The Ryder Cup: Epic's essential expense

Bruce Critchley provides a TV commentator's perspective
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The Independent Online
IN BOSTON this week there has been staggering evidence of America's decade-long Stock Market boom. Corporate USA has shelled out in excess of $30m for hospitality marquees and that doesn't include the catering; bring your own food and wine.

Not content with that, a couple of corporate giants have paid local private clubs $1m each for exclusive use of their fairways just for the week.

Then there's the basketball legend Michael Jordan. He decided to come and watch his chum Tiger Woods play in golf's great epic, found a house on the edge of the course to his liking and paid the owner a cool $650,000 to go elsewhere for the week.

In contrast to this extravagance, the extra resources television pumped into the Ryder Cup are modest. Largely this is because the art of televising golf is now well refined. The main coverage is by NBC, by some way the best network for golf in the United States. It may be no coincidence that the producer Tommy Roy plays off a two handicap and is the son of a professional. "For the first two days of a Ryder Cup we actually have fewer people and less equipment than for the US Open," is Roy's assessment.

"For the Open we need total 18-hole coverage throughout the day whereas with only four matches morning and afternoon on Friday and Saturday we have fewer cameras. We just move them about more."

What has changed is the number of hours NBC now devotes to the match. Historically, even with the Ryder Cup, they have done only a couple of hours at the weekend, leaving an associate sports channel, ESPN or US Network, to cover the rest.

The last time the match was in America in 1995 there was no coverage at all for three hours on Saturday afternoon as NBC went off to an American football match. On that occasion Sky, in association with Mark McCormack's television wing TWI, kept the coverage rolling with just a dozen cameras. Few noticed the join.

This year there has been no such hiatus. The US Network still handled Friday's coverage, though the entire production team belongs to NBC. Only the commentators were different. Yesterday and today it is NBC all day long, a cultural shock for NBC's $2m a year man Johnny Miller.

Such hours have long been Sky's staple diet, particularly at the American golfing majors. But with a staff of 50 compared with NBC's 250, though living mainly off their pictures, Sky are on air for anything between seven and ten hours a day. At the Ryder Cup both the hours and the numbers go up.

There are perhaps 20 more personnel and double the amount of hardware this week. Mainly this is to support the six hours of preview programmes in the days leading up to the match and before the first ball being struck each day of competition.

The preview programmes require much creative input and considerable editing facility and you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when the competitive gun went off on Friday.

Nearly 12 hours a day of this fascinating competition make the whole exercise worth while. Golf is the most expensive sporting broadcast of all - 18 courts or pitches to be covered simultaneously if you like.

It is also one of the most complicated and, as any producer who has covered the Ryder Cup for television will tell you, the last day of this dramatic contest is the most difficult day in the golfing calendar. There is no shortage of shots to show. It is instead an exercise in selecting those that tell the story, the ones that are the building blocks of what the last 20 years has been - one of the most gripping days in televised sport. If Tommy Roy and his team get it right he will have another one today.

Greg Wood's TV view of

the Ryder Cup, page 15