The US Open starts today, Monday, Aug. 31, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and ESPN has its usual exclusive two weeks of marathon telecasts. In addition, it’s the sixth year of ESPN’s role in producing the world feed, the “agnostic” baseline coverage of all courts that is provided to broadcasters around the world.
However, for Larry Wilson, Associate Director, Remote Production Operations, his US Open assignment is now in its fifth week of a 50-day stay in the modified bubble the USTA has created for players, their coaches, trainers and media.
“The primary role of remote operations is to plan and set up the technical facilities required for producing that world feed and for ESPN’s domestic presentation,” says Wilson, a 20+ year veteran of the department. “We create the sand box for everyone to play in.”
Thanks to COVID-19, this year is quite different.
“We have 600 credentialed individuals on site and keeping them healthy is of utmost importance,” Wilson says. “Everyone is tested on their first day and routinely at intervals thereafter. Each day they are subject to a health screening. There are many hand washing and hand sanitizing stations, increased air filtration, work stations and equipment are sanitized and social distancing is constantly stressed.”
The other rights holders from around the globe are not on site this year, which gives ESPN a bit more room to allow for six feet between people at work who formerly were shoulder-to-shoulder.
While folks have more elbow room, their ability to roam throughout the production compound has been reined in.
“We have divided the compound into eight ‘functional work groups’ and people must stay within their assigned area,” according to Wilson. “We’ve even modified work flow and equipment so that movement within one’s work group is limited compared to the past.”
Once the first ball is in the air, and 130 hours of television commences for the U.S. audience, Wilson’s role continues on both the technical side and with the health and safety concerns of his colleagues.
“Everyone is adapting well after a period of adjustment, notably the strain of wearing a mask for 10-12 hours,” he says. “People realize we can only do our best if everyone abides by the guidelines and stays healthy.”