Epic career: Velitchka Nedialkova presented with the SVG Europe 2021 Outstanding Contribution to European Sports Broadcasting award

SVG Europe is proud to announce that Velitchka Nedialkova, or Vili to her friends, has been presented with the SVG Europe 2021 Outstanding Contribution to European Sports Broadcasting award.

The award, which was given to Nedialkova on Thursday 8 September at the Sports Production Summit held at the DeLaMar Theatre in Amsterdam, is given to an individual who has changed the nature of sports content creation and distribution within Europe. Criteria includes their longevity within the industry, the impact their professional career has had on the entire sports production community, and their commitment to moving the industry forward in a positive way.

Says Nedialkova: “I was very surprised when Alessandro Reitano of Sky Germany called me last autumn to say that I have got this award, because for me it was not to say a shock, but it was a complete surprise. I have no idea how this came together, but I am honoured.

“This award must be related to the quantity of events I did and the long, long time – all my life – which I have spent doing this. I had so many “special” events, often I was stepping in when it was complicated, a bit dangerous or when it was really difficult to solve a problem, then somehow, I was always thrown into the mix.”

On what has drawn Nedialkova to a career in sports broadcasting, she says: “I love the complexity of the events, the different counterparts you interact with, the community of the broadcasters. I love that everybody counts, whether a small organisation or a big organisation. For me, it was always, “when there is a problem, there must be a solution and there must be a way to solve this problem”. I’ve always tried to be of help. You help once, but it comes back a hundred times.

“For me really TV is a crew job,” she continues. “I see it like a team job. I think nobody can achieve whatever they want if they relate it only to himself or to herself. I think all the different fields have to work closely together. I was lucky, I worked with great teams. When you have a large project, you are in your own world, and there is less daily bureaucracy. It was more about the team you were working with on the project. So that was a privilege.”

Epic career

Nedialkova has had a career that epitomises the term ‘epic’. She has taken part in 20 Summer and Winter Olympics, 11 Paralympics, 11 FIFA World Cups, 10 World Athletics Championships, and many, many more events over the last few decades.

In November 2021 Nedialkova was awarded the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) Lifetime Commitment Award, also known as the Golden Rings Award. This prestigious international competition is organised by the IOC to promote and award excellence in the broadcasting of the Olympic Games.

Her sports broadcasting career took its first steps in her homeland of Bulgaria at Bulgarian National TV (also known as BNT) in 1975. There she covered cultural events, music festivals, news and current affairs, and over the 16 years she was there until 1990, segued into sports broadcasting, which increased in prominence over the subsequent decade. In the 1980’s she was also a member of several Intervision-Eurovision operation groups.

Nedialkova’s ‘firsts’ in sport happened at BNT, with the World Cup in 1978 in Argentina, and in 1980, her first Olympics, which was held in Moscow that year.

“I like this job. I like the diversity. I like that it’s not the same every time; it’s always new. It’s always a new crew, new venue, new event”

In 1991 Nedialkova left BNT and went to host broadcaster Radio Televisión Olímpica ’92 (RTO’92) – the predecessor of the IOC’s Olympic Broadcasting Services – to cover the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. While there she was headhunted by German broadcaster ZDF, where she has remained for the duration of her career as an international sports coordinator that she retired from at the end of 2021.

A linguist with eight languages under her belt, she made the move to Germany in November 1992 after the Games on a one year contract to lead the international booking and coordination for the host broadcaster for the 1993 World Athletics Championships in Stuttgart, and ZDF asked her to stay on.

She comments on moving from country to country at this time: “When I moved to Spain, it was quite a difficult decision as to whether I wanted to do it or not, to exchange a fixed contract to a temporary one.  But when I moved, then it became clear it was the right choice.

“Then the move from Spain to Germany was another challenge. ZDF is such a big company that we have an international coordination department split between news and cultural programmes, music programmes, and of course, sport. At ZDF, I focused only on sports; it holds many sports rights and there was absolutely no chance to do anything else other than sport.”

Aside from two pre-agreed contracts with Eurovision (EBU) in 1994 for the USA World Cup and the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, Nedialkova has had a long and illustrious career at ZDF over the last 29 years.

Additionally, Nedialkova’s job was doubly busy as ZDF and German broadcaster ARD work together, and much of the coordination of sport for both broadcasters fell to her. She says: “You have to consider the special situation in Germany because many of the sports rights are owned jointly by ARD and ZDF as the two public broadcasters. It was always a joint operation with a joint ARD-ZDF management team. So, for many years, I was doing the coordination and the preparation for both companies, as I had no counterpart in ARD; only much later, maybe in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Her final Olympics was Tokyo last year, which she says was one of the most challenging, with the pandemic meaning the programming and planning for it had to be redone many times. However, as always, she was undaunted.

This industry pioneer says: “I started with the ‘non-standard’ Moscow Games and since then I only missed one Olympics – Los Angeles in ’84 – because there was the boycott and I was still at BNT. And I finished with Tokyo last year in ’21, another ‘special edition’ because of the pandemic; that felt like a couple of Olympics at the same time.”

