Fox Sports’ Mark Loomis Thinks Big for U.S. Open

With 375 technicians, 202 mics, and 99 cameras, sophomore production is as massive as the first

Fox Sports and its team (and related vendors) are hard at work putting the finishing technical touches into place in advance of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship, to be played at the Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh. More than 375 technicians are onsite, and, like last year, when Fox Sports rolled out its first-ever production of the U.S. Open, the production efforts are impressive, with more than 202 microphones and 99 cameras (with 156 channels of simultaneous recording on EVS servers) ensuring that year two will be every bit as big as year one.

“Chambers Bay was such an unknown that we came prepared for everything,” says Mark Loomis, coordinating producer, USGA studio and event production, Fox Sports. “And now we know what’s coming, so it’s a much easier thing to plan.”

The unknown aspect of last year’s Open was not only the course (it was the first time the event was hosted at Chambers Bay, outside of Tacoma, WA) but also how the technologies would impact storytelling.

“At Oakmont, we have a really good feel for how the course will play and what we need to show it off,” Loomis explains. “And, this year, we know how we will use the green shading to highlight the greens, and the Protracers will pick out all the bunkers.”

Oakmont Country Club will host this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

Oakmont Country Club will host this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament.

One of last year’s innovations, placing microphones in the golf cup on the green, will be back, and Fox Sports lead announcer Joe Buck thinks it will be better, with all 18 holes having microphones. “Our group did a hell of a job letting the natural sound transfer to the TV audience with cup mics,” he says. “And they will be markedly better in 2016. I can’t wait to get [to the Open] this year.”

Continuing the momentum of an emerging sports-broadcast technology, Fox will once again make full use of aerial drones. Early-morning course flyovers and scenic shots illustrate the sprawling beauty of the Oakmont property, and high and low mapping reveals changes in daily hole locations and the challenges facing the players. New in this year’s drone arsenal is the capability to overlay graphics on-screen, an element previously available only for animated re-creations.

And making a big-time return will be a revamped graphical overlay to help viewers at home see the contours of the greens. Given that Oakmont is home to one of the most difficult putting surfaces in golf, the greens present challenges from start to finish. Patented advanced green-shading graphics enable overlays that show changes in slope on-screen, using both dot and grid systems to illustrate the unique undulations and topography.

“The green technology tells a good story with the shading,” says Loomis, “so we are just taking what we did last year and being better at it.”

Another area of improvement will be the use of Protracer, which will be on 13 tee boxes (in addition to holes 4 and 12, which will be fitted with Trackman radar/data to collect club speed, ball speed, launch angle, spin rate, and yardage-carry figures accompanying the ball tracer).

“To me, you can’t overuse the Protracer,” says Loomis. “You want to show every shot using the Protracer when it’s available. It’s like the First and 10 in football in that it gives instant feedback and is invaluable.”

Additionally, holes 2, 9, and 17 feature Virtual Eye tracers, picture-in-picture graphics showing the aerial flight path of the ball in relation to the hole geography. Holes 13, 15, and 17 also have cameras built into the teeing ground for unique low-angle views of the players. New to this year’s coverage is the addition of three radio-frequency mobile rangefinders available to provide precise yardages and tracers for approach shots into the greens.

All those elements will combine to give plenty of data and insight into shots, providing plenty of new things for Buck and lead analyst Paul Azinger to talk about.

“There are a lot of moving parts in golf. You can make the mistake in thinking that it will be slow, but it is actually the opposite, and you don’t realize that until you sit in the chair,” says Buck. “Where I will grow the most is taking a step back and inject more of what is going on in the [player’s] head.”