Sean McManus and Jim Nantz have done their share of major televised sporting events — Super Bowls, Final Fours, Masters Tournaments — but nothing quite like what they’re about to undertake this week, when the PGA Tour returns to competition after a three-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The CBS production team is in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Charles Schwab Challenge, but with only about half the crew that it normally brings to an event. Nantz, the network’s No. 1 sportscasting voice, will be back in the tower at the 18th green — by himself — with analyst Nick Faldo contributing while watching the tournament 1,100 miles away at Golf Channel studios in Orlando.
It’s a strange, new world for tournament golf coverage.
“This is the most-complicated production plan I’ve ever been involved in, including Super Bowls and Final Fours and other events,” McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Monday in a conference call with reporters.
“It’s been incredibly complicated, and then you put in the layer on top of that — screening and testing and quarantining and use of rental cars and hotel rooms, trying to make sure that the safety of your employees is first and foremost. We’ve dealt with things that we’ve never dealt with before in any kind of sports production that I’ve been involved in.”
CBS will have fewer production people on site — McManus said nine people will be in the main truck, down from the 22 in “normal” times — and members of a second production team will be ready to go should someone test positive for COVID-19. Production teams also will be in place at studios in New York; Los Angeles; and Stamford, Conn., doing graphics and other functions.
Nantz said he usually has six or seven people in the tower with him, but this weekend he will have just a robotic camera. He will work in near-complete silence, with no fans to applaud a key shot or a clutch putt.
“We have to kind of figure out how to play that and what that feels like and sounds like,” he said. “There are many times where a key shot is made, a putt is holed, and the energy and the crowd roar is there, and you’re playing off it. It’s not going to be there.”
With Faldo in Orlando will be CBS golf broadcasters Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo. On-course reporters Dottie Pepper and Mark Immelman will be on site. CBS broadcasters also will be on duty for the first two rounds of the event on Golf Channel.
The network will introduce an “Inside the Ropes” feature, with players asked to enter a small tent on a designated hole during their round. The tent will have a boom mike and a card on which one question is printed for the player to answer before heading back to the course.
“I think anything that makes the broadcast more alive and more interesting for the viewers is good, as long as it doesn’t compromise what’s going on,” McManus said. “It’s a good way of getting really good reactions from players without interfering with what they’re doing on the golf course. The Tour is supportive of it.”
CBS also is working with the Tour to talk more players into wearing microphones during their round. McManus said it is something the network has been trying to do for many years, but the reaction continues to be mixed.
“Some are willing to do it; a lot right now aren’t willing to do it,” he said. “I think it’s the kind of thing that, if it is successful and if it’s unobtrusive, which hopefully it will be, that when a couple of players try it, then more will agree to do it down the road.”
McManus said he wants to set the proper tone that reflects the times in which we live — a pandemic that has resulted in more than 112,000 deaths in the United States, and widespread protests against racial injustice following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an African American man, while in police custody in Minneapolis.
That will be the task at the top of the broadcast for Nantz, who said, “We just have to get this moment in history right.
“We can’t let this opportunity pass without real and meaningful progress when it comes to equality, diversity, justice, love, and empathy, and I hope to express that at the top,” he said. “This is not something that’s going to be a three-hour commentary on my part.