Inside the game: Open futures

Sandwich: The British Open is about two things: golf and the weather, with the island’s often capricious climate often forcing even the best players to play way outside their comfort zone as the winds rise and the rain gets interestingly horizontal. “What we do know about the weather here is that we’ll get a bit of everything over the course of the week. We prefer it sunny and breezy, but we’re prepared for it and we can take a little rain,” commented Bill Lacy, Senior VP Production at IMG Media on the Friday before the clouds opened. Good job too really…

IMG is contracted to provide the below the line services to ESPN and, as such, Lacy is in charge of what by any stretch of the imagination is a huge operation.

“We’re taking at least a hundred feeds from the BBC and they’re taking probably 70 from us, so there’s a huge interchange there complicated by the fact that their main production units don’t get here until the Monday following the Scottish Open, and we’ll have been here four or five days previous to that,” he says. “They’re a good group though and the spirit of cooperation with them is excellent. It’s a truly a community effort here. Broadcasters in general are very cooperative with each other. Even competitors, if you find yourself in the same location you normally help out other people when they have a problem.”

Luckily the problems, despite the weather, were few. ESPN’s presence at the Open really ramped up last year when it had the US broadcast rights to all four days of the tournament for the first time.

“Everybody always wonders why we have to have to so much equipment out here, but look at Turnberry two years ago,” says Lacy. “Watson and Westwood are battling it out on Sunday afternoon, and they’re both hitting at the same time. The BBC producer, looking after the world feed, is going to go live with Westwood and we wanted Watson. You need the ability, particularly over the last few holes, to make your own editorial decisions.

“There are cultural difference,” he adds. “The BBC coverage here, for instance, is much more relaxed: a) there are no commercial breaks and b) the actual coverage takes place at a more leisurely pace. Here the coverage will linger on a golfer lining up a putt for one or more minutes, where in the US we’d take two or three shots while that happens. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.”

There have been a few more toys to play with and integrate into the production this year too, such as the weather stations and six ProTracer units from ESPN’s Emerging Technologies division which were based on robotic broadcast quality cameras rather than the more typical consumer cameras. There is, however, an inevitable running list of things that need to get adjusted, changed and added, with a flycam currently at the top of the list for new additions.

“It’s kind of venue dependent,” says Lacy,who was, along with everyone else, hugely impressed by the unit that FOM employed at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago. “You want to get the maximum usage out of it, so you want to have at least several interesting things to photograph. It would have been good here, but we couldn’t get the economics to work. Lytham [next year’s venue] is a very interesting candidate as there’s a confluence of holes around the 18th and a wonderful shot up towards the clubhouse. Though we haven’t done our survey yet, we’d look to do that – probably as a point to point unit rather than a full skycam.”

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