ESPN Executive Producer Geoff Mason says he has nightmares thinking about covering the 1987 America's Cup in Australia.
"I've done six or seven Olympics, and that's going to be nothing compared to this," Mason said, referring to the logistical problems he and his crew will face.
"You've got boats sailing for hours, thousands of miles away, 10 time zones away and in very rough weather. You've got boats miles and miles away and you have to stablize lenses on those boats."
Mason, a five-time Emmy Award-winning sports producer with ABC and NBC, is in charge of co-ordinating ESPN's 70 hours of America's Cup coverage. It begins today with the first of 20 half-hour and one-hour documentaries narrated by Jack Whitaker in preparation for its taped and live coverage of the event.
Besides having to oversee the placement and use of about a dozen cameras aboard blimps, helicopters, press boats and the competing boats, Mason, a crew member when Nefertiti challenged for the 1962 defender title, faces another challenge in keeping viewers interested in a three-hour boat race.
"Those boats only go 8 to 12 mph; it's not like covering the Indy 500," Mason said. "I perceive my biggest challenge as giving some dimension to the people involved. A lot of it is built in. It's 'The guys in the black hats stole our cup and now we, the guys in the white hats, have to go down there and win it back.' That's built in, we're not going to have to magnify that.
"I want the viewer to understand these syndicates, who are spending tons of money, tons of time and tons of effort. These syndicates are comprised of real people, and I want to give the viewer some sense of that so they know who they are rooting for."
ESPN hopes to accomplish that with six half-hour previews of the half-dozen American challenger syndicates--Stars and Stripes, Eagle, USA, Heart of America, Courageous and America II.
Taped highlights of the defender and challenger series will begin Oct. 11, three days after the first race. Live coverage will start with the challengers final series on Jan. 12 and continue through the America's Cup finals.
Live coverage poses several problems. Perth is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, meaning races carried live will be aired beginning at 11 p.m. EST with a one-hour "pre-game" show and concluding about 3 a.m.
"We hope we've done our job well enough before that with the documentary series, that people will be willing to stay up at that hour," said Mason's producer, Jed Drake.
ESPN picked up a television feed from a Providence, R.I., station and carried live coverage of the decisive seventh race of the 1983 Cup finals. After receiving its largest weekday afternoon audience ever for the event, a 2.4 rating or 1.3 million homes, the cable network decided the America's Cup warranted more attention.
Like ESPN's coverage of the World Cup soccer tournament, sailing is a "flow sport" which can be interrupted but not too frequently, Mason said.