The Women’s World Cup isn’t the only big-ticket event driving FOX Sports this week. Thursday sees the company tee off on the 119th U.S. Open Championship from Pebble Beach across FOX, FS1, FOX Deportes, FOXSports.com and the FOX Sports App brought to audiences courtesy of 455 technicians and 72 support staff, with 121 total cameras slated to deliver the action.
Cynopsis Sports asked Mark Loomis, FOX Sports’ Executive Producer for USGA studio and event production, about the company’s evolving approach to the staple event, the challenges the company faces in producing the action, and the iconic setting of Pebble Beach.
Loomis on Pebble Beach: If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s one of the most beautiful places you can imagine. I think the elevation changes and drops from the golf course down to the Pacific Ocean are the most unique part about it. The contrast between the water, cliffs and golf course is beautiful to see in person, but also translates incredibly well to television. Then you add the fact that people are familiar with it, either from playing it or seeing it on TV, but also because of the great history of U.S. Open Champions there like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. It’s really a perfect combination of setting, golf course and history that make it such a special place to play the U.S. Open.
On challenges: I think we need to do our best to show off that setting in ways people might not have seen before. When we went to Erin Hills a couple of years ago very few people had ever seen that course, so finding ways to highlight the setting was pretty easy. Pebble Beach has been on TV so many times, our challenge is to find ways to dig a little deeper. You can do that with new camera angles like the drone we’ve put out in Stillwater Cove to see the course from that angle, and we have features that highlight the area and its history. It’s not hard to make Pebble Beach look good, but it’s not easy to find new ways to show it off since it is so recognizable to so many people.
On producing golf: There aren’t many sports besides golf that you don’t see every play, or in golf’s case every shot. In most sports, the playing field is right in front of you, you show every play and then you supplement those plays with replays, graphics and other production tools. In golf, your most important job is to show shots that are happening all over the course at the same time. Every time you stop to show production elements, you’re potentially sacrificing the action. On the other hand, if you just go shot to shot and don’t give the viewer any context, you’re not doing your job either. We’re lucky to have a limited number of commercials at the U.S. Open – and on Sunday when the leaders play the last few holes we have uninterrupted coverage. The other challenge is just the sheer size of the playing field. It’s like covering 18 different football fields. We’ve had people out there for weeks setting up TV towers, fiber and other equipment. Those people don’t always get a lot of credit, but without their knowledge and hard work there would be no golf to show.
On new production elements: From the beginning of our coverage five years ago, we’ve had a lot of success with tracing the golf ball in a couple of different ways. We’ll expand on that this year with a couple of new angles, including putting, and by adding tracer technology to the driving range. We’ll have a digital channel devoted to players on the range, which I think will be an interesting way to go in-depth on the players and their technique early in the week and as they prepare for their rounds. We’re also going to see if we can take the pylon cameras that have been used on football and use them on a golf course. We’ll use penalty area stakes in a couple of places we think people are most likely to hit their ball into and still have the ability to play out of.
On lessons learned: I think you just have to make sure that golf fans are getting what they want most. Good coverage of golf shots, insightful commentary, information about the challenges of the course and why a player is doing well or poorly. I mentioned the tracers before and I think it’s a great example of what we can do to bring the golf course to life. That technology makes viewers feel like they’re on the tee or fairway watching the ball take flight. It doesn’t get in the way, but it is something we really focused on from the beginning of our coverage in 2015. I think it probably caught people a little off guard initially because we used it more than anyone one had before. The shots were a little wider to see the trace, and it wasn’t a traditional way to watch golf. Eventually, viewers got used to it and realized the value in the different perspective. People tell me all of the time now that we can’t do it enough, and you’ve seen that duplicated in other golf telecasts. In a lot of ways, our coverage at FOX mirrors that. Over the last few years people have come to appreciate the fact that we aren’t afraid to try something new. They realize that we’re not just doing things because we can, but to make the viewing experience better.