Behind the Premiership Rugby Final player mic action at TNT Sports

Finn Russell of Bath, kicking for goal in last weekend’s Premiership Rugby Final [Credit: Getty Images]

At the Premiership Rugby Final, England and Scotland stars gave TNT Sports viewers the chance to hear from the sport’s leading playmakers in the biggest game of the year at Twickenham Stadium.

George Furbank and Finn Russell wore the TNT Sports player mics – supplied by technical services partner, EMG – in the blockbuster Premiership Rugby Final on Saturday 8 June.

Previously, Bristol Bears’ Steven Luatua and Saints’ Fraser Dingwall have worn the microphones already this season, providing a fascinating insight into what a Premiership Rugby player goes through.

Viewers were afforded a unique look into what the star players say to each other during the intense battle that is a Premiership Rugby Final, in the live playout and throughout the week in other TNT Sports shows.

We spoke to Buzz 16’s Gari Jenkins, who leads TNT Sports’ rugby coverage, to find out more and where mic’ing up rugby players is going for sports fans.

Why did you choose this game and these particular players to wear the mics?

GJ: Our goal is to take fans closer to the sport, team and players. This approach has to be shared by all involved and therefore we seek willing participants.

This has been a goal all season, targeting opposing players, and on the biggest stage of all. In the English domestic game, there is no bigger game than the Final, and Premiership Rugby and both clubs were fully supportive of the initiative and innovation.
George Furbank, who was originally going to wear the player mic for Northampton, has been a real forward-thinker in terms of embracing innovation and trying to attract new fans to our great sport this season. He wore a headset mic for a warm up earlier on in the season, which was a great success, and something we might re-visit again next season. Unfortunately, the player mic rig didn’t fit him correctly, so we had to pivot and find someone else on the day; up stepped Fraser Dingwall, who’d worn it back in January as well, and then we had our man.

Finn Russell, the Bath player mic, is just box office; we were really thankful to Finn and Bath for allowing us to put the player mic on one of the biggest stars in rugby, let alone the Gallagher Premiership.

What are the mics?

Our broadcast facilities provider EMG provided the player mics, which are RF.

The Shure PlayMic Q5X was suggested by EMG because of the flexibility of the pack, making it safe to fall on. EMG then had a custom made vest produced to hold the pack.

How do you prevent them from being damaged in what is a very physical game?

The player mic vest and rig is heavily padded around the mic itself, both for player safety and the safety of the mic itself.

What do you hope player mics will add to the viewer’s perception of the game?  

Rugby fans are now in the game, they have a new perspective of what is being said on field and they feel part of the sport. New fans have an experience that few ball sports offer.

As a fan-first broadcaster, TNT Sports is always looking for innovative ways to bring the game alive with new insights and experiences. Field of play microphones is one of the most immersive experiences we can offer. Lots more to come!

How will they ideally be used in a live broadcast?

The level of use during live is still being tested. We’ve trialled turning clips around quickly for replays and for half time and full-time analysis plus edits and sequences. We can also stream an alternate feed of some matches offering an alternate audio experience.

The edit from last weekend’s Premiership final is our best trial yet, but there’s much more that can be done in terms of improving the tech and improving the way we use it and deliver it.

Would the end goal be to mic up all players in a match, or just key people? Which people?

When it’s on the right player – someone who’s vocal, someone who’s communicative – it’s brilliant. Mic’ing up all the players in the match wouldn’t be digestible, from an audio perspective.

Imagine having that many commentators!

Are players amenable to it? 

Based upon our initial trials, we’ve found that half backs are the target players, but there are others who are very communicative – mostly backs – who also give it plenty in terms of chat on the field – mostly centres and back three players. We wouldn’t rule out putting it on a hooker or a particularly vocal second row or back row, but it would have to be a vocal player, and possibly captain.

What were the challenges? You didn’t use much in the live broadcast – why?

The current challenge is proving its value to clubs and players, and we’re making good progress. The second challenge is getting the quality of the audio correct; 80,000 screaming fans in Twickenham, and lots of other players shouting at the top of their voices, which gets picked up on mics such as these makes it challenging.

How will you be using this content?

Moving forward, we’d like to mic up ‘marquee’ players during big matches and give snippets of player mic action and audio at half time and full time, and then something more considered in the days following the match.

For the match from Saturday, we have been rolling this out across our digital platforms this week.

What’s next – where, when, how and why? – for this?

We’ve only just started to innovate the coverage of rugby, and fans will love where we are heading. Next season you’ll see more Player Mic action and audio across TNT Sports, especially across the big games, and from the big players.

We’d also like to tap into management wearing a player/coach mic, in order to get video and audio into a post-match edit, to what messages they were giving, and what instructions and conversations they were having with their fellow coaches during the game perhaps.

What’s the future for mic’d up rugby players?

It’s the one innovation we’ve tried this year that we’ve been over the moon with. If we can continue to develop it, improve the turnaround time, improve the audio quality, then it could become something that becomes a regular treat for TNT Sports viewers. Our next mission is to achieve the same on an international match. Fingers crossed.


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