Live From The Open Championship: NBC Sports Gets Back in Major Swing

Tackling one of the sport’s most historic and traditional events with a fresh look

The 145th Open Championship this week begins a new 13-year run for NBC Sports and Golf Channel as the U.S. broadcaster of the event, and the golf-production team tackles one of the sport’s most historic and traditional events with an eye toward new insights into the event. Getting to this week was not easy: the production team, like Sky Sports and host broadcaster ETP, faced a compressed preparation schedule. But existing relationships with Sky Sports, ETP, CTV OB, and IMG enabled the NBC Sports team, numbering nearly 200 people, to get up and running more easily than if operations were being built from scratch.

(l-to-r) Keith Kice, Ken Goss, and Ron Soucy of NBC Sports are happy with year one of the network's coverage of the Open Championship.

(l-to-r) Keith Kice, Ken Goss, and Ron Soucy of NBC Sports are happy with year one of the network’s coverage of the Open Championship.

“We have a great relationship with CTV and ETP from [working together on] the Ryder Cups,” says Ryan Soucy, senior director, golf operations, NBC Sports. “It’s worked out very well, and our relationships are stronger than they’ve ever been.”

Adds Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports, “Doing this and the Ryder Cup and getting ready for the Rio Olympics means we have great relationships with ETP, CTV, and Sky as well as with Bill Lacy, [senior VP, production,] at IMG. It’s a really good partnership: we counted on them, and they came through. IMG, Ryan, and his team walked through the paces of how we do golf and did an outstanding job to get things the way [producer] Tommy Roy and [co-producer] Tommy Randolph like to produce golf.”

At the core of NBC Sports’ production are nearly 90 cameras. NBC Sports has deployed more than 40 of its own on the course and also has access to nearly 45 cameras in the world feed.

“We aren’t sharing tallies or anything like that,” says Keith Kice, technical manager, NBC Sports. “The guys know their assignments.”

The 90 cameras and related audio signals are delivered to NBC’s broadcast center, housed in the same type of structure built by Taller Structures for NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2014 Ryder Cup, also held in Scotland.

“This is the third time we used this kind of structure. We used it at the Ryder Cup and in Korea [last year for the Presidents Cup],” says Soucy. “They did a great job retrofitting it, and we really like being able to walk into a control room.”

Working in a large cabin gives the NBC Sports production team plenty of space for a large monitor wall.

Working in a large cabin gives the NBC Sports production team plenty of space for a large monitor wall.

The larger space provided by the cabin allows for a larger monitor wall than can be used in a production truck. Next door to the expanded production gallery is a replay area with 12 EVS XT3 servers that are all capable of eight channels of recording, giving the team the ability to record and play back up to 96 channels. The third room in the cabin is the main audio-mix area.

“Graphics, video, and submix are in CTV OB9, with morning coverage out of OB7,” says Kice. “We have editing in cabins, along with graphics, Pinpoint, and Hawk-Eye.”

Links Trax (using Hawk-Eye technology) is making its golf debut, allowing the team on the front bench to show how far the ball rolls after landing on holes 6 and 15. Although the conditions are a bit too wet (currently) to allow the ball to roll for dozens of yards after landing, many players rely on bump-and-run play given the nature of links golf courses.

“Using Hawk-Eye for golf was an idea of Tommy Roy’s,” says Goss, “and we’re happy with it.”

Immediately after the Open, about a quarter of the NBC Sports golf-production team (and some of the ETP team) will start getting ready to handle golf coverage at the Olympics in Rio. And, only a few weeks after that event, NBC Sports will be able to return ETP’s hospitality in Scotland: NBC is in charge of designing the compound for the Ryder Cup, set to be played in Chaska, MN, at the end of September.

“We have a strong relationship,” says Soucy,“and it continues to get stronger.”

That sentiment goes for the new relationship with the R&A as well. It is already clear to viewers across the U.S. (and around the globe) that new broadcast technology is perfectly acceptable for one of the world’s most traditional events.

“The R&A wants to show off their tournament and make it more state-of-the-art,” says Kice.

Adds Goss, “Virtual technologies are becoming a big part of golf coverage, and things like the Pro Tracer make it a better product.”