At the end of last year, the European Tour and PGA TOUR announced a new alliance in which PGA TOUR acquired a minority stake in European Tour Productions (ETP), the European Tour’s media production company that produces and distributes content internationally. This investment, as well as the COVID situation and its impact on international travel, enabled both organizations to take steps to improve production efficiency at the Ryder Cup last week. Greg Hopfe, VP of Live Television & Executive Producer, PGA TOUR Entertainment, discussed the new way of cooperation between the two organizations and what this could mean for the future.
The PGA Tour and the European Tour worked very closely together on the Ryder Cup. How was it?
I think that was just a big step in our partnership with the European Tour. When it became known that there was a strategic alliance, we didn’t really know what that would mean in theory. We knew it would just be an evolution.
When the European Tour clashed with COVID and people came here for the Ryder Cup, it all accelerated. It was great to work so closely with them, to get to know them, and it was a big step forward. They will return the favor at the Genesis Scottish Open as it makes sense for us to use their facilities and people.
It is inexpensive to work with them as they are already there in such strength. So we’re going to talk to them about how we can get together there.
Both you and David Mold, Director of Live Television on the European Tour mentioned the challenge of overcoming terminological differences when working at the Ryder Cup. Can you talk about it?
The terminology is different and then I had a lot of unfamiliar voices in my headset as I sat on the producer’s chair. We had some misunderstandings throughout the week due to the language barrier. For example, what we refer to as “hard” cameras in the US are called “line” cameras overseas.
Many of the workflows were born out of COVID, but what do you think are the long-term benefits and how can it improve storytelling?
Of course we wanted to do a world feed and also know what Tommy Roy is doing for NBC Domestic. With the world food you certainly do not want to fall into the Americanization of everything. However, on Saturday afternoon [American Ryder Cup team member] Justin Thomas got the crowd going. I spoke to European Tour Live TV Director David Mold about whether we should show it and he said absolutely. So I would lean on Dave and make sure it’s something he’s comfortable with.
Any advice for others who may have organizations coming together to work on an event in new ways, like you will be doing for the Scottish Open next year?
When I think of the expertise across the pond it will be great for partnering at the Genesis Scottish Open. We can simply draw on their expertise and ask what trucks, facilities and crew they have. And then we have to develop a production plan that works.
And there are efficiency gains when there are fewer cameramen on the field. Most sports go in this direction, with only one feed coming from most venues. It’s smart, efficient, and less distracting for players.
Normally an event like the Ryder Cup would be the end of the season, but that’s not the case this year. What’s next?
Yes, we’ve just started our new wrap-around season so we’ve had a week off and we’re going back to PGA TOUR Golf in a minute and then take a break from Thanksgiving week until the end of December.
It’s been a busy year for golf production with many different approaches due to COVID. How was the year from your point of view?
COVID has forced many companies and many people to do things they haven’t done in the past. That’s one of the reasons Tommy was so open to helping European Tour Productions, as they helped him with the Open Championship when they had to produce from Stamford, CT.
And now everyone is forced to look at things differently, and I would be interested to see what things will be like when we are out of the pandemic: which guidelines remain in place and which will end? Will the tape playback and graphics be remote or return the same way they were?
We have been running PGA TOUR LIVE from our St. Augustine facility for several years and will be doing four remotely streams for ESPN + next year. So we’ve always been a big advocate of remote workflow by keeping employees in-house and limiting the amount of on-site space in the TV building.