Live from Dublin: Broadcasters work together to deliver Challenge Cup and Heineken Champions Cup finals

Carl Bengtsson, head of broadcast, European Professional Club Rugby

The European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) season concluded at Finals Weekend Dublin 2023 with RC Toulon overcoming Glasgow Warriors in the Challenge Cup final on Friday night (19 May 2023) and Stade Rochelais edging Leinster Rugby for the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday evening (20 May 2023) at the Aviva Stadium.

In September 2022 EPCR announced that UK-pay TV network BT Sport would continue as lead broadcaster for the Heineken Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup in the UK and Ireland after extending its deal until the end of the 2023-24 season. The agreement for the two club rugby tournaments, which features teams across the UK, Ireland, France, Italy and South Africa, continues a partnership covering the UK and Ireland that dates back to 2015.

The EPCR also announced that ITV, RTÉ and S4C would provide free-to-air coverage until the end of 2023-24. Under the deal commercial networks ITV and RTE each show one Heineken Champions Cup match per round in the UK and Ireland respectively, including the final.

Long-standing EPCR partners beIN SPORTS and France Télévisions, agreed new four-year deals at the same time, under which both broadcasters continue their coverage of the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge in the French market. beIN SPORTS broadcasts every Heineken Champions Cup match throughout the pool and knockout stages, as well as a selection of EPCR Challenge Cup fixtures.

“The difficulty here this weekend is that we have, on two separate days, two separate hosts. It makes things very complicated, but there’s a need to cooperate and work together.”

France Télévisions, who have been associated with EPCR’s competition since its inauguration in 1995, continues to cover two Heineken Champions Cup matches, as well as one EPCR Challenge Cup fixture, on a free-to-air basis each weekend also until the end of the 2025-26 season.

SuperSport joined the suite of TV partners for the coming seasons as the exclusive broadcaster of the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup in South Africa, as well as in other key territories in sub-Saharan Africa.

Speaking to SVG Europe in the Aviva Stadium on Friday afternoon, EPCR head of broadcast Carl Bengtsson said, “For tonight’s Challenge Cup final, BT Sport is the host as the rights holder for Ireland and the UK. France Télévisions is free-to-air for France and BeIN Sports is the pay TV rightsholder.

“Tomorrow we have five broadcasters on-site: the host broadcaster RTÉ for free-to-air in Ireland; BT Sport, pay broadcaster for Ireland and the UK; ITV, the free-to-air broadcaster for the UK; France Télévisions for free-to-air in France; and BeIN Sports for pay TV in France. We could also have had SuperSport, but since we don’t have a South African side in the finals they decided not to come on-site – which is quite helpful really as we’re short of space!

“We rely enormously on the host broadcasters. We don’t produce the games ourselves. We give the hosts guidelines, the world feed running order obviously, otherwise it’s the host’s responsibility. And the difficulty here this weekend is that we have, on two separate days, two separate hosts. It makes things very complicated, but there’s a need to cooperate and work together.

“We had to come up with different methods, obviously, when it came to facilities, because we couldn’t have two different facilities providers on two different nights for obvious reasons. So we had to come to a compromise with RTÉ on the facilities provider. Once everyone agreed on the facilities and all the other factors, it’s a good situation. Everyone is happy now,” said Bengtsson.

Spidercam crew prepare for Heineken Champions Cup final coverage

An indication of the scale of the broadcast operation last weekend is that 360 accredited TV personnel were on-site at the Aviva Stadium. Alan Burns, coordinator of broadcast operations for EPCR Finals Weekend, said, “It made sense to have one truck to create the host match feed for both Friday and Saturday. NEP is providing Lir, the truck that also does the Six Nations, for that. NEP is also providing unilateral productions for RTÉ and for France Télévisions. BT Sport is here with an EMG truck for its presentation and another EMG truck is here for ITV. And then Timeline TV is here for BeIN Sport.

“Basically the host truck doesn’t move and the cameras set-ups are similar. The directors change between BT’s production and directing team for Friday night and then RTÉ’s production team go into the same truck. So it’s the same facilities and most of the same crew, it’s just the host broadcaster production teams that change between the two games. It adds a level of complexity, but everyone has worked really hard together to understand each other’s differences in the way they do the production and the way they put it together.

