ESPN Readies New Stage for US Open

NEW YORK—Arthur Ashe Stadium has been the home of the US Open tennis tournament since 1997, but some new features present new challenges and opportunities for ESPN, which heads into its second year of broadcasting the event. ESPN’s Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming, and Jamie Reynolds, vice president of production, spoke recently with media during a conference call on these and other elements of the upcoming production.

Arthur Ashe Stadium

One of the major renovations for this year’s tournament is a roof that has been constructed on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Reynolds told the press that cameras are currently being installed and audio technicians have been testing what effect the roof has had, but the question remains how it will be when the stadium is full of 20,000 fans, which is something Reynolds simply described as “baited anticipation.”

Beyond the technical aspects, the roof could play a part in the program scheduling for ESPN, removing stretches where rain/inclement weather cancels all matches and having center court play available after a short delay. However, the timing it takes to close and open the roof could extend delays for shorter storms. It is something Guglielmino and Reynolds said they will test and figure out.

The roof isn’t the only thing new to the stadium for the production team to consider. A new grandstand has been added, which Reynolds said ESPN was part of the designing process. “If you look at their new house, you look at the National Tennis Center, what Danny Zausner, his group, the USTA have done, we’ve adopted a mindset that this is their party, this is their coming out, where it’s all about the venue this year,” said Reynolds. “So everything from our perspective, our capturing the event, both as host broadcaster and domestic carrier, is designed to feature that.”

To do so ESPN is bringing back a host of technologies that it used in its first year of covering the tournament. Features like SpiderCam and RailCam are returning; there will be a 70-foot crane in the southwest corner of the stadium; Steadicams will have a presence; and freeD 360 replay technology will also return, as ESPN is in its second year of a three year deal with the company.

Reynolds also talked briefly on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium that is being constructed for 2018, and how they are preparing for that. “We look at ourselves a little bit like general contractors in partnership with the USTA and the tennis center specifically to really figure out how we’re going to get fiber connectivity, can we build some recessed positions for cameras in advance, can we prewire for future protected camera positions at the venue… Coming in with what we think we ought to be prepared for three years, four years, five years from now, we don’t have to go in and retrofit the venue. Like the current grandstand, it will be a future-proof project.”

Outside of production, the question of how digital viewing could affect TV numbers was also raised, especially after the recent example of the Olympics. “Our view is and always has been that it is something that’s complementary to the overall audience,” explained Guglielmino. “I certainly don’t expect, especially coming off of the year we had last year—ratings up on television as well as digital—I don’t expect a scenario whereby the digital piece is going to harm TV numbers.” Dave Nagle, media contact for ESPN, also said that with digital viewing ESPN raised its number of younger viewers and total audience in 2015, with the total watch number four times as the year before.

The 2016 US Open tennis tournament will begin Aug. 29 and run through Sept. 11.