Live from London: Buzz 16 tackles production duties for TNT Sports’ EPCR finals host coverage

The Hollywoodbets Sharks celebrate their victory over Gloucester at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which also guaranteed them a place in next season’s Champions Cup [photo: EPCR]

As the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) Challenge Cup and Champions Cup broadcast rights holder for the UK, it fell to TNT Sports to provide host broadcast coverage for both finals on Friday (24 May) and Saturday (25 May) at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London.

This season TNT Sports has shown every Champions Cup match, as well as a selection of matches from the Gallagher Premiership, EPCR Challenge Cup and Premiership Rugby Cup. TNT Sports and its predecessor BT Sport have shown the Premiership since BT Sport launched in 2013. Buzz 16 took over production of rugby content for TNT Sports this season. Previously, production for BT Sport’s rugby output including the two EPCR competitions was provided by Sunset+Vine.

Buzz 16 is led by managing director Duncan East and co-founder and CEO Scott Melvin. On the ground at Spurs last weekend Buzz 16’s executive producer for TNT Sports was Gari Jenkins, with Gruff Davies in the hot seat as match director for both games and Dom McGuire working as production manager. In the stadium on Friday morning SVG Europe sat down with McGuire to step through the network of relationships and meticulous planning process required to deliver host coverage for both European finals.

Dom McGuire: “There were two host broadcasters in Dublin last year [BT Sport for the Challenge Cup final and RTÉ for the Champions Cup final] but it was very much funneled through NEP and the RTÉ group as they had the Champions Cup.

This time, everything has come through to me! So the workload has gone up massively, and going from the back to the forefront is a steep learning curve – even though we do Premiership rugby every week. When you have two French broadcasters, an Irish broadcaster, World Rugby – we’re familiar with ITV and how they work – but having the other broadcasters coming in, the footprint for everything is so much bigger.

We’re used to a couple of trucks turning up in the compound; now it’s two or three trucks per broadcaster. The camera spec, obviously, is significantly increased for the finals from the 12-camera spec on our regular Premiership three games per weekend. So logistically it has been a challenge, and it does involve a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of email chains!

In the Premiership you approach the club, where the club and the stadium are usually one and the same. For these finals EPCR has taken over the stadium so you have to run everything via EPCR. You also need to go to the stadium people sometimes.

So where there is usually a direct route through to one group of people now you have to factor in a variety of other sources to make sure you’re getting agreement and confirmation from everyone, whether it’s approval on a different camera position, where you can sit to watch the game, or what you can do around the pitch.”

Dom McGuire, production manager, Buzz 16 for TNT Sports

You’re the production manager for Buzz 16’s TNT Sports coverage, but you’re now effectively production manager for the entire broadcast operation this weekend! That’s a lot of pressure…

“Yes, it is a lot of pressure. I’ve been involved with the rugby team for ten years in various roles, and I became the lead production manager on the Premiership a few seasons ago – that was with Sunset+Vine for BT Sport. It’s a step up.

You start generally on a Premiership cup game for example, with a smaller footprint, smaller camera spec, much easier to go through. Then you go through to the Premiership, eventually leading that Premiership effort, overseeing every single game to some extent, building up to the final at Twickenham – giving you a chance to work with the RFU and see how they operate.

It’s not in the job title, but I became the lead production manager on Europe, which I did for the first time last season. Last year’s finals were a great experience as I was not the centre point for everyone but I could see how it worked. This year, it was almost like a tsunami of work came and hit me!”
How has the approach changed from BT Sport to TNT Sports, in terms of how rugby is produced?

I think from my side of things there’s not a big change, because logistically we follow the same processes to get to the end game. But from an editorial point of view changes have been made. We have tried to innovate with certain aspects of our pre- and post-match coverage, doing more inside dressing rooms for instance when we get permission to do that. We always like to be on the pitch and in and around the players, but we have become more involved during warm-ups and talking to coaches and so on.

We’ve been lucky enough to bring in the Cine Cam on quite a few games, which adds a whole new element to the visuals. That will be here for the Champions Cup Final tomorrow, along with Hi Mo cameras behind the posts. The camera spec for the finals this year is significantly increased – we have tried to push it a bit for a total of 32 cameras.

We have Steadicam in for both games, which is quite normal, but we’ve got a Super Slow on that to add an extra dimension. We have two cameras on the reverse where normally we only have one. We also have a four-point WireCam from Luna Remote Systems above the pitch. And then we’ve got a Hi Mo camera position just above the tunnel where the players come in.”

This is a wonderful stadium as we can see, but it is quite tight along the sidelines to accommodate camera positions?

“It’s because there are two pitches here: you’ve got the football pitch and then underneath you’ve got the NFL pitch so there’s this raised effect. If you watch an NFL game it is significantly lower down [to avoid seat-kill while the NFL team rosters stand along the sideline during the game].

It is strange because of the slope and makes it very difficult on this side particularly, because we like to have our cameras much closer to the dead ball line to get a great TMO shot down the line. But if we put the cameras up here then the camera ops are standing on the slope, and it gets very uncomfortable after ten minutes. We have to work around that.”

Otherwise this stadium is modern, built as a flexible sports and events venue…

“It’s wonderful. It’s a great stadium. We don’t have to drag cables everywhere because there are boxes all around to just plug into. There are so many camera positions we can utilise, because they have obviously factored in the NFL as well. Having that NFL tie-in has really helped, as it is not just a football-focused stadium. It is in essence a sports stadium.

From a broadcast point of view it’s always nice to get to a stadium where they’ve thought about you. We’re not just an afterthought, fighting for space on the gantry. Here’s there’s a plethora of places to do your commentary, with numerous pitch-side presentation places. You can be as artistic as you like – our director is in love with this place!

Part of TNT Sports slash Buzz 16 approach was to try and get some of these bigger spectacle cameras in on a regular basis, but we’re hampered by the grounds. The Premiership grounds just don’t have the capability, really, to bring in a four-point WireCam. We did get a two-point WireCam in at Kingsholm, so we do try to bring it in, but it is expensive and sometimes impossible.

And the facilities inside the stadium are great, with so many flash rooms in a line together, meaning you don’t have to worry about where interviews are going to take place. The media café is wonderful for press and media to sit in and work with good internet connection. It is tuned in for all types of media and broadcast, which makes it so much easier. There’s a good-sized compound as well – we’ve got France TV, BeIN Sports and ITV, and there’s still plenty of room to house the graphics vans, the Luna camera, and Hawkeye.”

You’re working with EMG, and NEP are here as well?

“Yes, NEP Ireland is looking after the French broadcasters with Jonathan Endley. We then manage NEP’s expectations; whatever they need, we can put that into the plans of what we’re doing in the stadium. I work with EMG on all our rugby content, and here I’m working very closely with their unit manager Richard Wright. Richard and I have worked together for a good few months ahead of this weekend, to make sure we’ve got everything in order for these finals.”

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