Sky tackles Heineken Cup’s opening weekend

Come on you Bath!The first weekend of European rugby’s premier tournament, the Heineken Cup, presents a daunting logistical challenge for Sky as it produces the coverage of nine of the opening round’s dozen games across the UK and Ireland.

The fixture list hasn’t been kind to the broadcaster. With 14 teams representing the UK and Ireland out of the pool stage’s 24 (Italy and France provide the other clubs) there will always be a preponderance of games that falls under Sky’s remit. Kicking off with nine though seems particularly unkind.

“Logistically we’re stretching our resources,” says Sky rugby director, Sam Foskett, “and we’re also sending commentary teams and gear out to France and Italy as well for those three matches. The people planning the travel logistics for this start booking flights and hotels in the summer.”

It’s a stretch, but it’s one that Sky, now in its second year as host broadcaster of the Irish games in the competition as well, has become used to. Teams, crews, trucks and kit, spend a merry three days each Cup weekend ferrying – sometimes literally – between the venues, and this weekend’s roster of three live games from Ireland, four from England, and one each from Scotland and Wales is becoming par for the course. Telegenic provide the facilities in the UK, TVM in Ireland

“The number of cameras is fairly standardised, with 12 match cameras and maybe a few more for a studio,” says Foskett. “We’ll also add specialist cameras like super slo-mos and hoists to some of the matches, so we’re probably up to 18 on the bigger games.”

The Munster vs Northampton game on Saturday adds the complication of a 3D production, necessitating the addition of one of Telegenic’s 3D trucks heading over to Ireland and taking the number of cameras up to 24. “Were doing our standard format of two side by sides and four mirror rigs, and we’re expecting great results from there,” adds Sky’s 3D Development Manager, Robin Broomfield.

The other main innovation for the 2011/2012 campaign is the addition of the SkyPad, the 103-in touchscreen initially developed for the set of Sky’s peripatetic Monday Night Football show by Hego. SkyPad uses the company’s AKI Virtual Placement system, which works entirely upon advanced image processing technology, and allows the system to be both portable and quick to set-up – rather useful when your studio can be in one country one day, and in another the next.

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