Inside SailGP Part 2: The view of New York from London

Left to right: Director’s assistant Liza Rowlandi, executive producer Chris Carpenter, vision mixer Tim Cook and director Lyle Fielmich.

The New York leg of the SailGP season gave New Zealand’s Black Foils a chance to extend their lead in the sailing championship, while the London-based production team showcased new technology, including 5G-enabled on-board cameras.

When SVG Europe visited the Ealing Broadcast Centre in London during the Friday practice for the New York SailGP event (Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 June), CBS host, analyst and former American football player Nate Burleson was midway through a ‘Sixth Sailor’ experience on the US team catamaran.

As well as providing a chance for celebrities and influencers to experience the thrills of high-speed racing (and generate some shareable content, with additional angles from chase boats and helicopters provided by SailGP), the Friday practice also gave the production crew valuable time to rehearse camera angles and smooth out any technical issues.

“When you’re racing somewhere like Manhattan, it’s really important that we’re getting the amazing backdrops and iconic images like the Statue of Liberty into our coverage, as well as the crowds on Governors Island,” says executive producer Chris Carpenter.

Chris Carpenter, SailGP, at Ealing Broadcast Centre (Photo: Andrew Baker for SailGP)

“In some respects, when you are in a place like New York, it doesn’t matter where you point the cameras because it all looks iconic, but the challenging thing about sailing is that we can practice today and then the wind might have changed by 190-degrees tomorrow, so the racecourse could be completely different and therefore how we cover the races might be completely different.

“So, it makes it complicated for us, because even though we might be happy on rehearsal day, it’s not always going to be the same when we come to racing. Today is really all about getting our ducks in line and flushing out technical issues which can crop up given we don’t have a single wired camera in the entire production and around 47 video sources.

“There are never two days the same with SailGP, with never ending curveballs, whether it’s wind, thunderstorms, connection issues, whales, dolphins…you name it, we get it!

“And this season – season four – has been the most challenging so far with new venues, increasingly unpredictable weather, the introduction of quite a few new technologies plus a full mid-season broadcast refresh. We’ve had a busy year. ”

US traction

Last weekend was SailGP’s first return to the Big Apple in five years, with the New York event the 12th stop on a 13-event global sail racing championship in which teams compete on identical flying catamarans at speeds of over 60mph. In New York, New Zealand’s Black Foils triumphed in front of 8,000 spectators in the purpose-built Race Stadium on Governors Island.

Those not in New York were able to watch the live racing via SailGP’s own app, Facebook page and YouTube channel, while viewers in Europe can also watch live coverage or highlights via deals with a host of broadcasters including ITV in the UK, Canal+ in France, Servus in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and Ziggo in the Netherlands. In the US, CBS Sports aired coverage of the weekend’s races, having doubled its network coverage of SailGP in 2024 compared to last season.

Read more Inside SailGP Part One: What it takes to cover racing action sea and sky

“We’ve got four rounds in North America now, so we’re starting to generate a lot of traction in terms of people watching in the US,” explains Carpenter.

The SailGP calendar also includes events in Chicago, Los Angeles, Saint Tropez, Dubai, Sydney – plus the final race in the calendar in San Francisco in July – but wherever in the world the 10 teams are racing, live coverage is produced by the SailGP production team at Timeline’s Ealing Broadcast Centre in west London.

The in-house SailGP production team of around 100 people takes over much of the Ealing Broadcast Centre during a race weekend, using all of floor one – including the production main gallery – plus LiveLine’s new dedicated graphics and data space and additional galleries for LivelineFX augmented reality graphics and the remote umpire team, sometimes remote coaches and other integrated projects.

Around 13 edit suites receive the programme feeds, creating highlights packages and prebuilt features. These include a US-focused, 90-minute duration, overnight delivery for CBS (which given the New York location is a lengthier cut compared to the usual 44-minute show) plus a 47-minute show for ITV4 and an international highlights package. In addition, there’s a 47-minute French-language show specifically for Canal+ and a Spanish-language show for RTVE.

Dedicated digital platforms also takes some of the highlights plus the digital team its own edit team to create bespoke content for online and social media.

By sea and air: A helicopter-mounted Shotover camera and a Cineflex camera towards the stern of on one of the chase boats.

All of this is supported by five EVS machines with four ops and a VT coord taking in some 47 feeds, including two helicopters (one pictured above), three chase boats, three onboards per catamaran and three onshore RF cameras. Another EVS is used by analysis producer Zoe Pike, who creates technical breakdowns at the end of each race.

Also based in Ealing is the commentary team of Todd Harris from the US, former Olympic sailor Stevie Morrison as a colour commentator, and Emily Nagel who specialise in the numbers and data to provide stats and analysis. “They have an EVS and telestrator system, and Emily works with the telestrator (through LiveLine with RT Software) to create analysis pieces and she works with our 2D graphics operators to make sense of the data in order to break down races,” says Carpenter.

