NBC faces unprecedented production challenges at 2021 Open Championship
Tommy Roy is worried about his parking spot.
While the remainder of the golf world obsesses over commercial flights, negative tests and mandatory five-day quarantines, NBC Golf’s lead producer is worried about asphalt, and that’s where the problem begins.
Roy is worried about his parking spot because he does not have to worry about the other things — all part of the R&A’s air-tight Covid protocols for the first Open Championship in nearly two years. He does not have to worry about the other things because he is exempt from them. After all, how could the R&A enforce that Roy abides by their rules while he watches the tournament from the comfort of home, some 3,500 miles away, at NBC’s Stamford headquarters?
Roy will not be alone in Stamford, which is perhaps a cause of even further concern. He will be joined in southwest Connecticut by the overwhelming majority of his broadcast team, a group comprising of dozens of producers, technicians, operators and of course, on-air talent.
They will be there because they have been told they cannot be here, in Sandwich, Kent — the site of the fourth and final major championship of the 2021 season. Instead, nearly all of NBC’s 2021 Open Championship coverage will be conducted out of Stamford.
For NBC, that means dozens of cameramen and women will have the week off. The on-air team will call the action off a monitor in a studio, rather than their typical tower locations. None of NBC’s analysts will have the opportunity to see the course conditions from up close before the tournament is contested (though, Roy points out, all-but-one member of the team has been to Royal St. George’s before). And the kicker: Roy and his production crew will work from a truck located in the parking lot of the network’s Stamford offices.
“The pandemic is still creating issues for us. We’ve had to significantly downsize our on-site crew,” Roy said in a call with media Monday evening. “It’s different. It’s not what we would normally do, but we’re going to make the absolute best of it. I’m actually looking at it as quite a challenge.”
All told, NBC has close to 30 people on the other side of the Atlantic, but the only on-air folks on-site are the network’s interviewers and on-course analysts (Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, Karen Stupples, John Wood and Notah Begay).
“I think the challenging thing for the guys is over here not being able to experience the conditions that the players are dealing with out there as they make their way out on the course and can look out the window of their tower and see what’s going on,” Roy said. “They’re experiencing that from several thousand miles away.”
For the hours they’re on the air, NBC will be primarily utilizing what’s called the “world feed,” a broadcast shot, produced and directed for international distribution. The network will also have three radio frequency cameras on-site, and will also provide coverage of the 18th hole.
“The world feed is going to be great, but it is different than the customized telecast that I normally would produce for our American audience,” Roy said. “They are the primary feed for all of the UK, plus they have their international clients from around the world that they’re catering to, as well.”
“It’s not what we would normally do, but we’re going to make the absolute best of it.”
In effect, the feed puts Roy steering a plane on autopilot. He still controls the mechanisms of his broadcast — when NBC goes to a commercial break, airs specific segments and utilizes other production elements — but his team has little control over the flow of the show.
“If I was in control of the broadcast, I can make sure I record the most important shots and come out and play those and then go to an interesting little travelog piece,” he said. “But here we have to do the reverse order: Come out, play the travelog and then try to catch up with what we’ve missed. From that standpoint, it’s much more complicated.”
NBC shouldn’t be missing any key pieces of the action — the network will be capable of recording/operating their own instant replay, which should give access to any shots that are missed while the network is in commercial or elsewhere. But Roy and crew will have a much harder time putting those pieces together.
It’ll even be difficult for the on-air crews, who will be adjusting to a different sleep schedule while remaining in the eastern timezone.
“You get as much sleep as you can, and then after a while you kind of trick yourself into thinking that it’s not an upside-down time,” lead play-by-play man Dan Hicks told GOLF.com recently. “But when I feel it is afterwards. Every time you get on the air, there’s a little adrenaline working. Which is nice when the proverbial red light goes on, you kind of get pumped up and you get excited and you kind of take yourself to a level. So when I do feel it, it’s when it’s over. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.'”
In a career that’s featured no fewer than 30 Emmy nods, Tommy Roy has never faced an obstacle like the one that lies before him at the Open … or rather, in a parking lot in Stamford, Conn.
“We’re going to do the best we can with it, and I think it’s absolutely going to be a great challenge,” he said. “I’ve been producing our golf for 29 years now; about time I get a challenge like this, so I’m looking forward to it.”