Before the pandemic, ESPN’s coverage plans for the PGA Championship were already going to make for some long days for its production and operations groups. But when the event was postponed from May until this weekend, the level of challenge rose exponentially.
Today, ESPN+ airs its second day with 12 continuous live hours of Featured Group coverage from TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, providing a second screen experience for golf fans in addition to the traditional coverage airing all day on ESPN+ and ESPN.
To keep ESPN’s on-site headcount as small as possible for pandemic safety protocols, eight announcers for the Featured Group coverage are working remotely. Many production-related functions are being done remotely as well. A small group is working in the TV compound at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
Bringing it all together is Andy Davenport, ESPN Manager – Remote Production Operations.
“The offsite announcer situation obviously posed some challenges,” said Davenport. “But with what our network has been doing over recent months with utilizing cameras in announcers’ homes, we’re using six of our live-from-home commentary kits to help us expedite these offsite announcers. We bring the signals in utilizing TVU, Zoom, Danté, and Unity Technology, and it’s been an interesting experience to walk through this.”
Davenport conducted testing and rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday to make sure everything worked.
ESPN is utilizing one mobile unit for SportsCenter segments from the event, and that unit also will be used for the Featured Hole production on the weekend. Davenport said that the Featured Group production uses three units so that personnel can be spread out for social distancing protocols – one has separate control rooms for Featured Groups 1 and 2. The others are used for audio and replay for the two streams.
The Featured Group production has access to more than 90 CBS cameras on the course, and each group has four unilateral handheld cameras to augment the coverage. Also available are enhancements golf fans are used to including shot tracer and virtual eye as well as a live drone and a fly camera.
“At certain parts of the course, there’s main golf coverage going on at the same time,” he said. “So sometimes we’re doing a little dance around the main show because obviously, they take priority, but it should be fun to watch.
“We’ve had a tremendous team effort, and it’s been challenging for sure, but in the end, it’s been a very rewarding experience for all of us.”