“For me these finals are a bit more logistical, making sure everybody interacts correctly and we get the right signals leaving the place.”

“Sunset+Vine is the production company for BT Sport. Tonight they have their production team in the match truck and they will also have a second truck doing the unilateral presentation and the pitch-side studio presentation for BT Sport, as do France TV and BeIN SPORTS.

“This project is a bit bespoke and unusual,” said Burns, “to bring all the broadcasters together in order to make it as simple as possible to switch between the Friday and the Saturday finals. There are a lot more trucks on-site than the Six Nations, and if you had a South African team in the finals you probably would have had SuperSport here as well – and that may well be the case next year or the year after. For me these finals are a bit more logistical, making sure everybody interacts correctly and we get the right signals leaving the place.”

The continuing evolution of the rugby TMO role

The Heineken Champions Cup final host broadcast camera plan comprised 20 cameras: main wide 22:1, main tight 86:1, low tight 86:1, tight 86:1, high behind right W/A, two handheld W/A, reverse handheld W/A, reverse tight 86:1, NL TMO 86:1, NR TMO 86:1, FR TMO 86:1, NR TMO 86:1, low behind goal left and right 22:1, indoor flash 22:1, super flash 22:1, home coach, away coach, home and away dressing rooms and the Spidercam W/A.

“The only thing that’s different for this weekend is the Spidercam,” said Bengtsson. “We don’t use the Spidercam the rest of the season, but we have it here for both nights this weekend. The Spidercam has a microphone attached to the bottom to pick up mid-pitch effects like the scrum. It’s brilliant.

“On the finals we just make it a little bit easier for the Television Match Official [TMO] because there are so many camera angles, so we have a dedicated EVS operator who can speed up the process and help him make decisions faster and more accurately. Normally we rely on the host broadcaster’s EVS operator; we wouldn’t have a dedicated one for the TMO.

“This is something we are working on, with NEP amongst others, to find a solution. We are looking at doing more innovation, and we did a remote TMO test trial earlier this season and it worked perfectly. It is definitely a road everyone is willing to go down, but we need to make sure it works 100% and for that, more testing is needed, which we will look to run next season – and hopefully, we can implement it the following season.”

That trial of remote production, commentary and a remote Television TMO took place during a Challenge Cup match in January for the Bristol Bears vs Union Sportive Arlequins Perpignanais pool stage clash.

On-site at Ashton Gate in Bristol six camera feeds were delivered to an NEP OB truck housing a vision engineer, sound engineer and riggers. The camera feeds travelled via NEP Connect Anylive fibre circuits to NEP Ireland’s Gallery 41 remote production centre in Dublin where the match was produced, including camera tallies, with a crew comprising match director, producer, graphics operator, EVS replay, vision engineer and sound engineer. In addition, the live match commentator was located in Dublin alongside a TMO who shadowed the decision-making TMO in Ashton Gate with the same technology and full communication back and forth.

2023 EPCR Player of the Year, Grégory Alldritt, receives the Anthony Foley Memorial Trophy from Olive Foley and her sons, Dan and Tony, following the Heineken Champions Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: EPCR

Dublin connectivity for a busy sporting weekend

Alan Burns told SVG Europe that NEP has spent time over the past two years investing in fibre infrastructure in Ireland so that all provincial rugby stadiums are now connected to the NEP Connect Anylive fibre network.

“There are quite substantial connections out of here on the Anylive network this weekend with fibres handling the RTE feed; France TV is now on the Anylive network in Paris; BT Sport and ITV are taking Anylive connectivity from here; and there’s also the world feed going to BT Tower. So there’s a significant amount of fibre traffic, whereas two years ago there wasn’t any fibre here.

“Part of what NEP is about is trying to grow connectivity and we started with rugby because that’s where we’re very strong,” said Burns. “We’ve also just connected the 3Arena, and the Matchroom production tomorrow tonight [for the Katie Taylor vs Chantelle Cameron Super-Lightweight World Championship fight] is going out on Anylive tomorrow as well. There’s quite a lot going on here in Dublin this weekend!”

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Stade Rochelais players and staff celebrate following their Heineken Champions Cup final success at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Photo: EPCR

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