When the finals of the U.S. Open Pickleball championships went live on CBS Sports Saturday night at exactly 7:00 PM, it marked the first time that the sport of pickleball was ever broadcast live on national television. CBS Sports is happy to be part of the experience at the East Naples Community Park.
Ray Colaiacovo handles all the details for the broadcast. He hooked up with U.S. Pickleball Open co-founder Terri Graham to make the live broadcast a reality. CBS projects there is a potential for 53 million homes to be reached for the finals, according to Colaiacovo.
“We started this thing a long time ago on a phone call with Terri Graham,” Colaiacovo said. “We do packaging. I do a lot of different sports on a lot of different networks. She called me because I was doing CBS Sports Network Pro Watercross. She said, ‘Hey, we want to be on CBS, too. How do we do that?’”
Colaiacovo continues, “I gave her some advice on what she should and shouldn’t do. Then she said, ‘You’re hired.’ I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. What are we doing?’ She hadn’t even told me what the sport was yet.”
So how did Colaiacovo react when Graham told him the sport was pickleball?
“I said, ‘What is that?” Colaiacovo laughed. “She gave me a professional to go play with over in Delray Beach, near where I live. I learned the sport and fell in love with it. I ended up playing it a lot. After we finished playing, I called her back.”
Colaiacovo has produced a taped version of the U.S. Open for CBS sports for the past several years.
“We broadcasted a week or two weeks later,” he said. “We always had the ambition of going live. We were going to do it last year, but the pandemic hit. We decided this year we were definitely going to do it. We got with CBS Sports Network and they said, ‘Let’s go!’ It’s an interesting adventure for pickleball to do this. It’s sort of an animal. With streaming you can get away with a lot of stuff. It’s a little bit of an undertaking going live. And whenever you do an event, it’s a challenge. The event needs to be on point because we’re live. The event and us have to co-exist to make sure the event works as well as we do. There’s a lot of timing things that go along with that.”
Colaiacovo enjoys working with Graham and co-founder Chris Evon.
“Chris and Terri are absolutely my favorite clients, without a doubt,” Colaiacovo said. “They just get it. They know what we have to do. They leave it in your hands to succeed. They’re good at what they do. They understand that if you’re good at what you do, you can get it done.”
Colaiacovo and his team have experience covering a wide variety of sports. But they enjoy covering unique sports, like pickleball.
“We do a lot of other sports,” he said. “From roller derby, to cricket, all the way to the ball sports. Everything you can imagine, we’ve done it. It’s kind of the end-all-do-all thing for me – doing these kind of sports – creating your own formula, is awesome for me. Because of the creativity. With the professional ball sports, there’s a formula, and you do what you’re supposed to do. Here we do what we want to do. And that’s cool.”
One innovation Colaiacovo and his team came up with for this tournament is the kitchen camera. The kitchen is the seven-foot-deep area on either side of the net that is designated as a non-volley zone.
“A perfect example is the kitchen camera,” Colaiacovo said. “We just made that up. And it’s not manned. We put it on a scissor lift and locked it off. The funny thing is there’s one camera that’s not manned that we’re probably on 70 percent of the time. You make the plan. You see what works. You see what the whole community likes. You check out the streams and the comments.”