Guiding influences

There have been many strong guiding influences over the different periods in Nedialkova’s life, but two mentors that have stood out for her are Manolo Romero, a true pioneer in sports broadcasting and former head of Olympic Broadcasting Services, and Francis Tellier, former CEO at Host Broadcast Services (HBS), both of whom are previous recipients of the SVG Europe 2021 Outstanding Contribution to European Sports Broadcasting award.

Romero helped define the concept of a host broadcaster and Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) during a career that spanned more than 20 years and 10 Olympic Games. This year he was inducted into the SVG Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Says Nedialkova on Romero: “I have known Manolo since ’78 from Argentina. At that time he was also responsible for many of the EBU’s host broadcasts and major events, and also for football, well before FIFA or UEFA stepped in. Later he actually created Olympic Broadcasting Services.”

“What I would recommend for the new generation [in sports broadcasting] is more networking, and more networking with other companies. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a small, medium or a big company, because you can get ideas and you can see what they do and how they do it, and get feedback from all these companies, which will give their advice”

She comments on how Romero helped her: “I was young and unexperienced, but full of energy, and he brought me into the fascinating world of sports broadcasting. I think I learned from him that if you want to progress in television, you must know everything, and from every area. So even if you are, let’s say, a programme person or a journalist or a production person, you have to know the finance, you have to be absolutely up to date with the engineering and with the techniques, and you have to try to put everything the together. And also I learned from him that it is an advantage to have been on each side [of the coin] at least once; when you’ve been host broadcaster or on an organising committee a couple of times you can much better understand the problems faced by all parties and the needs of all other broadcasters.”

She continues: “I think it helped me very much to be behind the scenes and to understand what things mean, and to really evaluate situations. In my case, my job, or my function [as international coordinator meant] was to be part of a management team or a project team representing the areas of programme, engineering, production and coordination. Doubling up on this from the ARD side, this was the core group working on a project for several years or months. Everybody demanded what they [thought they] needed right now, but it was very important to say, “yes, but this is not the question for now; this is maybe a question for six months’ time”, or, “yes, this is the number one priority because if we don’t solve this now, it will be a problem”. So, you always need to have this sensibility and this feeling of responsibility and the ability to sort among the priorities and to put them in the right order.”

She goes on: “I think what is very important in this job is that you have to understand the content. So, you need to understand the director’s philosophy, but you also need to understand the engineering point of view and what they want. I always hated to pass something on and to start a correspondence and the negotiation if I didn’t first fully understand what It was about. Of course, I had to learn, let’s say reading the technical diagrams and all the specialties; many, many times I have been the ‘trouble shooter’, the last person [checking documents], because I’m always finding the glitches, even the engineering mistakes that don’t make sense and so on. If you want to put everything together, you have to understand the essentials of everything.”

On Tellier and how he has influenced her life, Nedialkova says: “I think Francis is a good diplomat and I’ve always liked his style of managing his core team. I like his patience and he is tough in his way, but he is also smart, and he really tries to understand your position and your view, and somehow to find a solution to solve issues.”

She points to the development of the game of football over the decades when licensing became a new challenge as an area where Tellier stood out for her. She explains: “Especially later [in my career] when we suddenly had all these sub licensee issues, where you have a new broadcaster that has potentially bought a few matches, but you don’t know which matches because it depends on the progress let’s say of the German team or whoever.

“Also, in terms of host broadcasting, the production philosophy of the World Cup’s has developed; it is a very, very complicated event because here you have this challenge of the result of the matches. You never know what the next phase will be, who is going to continue. You have to be prepared from A to Z for all eventualities. But Francis could always help.”

Looking forwards

Nedialkova is still keen to be involved in events from her position today as a freelancer, and also to help others in the industry, as she always has. She comments: “A couple of years ago I was working on an event, and it was very interesting for me because I had some youngsters working with me, and I was really teaching them how to do their job, because you can’t read this in books.”

She goes on: “What I would recommend for the new generation [in sports broadcasting] is more networking, and more networking with other companies. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a small, medium or a big company, because you can get ideas and you can see what they do and how they do it, and get feedback from all these companies, which will give their advice.”

Ultimately, Nedialkova has had a brilliant career that has been a joy to be part of, she says, because she loves the industry so much. She concludes: “I’m a simple TV worker. I never wanted to be CEO and I’ve never wanted to make a career, to step up [the ladder]. I like this job. I like the diversity. I like that it’s not the same every time; it’s always new. It’s always a new crew, new venue, new event. This is what I liked.

“When you do something what is also your hobby, it’s of course great.”

Over the course of her career, Nedialkova has delivered:

  • 10 Olympic Summer Games
  • 10 Olympic Winter Games
  • 11 Paralympic Games
  • 11 FIFA World Cups
  • 6 UEFA Euro Championships
  • 10 World Athletics Championships
  • 8 Swimming World Championships
  • 5 World Championships – Nordic skiing
  • 5 World Championships – Alpine skiing
  • 5 World Championships – Biathlon
  • Numerous football matches (qualifications, friendlies etc)
  • Other single events all over the world

And as host broadcaster:

  • Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games with European widescreen 16:9
  • Athletics World Championships in Stuttgart 1993 and Berlin 2009
  • Athletics European Championships in Munich 2002
  • Nordic Skiing World Championships in Oberstdorf 2005
  • Alpine Skiing World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen 2011
  • Biathlon World Championships in 2007 Antholz and 2012 Ruhpolding

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