That means there is only a “minimal” production crew on site, including camera operators, the race management team which Carpenter keeps in close contact with, plus a crew supporting the LiveLine graphics team and 20 people from remote production partner Riedel which has partnered with SailGP since season 2 and handles all the RF, comms and onshore coaching tools. “[Riedel is] a big part of SailGP as with any remote production, the technical team onsite are paramount to success” says Carpenter.

SailGP broadcast staff working remotely from the Ealing Broadcast Centre earlier this season (Photo: Andrew Baker for SailGP)

Like all sports, SailGP is keen to get viewers closer to the action. As part of these efforts, it recently launched Team Talk, which takes the audio from mics worn by sailors and converts the speech into text via system from LiveLine before it is shared on screen with viewers.

Overseeing it is producer Kyle Stoneham. He says: “If I see anything interesting during the racing that’s relevant to the racing, I can export it and make it available to Chris.” It’s then presented on screen with a small graphic of the name of the sailor and team, plus the audio, akin to F1. It also automatically translates into French and Spanish for their live feeds and highlight shows.

“One of the major differences between us and F1 Is that all the data is open to all the teams so everybody can analyse everybody’s data. So, data wise, everybody can get back on shore and look at everybody else’s data and learn from it,” says Carpenter.

Stoneham, like Carpenter and many other members of the production team, is a sailor, and so understands the nuances of the conversations. Says Carpenter: “It means Kyle can editorialise his own work and if speed is of the essence and its relevant to something happening right now, he can put it straight to air.”

SailGP is a purpose-driven league with sustainability at its core, and with this in mind there has been a huge change in how the support teams operate. Traditionally they would have all been on the water on a chase boat, but now they are all based at RaceHQ – an F1 pitwall style set-up where coaches can view multiple live video feeds which can be paused, rewound and played back.

Plus, they have access to the huge amount of data that comes from the F50 boats, all of which is powered by the Oracle Cloud. This new setup also has editorial benefits to the TV production as there are also four fixed cameras and a roaming RF camera stationed within RaceHQ with the ability for the remote commentary team to interview the coaching team.

5G footage

New for the SailGP New York event is Foil Cam. Located underneath all 10 boats to show a new angle of the foils – which allow the boats to move at an increased speed through the water – the live footage from each camera is transferred via a T-Mobile private 5G network.

“All 10 of those angles are coming in via 5G and I have a little vision switcher to operate, because we only actually receive one at full bandwidth at any one time over the Tata fibre connection so I’m switching which one we could cut to live.”

Another relatively new element is an onboard tracking graphic which can follow the sailors as they move across the boat. It was used for the first time in Halifax, Canada (the race prior to New York) and uses AI to tag the image of a sailor with their name as they move across the boat.

SailGP director of LiveLine Tom Peel explains: “We were we were originally aiming for this event but with our mantra of ‘why wait?’, we rolled it out in Halifax.”

Peel is speaking from SailGP’s second gallery where the LiveLineFX graphics team is based. With the graphics so essential to making the sport accessible to viewers without a technical understanding the sport, it’s a busy room full of operators involved in tasks like chroma keying each of the two helicopters and receiving the masses of data from the boats which is then used for graphics, fed to the app and for the umpires.

Tom Peel, director of LiveLine, at Ealing Broadcast Centre (Photo: Andrew Baker for SailGP)

Back in April, SailGP refreshed its graphics, with the aim of giving viewers more information in a simplified manner. It relies on SailGP’s inhouse proprietary technology, as well as RT Software’s Swift 3D. Peel says: “We use [RT Software’s] engine for all of our graphics outputs, and we have built our own plugins which allows us to get our specific effects and manage our data.”

Speaking about the onboard tracking shot, he adds: “We use AI to recognise who is who on each boat, because you can’t see their face. We also have a human QA, because your computer is only so clever, and then we can fix and polish it.”

“At the moment the main thing is just name straps, but the plan over the summer is to add things like wing (the main wind powered engine for the boat) comparisons and compare how much one boat is moving their wing compared to another boat.

“We’ve been really pleased with it; we’ve been making more improvements to it and there’s going to be more to come on that next season. It’s not just about people tracking, it’s also overlaying information in the form of a head up display, but in a functional way to compare differences between boats, rather than just lumping all the data on so we’re really trying to make it more of a comparison tool…sailing without these graphics could just be a blank canvas of blue grey. TV is a visual medium, and LiveLine makes it a very visual viewing experience.”

This is part 2 of SVG’s in-depth coverage of of NY SailGP. CLICK HERE for Part 1 covering the on-site production in NYC. 

The final race of SailGP season four takes place in San Francisco July 13-14

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters