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Golf Coverage on a Truly Massive Scale

2013 British Open Champion Phil Mickelson makes his final putt on the 18th green to win the tournament.NEW YORK—Since the 1980s, IMG Productions has been providing facilities for major golf events such as the Masters, the PGA Championship, and the British Open Golf Championship.

When the company started covering the sport, it directly produced golf coverage that was seen on all the major networks, according to Bill Lacy, senior vice president of production for IMG.

“However, as the golfing associations sold their rights to various broadcasters, we found ourselves playing more of a behind-the-scenes role,” Lacy said. “That’s where you’ll find us today; providing the technical, mechanical, and staff support functions at some of the world’s largest golf tournaments.”

When it comes to scale, IMG Productions’ behind-the-scenes broadcast support of the annual British Open is truly massive. Working in partnership with the U.K.’s CTV Outside Broadcast, IMG assembles and operates a huge facility that includes a compound of 32 office trailers (known as “cabins”), a combined operations, production, and technical crew of nearly 400, and a three-tiered production control room that has to be assembled on site; this year it will be at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

“The British Open’s production demands simply exceeded the capacity of the available OB trailers in England,” said Lacy. “So it only made sense for us and CTVOB to build a control center on site to do the job.”

ESPN is the client served by the IMG Productions/CTVOB partnership at the British Open. (CTVOB also provides equipment to the BBC and Japan’s TV Asahi.) To do the job right, the partners put together a production infrastructure that covers the whole course, plus all the necessary facilities for ESPN’s color commentary, onsite production, and signal transport back to America.

“ESPN’s Open facilities are one of the most technologically challenging OBs we look after throughout the year,” said Hamish Greig technical director for CTVOB. “We look after five production streams, namely ESPN’s main coverage, ESPN’s SportsCenter, and three ESPN interactive TV channels.”

ESPN’s master control room To meet these needs, CTVOB and IMG Productions collectively provide and support the production cabins, three production vehicles, six support vehicles, flypacks and the production control facility.

According to Lacy, the two main studios, ESPN and SportsCenter, are approximately 26 x 24 feet each and occupy a two-story unit with separate power, sets and cameras, normally located at or near the 18th hole. There are also announce booths located at the 16th and 17th greens, and a studio on the practice range. The control room structure is about 55 x 60 feet and contains three separate sections: a main control room (with operating positions for 20 people), iso replay control room and EVS highlight room.

ESPN’s equipment roster for the British Open, July 17–20, includes a staggering 52 cameras, the bulk of which are Sony HDC- 1500s used for studio and field deployments. Also part of the package: one Strada Crane, one 200-foot hoist, two X-MOs, one NAC high-speed camera, six shot trackers, one airplane-mounted camera, two robotics and six RF handhelds, according to Lacy.

IMG/CTVOB is providing ESPN with six Sony HDCAM VTRs, three GVG Kalypso video switchers, five Calrec 5.1 audio consoles, four Avid editing systems with 16 TB storage, three Matrox CGs, four Viz graphics systems, Wind and “Eagle Eye” graphics systems to overlay the live airplane video feedback, a Bosch Telex talkback system, and three studios with full sets, lighting systems and dimmable windows.

ESPN’s main studio and SportsCenter studio are about 624 square feet each and occupy a two-story unit with separate power, sets, and cameras, normally located at or near the 18th hole. “We have 16 EVSs and 17 IPDirectors with the four Avids, all networked as part of the tapeless workflow,” said Greig. “All camera, graphics and HD-SDI signals are centrally distributed so they are available to any production anywhere.” Signals from the Royal Liverpool OB site will be carried via four fiber video circuits to ESPN’s facility in Bristol.

Lacy admits to missing directly producing major golfing events such as the British Open. “Given our history, it’s been difficult to accept that the industry has changed and direct production opportunities have evaporated,” he said. “We have coped with change by building quite a successful business supporting today’s rights-holding networks.”

One thing that has not changed is the unpredictable British weather.

“You can count on it being rainy, windy or both sometime during the Open,” said Lacy. “It’s not unusual to see the golfers hiding under wind-battered umbrellas and only coming out into the open to hit their shots. Sometimes, the wind’s been so strong that it has blown a few of our equipment towers over!”

“Weather is always a challenge,” Greig agreed. “Sometimes it’s too hot and our air conditioners are working full-out to prevent our equipment and people from overheating. Other times, it’s too cold and wet and windy, and we’re fighting constantly to keep our cameras, lenses and cables dry and serviceable.”

Weather notwithstanding, IMG Productions and CTVOB will be helping ESPN cover the Open in all its complexity this year, as in years past. “We do love covering golf, even from behind-the-scenes,” said Lacy. “Although most of the viewers do not know the vital role we play, our people do, and they’re proud of it.”

James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.