Behind The Scenes

For ESPN, days of ‘rented clubs’ at Open Championship have passed

Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club (Photo courtesy of R&A)

One day back in the late 1990s, ESPN’s Mike Tirico was quoted as saying that the way ABC had to televise the Open Championship was like playing a major golf championship with rented clubs.

Tirico, who this year is host of the event television coverage for the 16th summer, was referring to the practice employed at the time of relying on the BBC and world television feed for video, sound and pretty much everything else that American viewers saw from golf’s oldest major.

Those days are long gone.

Starting Thursday (4:30 a.m. ET), ESPN will televise all four days of the 152nd renewal of The Open Championship from Royal Lytham & St Annes in Lancashire, England, fully in control of its own production. As Mike McQuade, ESPN vice president, remote production, said, “we took ownership of the event.”

McQuade started the process several years ago of gradually weaning ESPN’s reliance on the BBC when televising The Open Championship, including the introduction of high definition in 2010. ESPN now has control of 85 percent of the cameras involved in the production, including where to place them and how and when to use them.

Venue for the Open Championship (Photo courtesy of R&A)

“Each year we go back and do The Open Championship, we go back with more and more experience,” McQuade said.

“It’s a partnership with the R&A and the BBC, and every year we become more independent and less reliant on the BBC’s coverage, and that’s a good thing. The BBC has been helpful in us achieving that.”

McQuade said golf is televised differently in the U.K. and Europe, with a slower, more deliberate pace, and less personality.

“We wanted to present the event to an American audience in a way in which our viewers are used to seeing golf covered,” McQuade said.

“With the added cameras, you actually get to see the player,” he said. “You get to see their faces, their expressions. You’re seeing them much closer than you’ve ever seen them before.”

The ESPN crew has some long days at the event, with 10 or more hours live on the air each day plus morning prep, editing encore presentations and feeding material back to the U.S. for SportsCenter.

“It’s hard to compare all of us having to be on and on our game for that long a period of time, especially on Thursday and Friday when your audience is coming and going during the course of the day,” McQuade said.

“They may only get to see two hours at a time, and you have to be at your best.

“We believe that we have the best group assembled to broadcast this event, and we’re looking forward to getting it done.”

PROGRAMMING NOTE: With ESPN moving up the airtime for its live coverage of The Open Championship to 4:30 a.m. ET on Thursday and Friday so that viewers can see the full rounds of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, SportsCenter will lead into the coverage on both days with a half-hour live edition at 4 a.m. with previews from Royal Lytham & St Annes to help get viewers ready for the live golf play. In addition, SportsCenter will have live updates on the hour at 6, 7 and 8 a.m.

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