Live from Dublin: Sunset+Vine takes on Challenge Cup final for BT Sport

Sunset+Vine team at the Aviva Stadium: (L/R) match director Daniel Hudson, producer Jon Sloan and technical producer Jack Payne

Having come up short against Lyon in last year’s EPCR Challenge Cup final, their fourth runners-up finish in the competition, the RC Toulon team was determined to right those wrongs as they swept aside Glasgow Warriors 43-19 in Dublin on Friday (19 May 2023). In doing so, RC Toulon became the first French club to win both EPCR trophies.

As the Challenge Cup rights holder for Ireland and the UK, it fell to BT Sport to provide host broadcast coverage of the final on Friday night at the Aviva Stadium. On Saturday SVG Europe sat down in the stadium with Sunset+Vine, the production company behind BT Sport’s rugby coverage across EPCR competitions and the Gallagher Premiership in England.

“It has become this amazing weekend where you’ve got the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup played back to back in the same stadium in the same city, so it’s a real festival of European rugby,” said producer Jon Sloan.

“It’s not just the fans of the four teams involved: you’ve got fans of all colours who might have bought tickets six months ago and have come along to one amazing city, and an amazing way to finish the season.”

There is an unusual set-up this weekend, with different rightsholders for the two games. How does that change your approach?

“We try to just bring a relaxed approach to our presentation,” said match director Daniel Hudson. “We’re in people’s homes on a Friday night, Saturday lunchtime, Sunday, and we kind of want to be their friends really. So we do as much interactive stuff on the pitch with the players as we can, with demos to give the feel of rugby into people’s homes. That’s always been our mission, and we try not to lose that relaxed-style ethos when we get to these games at the end of the season.”

“With a bigger stadium and more broadcasters everyone has to fit in here,” said Hudson. “You have to be respectful of each other. But you’ve got to show the colour and the festival.

“There are five pitch-side teams here: two French, RTE, ITV and us,” added Sloan. “We’ve all got a job to do and we’re all trying to make our coverage as good as it can be. We need to respect that there are other broadcasters around and we’re all in the same compound, all working to try to make it a successful weekend. Sarah Cox is our match director tonight for the BT Sport studio presentation, as she was last night with Daniel doing the world feed.”

Spidercam crew prepare for Heineken Champions Cup final coverage

How did the host coverage go for the Challenge Cup final?

“Yeah it was great: brilliant that it is in the same stadium,” said Hudson. “It was a great game. Having things like Spidercam really help with the sense of occasion. Ten years ago it was an extra camera on the pitch and you maybe saw a scrum from above and that was it. But we’ve worked really hard to develop it into becoming an integral part of the coverage that you don’t normally have.

“There was a shot last night where we dropped it right below the scrum. Cheslin Kolbe [RC Toulon wing] was just on the left: you got an absolute bird’s eye view of what was about to happen on the pitch, and that comes with understanding the speed of the game and the amount of time you have, trusting your operators massively to get that shot but also to be out of shot and not in the players’ way when the ball is being kicked.

“It has taken a lot of work: the first time we had the Spidercam here was last year at the Six Nations so we’ve only done six or seven matches in this stadium. Each stadium is geographically different and this one is tricky as it’s so steep on each side.

“Somewhere like Yokohama, there is so much space around the pitch you can use it in a different way. You must understand the geography of the stadium and the pace of the game, and then really understand rugby. It’s a beautiful tool to help tell the story,” said Hudson.

What about the responsibility of being host broadcast match director: you want to tell the story but you don’t want to be the story…

“Absolutely. I’m doing my job best if no one knows I’m doing my job. It’s almost like the referee in that respect, in that it’s not about the referee or the TV coverage. But you need to be as pure as you can be, really, just wanting a good game to happen.”

“There’s an interesting amalgamation of facilities companies here to enable this weekend,” said Sunset+Vine technical producer Jack Payne. “There’s lots of crossover between NEP and EMG for us to be able to produce the match feed last night. We were doing the production for BT Sport of the host but it was very much a combination of different companies and facilities so a lot of work behind the scenes. It has taken a lot of work and thought by the guys in Ireland, really, to allow this to happen.”

“That NEP truck has worked incredibly hard,” said Hudson. “It has gone from my set-up last night – my camera numbers are different, my monitor layout is different – and they’ve had to re-write it this morning for Sinead Murphy. And it has to be absolutely perfect both times: they’ve done an incredible job in the compound.”

“Sunset+Vine is a production company so we try to elevate the experience for the people at home,” said Sloan. “Entering a weekend like this, with a great finale to the European season, how do we enhance the spectacle? So we’re adding the Upshot drone to our presentation coverage today to show the scale and emotion of the stadium, the city, and team arrivals. They’ve been doing a bit of work around RF to make sure their lines of sight are there for comms so they can talk to each other. That takes a bit of work.

“And we’ll have cameras outside the stadium with talent, getting amongst fans to try to bring that wave of atmosphere home to the viewer. We’ll also do a couple of demos with Austin Healey on commentary using Piero, so if there’s a try scored he’ll be telestrating the movement of the players. Just a few things we can add on top of what the world feed is providing.”

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