TrackTown Productions keeps fans updated and entertained
BY DAVID WOODS
For The Register-Guard
Appeared in print: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, page D7
A complaint among track and field fans is that they can see more from home — from a webcast or telecast and online results — than they can by attending a meet.
Like a judge signaling foul in a jump or a throw, Tim Lay has raised a red flag to that. He is executive producer of TrackTown Productions, which is responsible for displaying what’s on Hayward Field’s video screens and scoreboards for the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.
Lay’s mission is to entertain fans in the stands. That’s why the local organizing committee employed TrackTown for the 2008 and 2012 Trials.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything revolutionary in the coverage of track and field,” said Lay, 52, of Eugene. “What we are revolutionizing, I think, is bringing things that have never been used in a board stadium show.
“We’re utilizing a lot of things that we do in network television.”
Lay’s production company has covered college football and basketball for ESPN, Fox Sports Net and the Oregon Sports Network. Track is complicated, he said, because there so many simultaneous events and relevant statistics. The sport, he acknowledged, is hard to cover.
That’s why some in TV hate it. That’s why he loves it.
“You’ve got to put some brains around where to put cameras to actually cover track, because you have all these places where you can’t see anything,” he said.
Near-instantaneous results are sent by FinishLynx to TrackTown, which reprocesses them for scoreboard display. FinishLynx’s flashresults.com website has supplied photo-timing (including lap splits) at major championships since 1992.
TrackTown has access to about 25 cameras, including some used by NBC. Photographers are deployed for still shots. Video boards are also displaying tributes to Olympic heroes, some of whom are in attendance.
Lay said he concentrates on displaying athletes’ reactions and assembling “summary packs” of meet highlights. In turn, those highlights can be shown leading up to a final.
Identifying what to display depends on knowledge of the sport, Lay said. He said they are decisions a TV producer must make all the time.
For instance, the moment when Jeremy Wariner knelt, holding head in hands after failing to make the Olympic team in the 400 meters, was as poignant as the celebration among the top three.
“I’m trying to concentrate on showing more faces and reaction and close-ups instead of more wide shots,” Lay said. “As my wife said, ‘I can see a wide shot from where I’m sitting.’ ”
Borrowing from his TV background, Lay produces what amounts to pregame shows at the trials.
Replaying highlights from seasons past can do that, too.
“I like to let people see what they didn’t see before,” Lay said. “And if you did see it, it’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You get excited because you remember that moment.
“I can’t run highlights of the 2008 800-meter men’s final enough. OK? You just can’t run that enough.”
Beyond inability to follow all events, a fan’s complaint can be long waits and inactivity at a track meet. Lay conceded track meets have a flow to them, and it “doesn’t fit the flow of television.”
Modern fans require the kind of constant stimulation they get from smartphones, laptops and tablets. TrackTown fills the void with music and its collection of video highlights.
Lay expects presentation of the final four days of the Trials to be better than the first four. And though his focus is the fans, he is mindful of the athletes, too.
“They can tell you the first time they ran on this track. They can tell you the first time they did well on this track,” Lay said. “I like being part of that.
“I like covering that and bringing that experience to the fan, and making the fans even better at supporting those athletes.”
“I can’t run highlights of the 2008 800-meter men’s final enough.”
— TIM LAY, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF TRACKTOWN PRODUCTIONS