Live from London: EPCR takes over Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for European rugby finals weekend

Matthis Lebel scores what proved to be Stade Toulousain’s match-winning try during last Saturday’s epic final against Leinster Rugby [photo: EPCR]

The Hollywoodbets Sharks from Durban overcame Gloucester Rugby to take the Challenge Cup on Friday evening (May 24) and Stade Toulousain edged out Leinster Rugby after extra time on Saturday afternoon (May 25) to lift the Champions Cup at the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) Finals Weekend in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“In my eyes this is the best stadium in Europe today,” EPCR head of broadcast and media rights Carl Bengtsson told SVG Europe on Friday morning. “We were supposed to come here some years ago and then COVID hit. The stadium then was brand new, and that would have been an event in itself as people would have come out of curiosity to see the stadium.

“But operationally speaking maybe it’s a good thing because the stadium team know their stadium a lot better now, they know what they can and cannot do, and I realise now that going to a brand new stadium would probably have been a bit challenging. We had this situation in Lyon a couple of years ago, when the football stadium was brand new; it’s complicated to go to a new stadium.

“So we were lucky in a way, and it’s still the top stadium in Europe. All the facilities for hospitality are top of the line. It’s quite easy for broadcasters to rig camera positions as the stadium had been designed with TV in mind. All the camera positions are catered for – obviously for football but we can still use them for rugby. You have a lot of positions on the gantry, commentators have a lot of space, it’s completely pre-cabled as well which makes such a difference to older venues where you have to cable everything.

“It’s a very easy stadium to use, and the local team here is fantastic. They know how to host events outside of their own football team. We know it’s an NFL stadium, and they’re really working to be a great venue for anyone to come here and play.

“The NFL have helped us as well as the team here is used to different requirements and routines. Sometimes you go to football stadiums and they say ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ and they’re not willing to change. Here they are happy to give us a hand and facilitate.”

Carl Bengtsson, head of broadcast and media rights, European Professional Club Rugby

Buzz 16 leads production effort for EPCR host

Last year in Dublin saw a a complex production facilities situation with two separate host broadcasters, BT Sport and RTÉ, for the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals on consecutive days. This year TNT Sports – the successor to BT Sport and Eurosport UK following the former’s acquisition by Warner Bros. Discovery in 2022 – was EPCR’s host broadcaster for both finals in London, with Buzz 16 providing the production team.

“This time around TNT Sports is hosting both finals, which makes things a lot easier as they are in charge,” said Bengtsson. “And then we have add-ons, obviously, for the five other broadcasters present. On the English-speaking side we have RTÉ and ITV for free-to-air in Ireland and the UK. And then we have France Télévisions for French free-to-air and BeIN Sports for pay TV.

“We also have ESPN for LATAM, who are here mostly to do interviews with the Argentinians playing for Gloucester and Toulouse. There’s a huge interest in our competition in Latin America, and they have come to the quarter finals, the semi-finals and now to both finals this weekend. That’s the general set-up, so it’s quite busy.

“The Buzz 16 team has been here already this season, covering the Saracens v Harlequins game in the Premiership in March. Obviously it’s a bigger operation this time around, and they have gone with a very good camera plan for both games so we’re well covered. We never take it less seriously for the Challenge Cup; we respect both competitions in the same way.

“Before the merger Sunset+Vine provided the BT Sport production for our games and the Premiership as well. Then it changed to Buzz 16 and a lot of Sunset+Vine staff went over to Buzz 16, so it’s familiar ground for us. They’re still contracting EMG for facilities so it was extremely reassuring to know that we were dealing with people we knew with EMG behind them and we knew for sure they would do a great job.

“ITV Sport and TNT Sports are working with EMG. RTÉ only have a small add-on so they use facilities through EMG as well, and then both French broadcasters have a historical relationship with NEP Ireland, working with them for many years – and this makes things a lot easier here on-site as you basically have two facilities teams in EMG and NEP.”

Richard Wright was unit manager for EMG and Jonathan Endley for NEP Ireland. NEP had two trucks on-site, one each for France Télévisions and BeIN Sports, with seven iso cameras for each broadcaster pitch-side (one a radio camera for France TV) enabling pre-, half-time and post-game unilateral show presentation.

“Gari Jenkins is executive producer for Buzz 16 and Dom McGuire is the production manager,” continued Bengtsson. “He’s been the one coordinating these finals since we first came here almost a year ago, working on this project and the main man overseeing all the different needs from all broadcasters. It’s a lot of responsibility, and he has done an incredible job.

“You know what it’s like; broadcasters all have their needs and they change their minds last-minute on everything from camera positions to commentary positions, catering, partner accreditation … it’s not an easy job to coordinate all this. And meanwhile Dom has to take care of his main employer, TNT Sports. A lot of respect to him, because I know it’s been tough.

“The pitch here is a little strange as it is narrow down the sides, with less space for cameras both in front and behind the LED. We have TMO cameras in front of the LED in the north and behind the LED in the south. When they’re behind the LED boards it’s difficult to fit in photographers, because obviously we need the TMO cameras to be able to see the entire try line.

“But on the other hand we’re lucky to have a huge OB compound because we have the school across the road and we can go into the school yard. It is fairly easy here; we don’t have the same challenges we would in older venues. They had broadcast in mind when they built this stadium,” said Bengtsson.

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