days of just focusing on the trainers, owners, and jockeys. I want to push our audience to get to know the horses as well.”

A Pimlico Fire Drill
In all, NBC and NBC Sports Network will deliver 5½ hours of live coverage from Pimlico in Baltimore throughout Friday and Saturday afternoon. Hyland and returning director Drew Esocoff will produce the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday and the Preakness on Saturday; producer Billy Mathews and director Doug Grabert will handle the NBC Sports Network show. Unlike at the Kentucky Derby, where the two networks had dedicated mobile units (ND3 and SS24), the two production teams are sharing a trio of A, B, and C trucks at Pimlico.

“We are all sharing ND3, so it is a little bit of a fire drill,” says Hyland. “On Saturday, Billy Matthews and Doug Grabert will do three live races on NBC Sports Network, Then, they’ll get off the air for a couple minutes before the turnover to NBC, and Drew and I will literally jump into their chairs. We will turn from the NBC Sports Network set to the NBC show’s set and then pick up and go. It’s more streamlined, and we think it will work well.”

The two networks will also share all 36 cameras on hand at Pimlico (versus 48 at Churchill Downs, which is a much larger venue), as well as the seven six-channel EVS replay servers in the truck. This camera complement includes two super-slo-mos, one ultra-slow-mo on the finish line, a robotic pan-tilt camera on the start gate, a jib near the infield, and a blimp cam flying overhead. Making its return is a nearly 100-ft.-high crane position in the middle of turn 2 that was added last year at the request of Esocoff, who believes in high angles to provide a better overall view of the race.

“The [high crane at turn 2] really gives you an unobstructed view of the horses on the backstretch as they head to the second turn,” says Hyland. “That is back this year, along with the aerial shot, which Drew will cut to live again, provided the blimp is up during the race.”

The Graphics Are Back
Gaudelli brought a graphics-minded approach to NBC’s Triple Crown coverage, and that effort will continue at the Preakness this weekend with a variety of data-driven graphic elements largely delivered by SMT (formerly SportsMedia Technology).

A real-time odds-and-payouts graphic will be on display throughout the lead-up to the race. Once the horses leap out of the gate, NBC will display a live leaderboard graphic with real-time horse-tracking, a thumbnail graphic in the corner of the frame illustrating where the horses are on the track, and virtually inserted “distance to the finish” indicators on the track surface as the horses approach the finish line.

“Graphics on horseracing are just so important, because, for a Triple Crown race, most of the people watching on NBC are not people that watch races every week,” says Hyland. “You want to make sure that information is displayed as user-friendly as possible. Everything has been designed and tweaked during this offseason to make sure we can improve upon what we did last year for the viewers at home.”

Leading Up to Post Time
NBC is sure to give plenty of attention to surprise Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another and odds-on-favorite Bodemeister in its lead-up to the 6:18 p.m. ET post time.

In addition, Hyland and company will use footage captured on Wednesday when I’ll Have Another’s exercise rider agreed to wear a miniature GoPro camera while he was out on the course, providing a “first-hand look at what it is like to ride a Kentucky Derby champion during the week of the Preakness,” says Hyland.

During NBC Sports Group’s Derby Coverage two weeks ago, NBC debuted a feature in which analysts Gary Stevens and Randy Moss walked the track to provide a play-by-play preview of what to expect during the race. This segment will return on Saturday (it was taped Thursday evening) except that both men will be on horseback this time, playing the parts of I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister.

“We’re going to do it again, and we’re hopefully going to do it even better,” says Hyland. “They will gallop around, taking us through how they see the race unfolding for each jockey and horse.”

Preakness Extra and All-Access
After seeing success with Kentucky Derby Extra two weeks ago, NBC will live-stream its broadcast of the Preakness at NBCSports.com. Preakness Extra will also feature an online-only iso feed of I’ll Have Another during the race, a video preview of the race via a virtual competition simulating Preakness conditions and track, and replays and highlights from the Kentucky Derby and earlier prep races.

NBC Sports Group will also implement its All-Access social-media strategy for the Preakness, in which a dedicated social-media producer will be on-site to deliver breaking news, photos, and video from Pimlico. Using the hashtag #PREAKNESS, Twitter reminders and live celebrity and horseracing-expert tweets will appear on-screen during the telecast. A Facebook poll tallying the nation’s votes to win the race will also appear on-air during the Preakness broadcast.

NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes begins with the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday at 4 p.m. ET and continues on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. with Preakness Stakes Saturday. NBC will take over coverage at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.