Cross, dribble, flick: Behind the FIH Hockey Pro League restart with Ziggo Sport and Southfields

The Netherlands tackle Great Britain after lockdown delay

Reigning world, European and FIH Hockey Pro League champions the Netherlands took on the nation that pipped them to Olympic gold at Rio 2016, Great Britain

This week the national teams of the Netherlands and Great Britain played their first FIH Hockey Pro League matches for over six months, at the Wagener Stadium, Amstelveen, in Holland.

On Tuesday 27 and Thursday 29 October, these giants of European hockey resumed battle after an unavoidable delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the women’s matches, reigning world, European and FIH Hockey Pro League champions the Netherlands took on the nation that pipped them to Olympic gold at Rio 2016. The men’s matches proved to be anything but predictable.

The hosts came out on top in both match-ups with the Dutch women beating GB Women 3-0, following an initial 1-1 draw, while the Netherlands men won 1-0 and 3-1 in their two games.

Inside NEP the Netherlands NL1 for the return of the FIH Hockey Pro League

Played behind closed doors, all four matches were available to watch via television or digital streaming thanks to the FIH Hockey Pro League’s broadcast partnerships, as well as on the new Watch.Hockey app in every country where a rights holding broadcaster was not showing the matches live.

Netherlands sports channel, Ziggo Sport, was the host broadcaster for this event. Ziggo Sport consists of its free channel that goes out to four million Ziggo cable-subscribers, Ziggo Sport Totaal, a premium pay TV package with six channels available from all TV-distributors in the Netherlands, which has around 600,000 subscribers, and the website and app, and Ziggo Sport Go.

Ben Visser, Ziggo Sport’s head of programming, tells SVG Europe how fans were able to view the matches: “The Hockey Pro League matches was broadcast both on Ziggo Sport (basic tier) and on Ziggo Sport Select and Extra (channels in our premium package). And next to that, the matches were available as PPV [for each match] at all main TV distributors and online.”

For the FIH Hockey Pro League return, production company Southfields worked with host broadcaster, Ziggo Sports, at the Wagener Stadium, Amstelveen, Holland, to produce multiple matches between the men’s and women’s Dutch and British teams, using NEP trucks

Rich programme content

Meanwhile, the event was produced by Dutch television production company specialising in sport, Southfields. Visser comments: “The Hockey Pro League matches in the Netherlands are produced by Southfields. Southfields is our main production partner; they take care of all our studio productions (mainly football and Formula 1 shows), all our football, basketball and Formula 1 live broadcasts, and on site productions of live events in the Netherlands if Ziggo Sport is host broadcaster.”

Mark van Knippenberg, host broadcast coordinator and head of development at Southfields, comments on how this production was created as a remote production: “For the unilateral production we use a data connection camera. Almost without delay this feed is an input in our production control room (PCR) in Hilversum.

“In this PCR the director and producer make use of several feeds, ie, the world feed, slow motion highlights, highlights of other matches, pre-produced interviews, relevant social media content, etc,” Van Knippenberg tells SVG Europe. “So they are creating the whole programme from a remote location, therefore we can achieve a rich programme on the one hand and take care of all the necessary regulations around the COVID-19 situation on the other hand.”

Live on site presentation

The live output for each home match included a 15 minute pre-show programme, the full match, half time show and a post-match show. Visser says: “We produce a full World Feed coverage, containing a build up before the start of the game, highlights during half time and after the game. And of course, coverage of the full game.

“All [of this content] is coming from [the event] location, with our own presenter and pundit,” notes Visser. “The commentary is also coming from on site. The length of each total broadcast is approximately two hours, depending on the length of the match (shoot-outs or not?).”

Staff hard at work inside NEP’s NL1 OB truck for the return of the Hockey Pro League, with COVID-19 protective screening and masks

For the broadcast of the Hockey Pro League, van Knippenberg comments on the studio set up on site: “For the first rounds of the Hockey Pro League this season, we were on site with our programme with a one-camera set up. The live feed of this (interview) camera will be used in our PCR in Hilversum to complete a programme in which we also switch with the world feed that we produce on site.

