Behind the scenes at BT Sport on a Champions League night – what's it like to work in sports broadcasting?
More than 50 people are in position amid the maze of TV trucks, from which pictures of the group stage glamour game will be beamed around the world tonight. As the host broadcaster, BT are responsible for delivering the game to a plethora of international TV stations.
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“There are more international media here tonight than there were for Manchester City’s semi-final with Real Madrid last season,” explains BT’s head of live football Stephen Cook, as he prepares to give FourFourTwo a guided tour. “That just shows the pull of a Barcelona fixture.”
When we do make our way in, Ferdinand is in one corner of the truck, being talked through some of the video clips ready for use in the pre-match analysis
First we’re taken into the truck responsible for delivering coverage for BT Sport’s own television channel. Cook climbs the stairs and opens the door, but then makes a hasty retreat. “Ah, we seem to have interrupted Rio Ferdinand’s analysis!” he laughs. “We’ll have to go in by the other door.”
When we do make our way in, Ferdinand is in one corner of the truck, being talked through some of the video clips ready for use in the pre-match analysis, when BT go live from their studio inside the stadium at 7pm.
“It’s just making sure Rio knows the best way to get his point across for what we're trying to show and analyse,” explains VT co-ordinator Ali Turpie. “Our topic tonight is how City can beat Barcelona.”
“This is the presentation truck, which manages all the pre-match, half time and post-match analysis,” Cook says. “The stuff you see at home when we build up to the game, with Gary Lineker and Rio in the studio, that comes from this truck.”
Next it’s to the match truck, responsible for the live feed delivered to every broadcaster around the world.
“This is where everything happens once the game kicks off at 7.45pm,” Cook says, surveying the bank of television screens on the wall in front of him. “All the replays, all the mad action and hopefully lots of goals, that feed will all come from this truck tonight. Neil Housley is in charge for us here. He was in Weymouth’s team of the century!”
“Each of the machines we have here records up to six cameras,” says the former non-league striker. “When something happens in the game, straight away the guys here will go through the camera angles, then I’ll make a decision about which angles to use, in which order. We have a few seconds to make our mind up and talk to the director, then the pictures go out live.”
In a side room sits the match director, responsible for the pre-match pictures, which are closely governed by UEFA regulations.
“On UEFA nights there’s a dedicated running order,” Cook explains. “It says that at 19:00 and 10 seconds, we should be playing shots of kits in the dressing room for example. At 19:01 we have to be showing shots of crowd arriving. It's a very regimented and uniform running order that the rest of the world has to adhere to as well. We have to provide a uniform live feed, the same as the Spanish broadcasters are providing at their matches, the Italian broadcasters, the German broadcasters, you name it.”
In another truck, an experiment is currently underway. BT have delved into the world of virtual reality, in partnership with UEFA. A series of specialist cameras are in place inside the Etihad and technology has been developed to link together each set of pictures, offering a 360-degree view of the stadium. The plan is to eventually make the technology available to the public, offering them a new way of watching matches from the comfort of their own homes. FFT puts on a headset and we’re able to turn our head and see right the way around the Etihad, from a position near the players’ tunnel.
“Have a go, but remember that you are standing on terra firma because it can leave you a little bit disorientated,” Cook says, reminding us about what happened when Ronnie O’Sullivan used the technology at a virtual reality snooker event recently – he attempted to play a shot but forgot there wasn’t actually a real snooker table to lean on, and ended up in a heap on the floor. “BT Sport did a test of this at the recent game between Chelsea and Arsenal. If you had the glasses on when tonight’s match was being played, you'd be able to turn towards Guardiola on one bench and then back to Luis Enrique on the other.”
“I think Real Madrid have a got a great chance in this game!” Fletcher quips
The tour ends at BT Sport’s winnebago. Post-match interviewer Des Kelly is loitering outside making a phone call, while inside pundits Owen Hargreaves and Richard Dunne are relaxing on a sofa, alongside commentator Darren Fletcher.
“This is where the talent hang out before every game,” Cook says. “We’ve got a make-up room at the back too. Darren Fletcher is commentating tonight and he’s been studiously looking through the stat pack to prepare.”
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) November 1, 2016
“I think Real Madrid have a got a great chance in this game!” Fletcher quips.
Presenter Gary Lineker is there too, although he’s heading off, with 6pm rehearsals approaching. “Hi, how are you? I’m just heading up to the studio,” he says. “My score prediction? Oh, er, 4-4!”
Lights, camera, match action
As Lineker departs, Steve McManaman arrives, warmly shaking FFT by the hand. “This is our little comfy spot where we can chat about the game, discuss tactics, who's going to play and just generally talk about what's going to happen tonight,” the former Liverpool and Real Madrid star explains. “It’s great, we've got a good set of lads - Owen, Gary, Rio and the rest of the bunch. It's always good to catch up with them all.”
From there, FFT makes a quick visit to the studio inside the stadium itself. With seats for Lineker and three pundits, as well as three cameras, space is tight in the small room high up in the corner of the Etihad.
“Don't sit in the chairs, guys, we've got them all wired up,” a member of staff tells us. Lineker is already there and wired to his seat so that the producers can speak to him via an earpiece when live coverage is underway. He’s having a final pre-show brew and quickly poses for pictures before it’s time for us to go, with the start of the programme almost upon us.
When the clock ticks around to 7pm, it’s time for days of preparation to be put into action, as BT Sport present live coverage of Manchester City versus Barcelona. As it turned out, it was a pretty decent game.
BT Sport is your home of unmissable live football from the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and Premier League. Visit bt.com/sport for more information