“Our hockey specialist presenter is John van Vliet. He’s involved in the Dutch hockey for many years. He also is the presenter for Ziggo Sport for their weekly live match in the Dutch Field Hockey Premier League.”

He adds: “Depending on the type of sport and the requested programme, we could also make use of the Ziggo Sport studio in Hilversum. This studio is equipped with augmented reality tracked cameras. The studio is a combination of a physical setting and a greenscreen setting. This studio is used for all of the Ziggo Sport Football (Premier League, LaLiga, Champions League) and Formula 1 programmes.”

Highlights and partners
With two matches in one day, the total duration of the live broadcast was approximately four hours per day. Depending on available air time, one hour of highlights could be added to that.

Ziggo Sport also produced highlights of each match that consist of a 25 minute programme per game, broadcast on the same day in the evening of the match and on subsequent days where needed.

As well as the highlights programmes, Ziggo Sport provided short highlight packages of two to three minutes long for use online and for social platforms, for itself and its partners. Those partners include KNHB (national hockey association), and publisher De Persgroep. Also the Dutch public broadcaster, NOS, was able to show highlights of a couple of minutes of each match on its channels.

Visser comments on Zigger Sports’ partners: “Specifically for the games this week we have a special partnership with, the hockey platform of the KNHB. They produce items around the matches and use these on their platform, but they also make these available for us to use in our broadcast or on our online and social channels. In return we will provide them with the match highlights. And of course, on the broadcasts on Ziggo Sport will be promoted too.”

For this FIH Hockey Pro League production Southfields used one OB truck – NL1 from NEP The Netherlands – one utility truck and one SNG truck – from 2-SAT Europe – and one GFX van also owned by NEP The Netherlands

Trucks, cameras and crew

The team for this event involved approximately 40 people, including those that work on the Ziggo Sport unilateral production.

For this production Southfields used one OB truck – NL1 from NEP The Netherlands – one utility truck and one SNG truck – from 2-SAT Europe – and one GFX van also owned by NEP The Netherlands. NEP GFX also provided the graphics output for this event.

Adds van Knippenberg: “For this production we work with NEP The Netherlands. They are, together with United, the two biggest OB companies in the Netherlands. We ask for a professional product and delivery, so we like to work with one of the big players.”

The camera set up for the matches used eight LDX cameras of which one was a super slomo and one was a minicam. Southfields used SMPTE cabling for the LDX cameras and single mode fibre cable for the minicam and audio.

Says van Knippenberg: “For this production we are using the standard Grass Valley LDX82 cameras and a LDX86 super slomo camera. For the shot of the video and umpire we use a Dreamchip UHD CCD camera.”

On COVID-19 precautions, both Southfields and Ziggo Sports are familiar with the venue through their work with the Dutch football leagues. This made following health and safety precautions as laid out by FIH easier than if they did not know the grounds.

Van Knippenberg notes: “We have to make sure we don’t have too many people on site. Besides that there are some zones that we can’t enter. Because of this we have to cooperate with the organisers so we can set up everything we need in zones that we are allowed to enter.”

On the OB trucks and health and safety, van Knippenberg comments: “We have less workplaces available in the OB truck so people don’t have to work too close to each other. There are also screens between all workplaces and the crew have to wear masks all the time inside and outside the OB truck.”

Southfields provided the intercom system between the umpires on the pitch and the video umpire. Explains van Knippenberg: We give them the wireless microphones and earpieces for communication. We can also use the microphones in the programme sound. Because of this we can hear the umpires during the match when they make decisions and talk to the players. This adds something nice to the broadcast.”

For this event, no enhanced audio was deemed necessary. Notes van Knippenberg: “Normally at football we produce enhanced audio. For this production we had contact with the Dutch association and decided not to produce it.”

Fourteen FIH Hockey Pro League matches are set to be played between October and November 2020, with the remaining 76 scheduled between January and May 2021.

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