Smashing padel: Inside Aurora’s innovative production of the inaugural Hexagon Cup

The inaugural Hexagon Cup host broadcast was conceived and developed by Aurora Media Worldwide

The Hexagon Cup, a groundbreaking new mixed-gender padel tournament based on team-accumulated points, witnessed a convergence of elevated technology, strategic storytelling, and creative vision in cameras, audio and graphics.

Led by host broadcaster Aurora, the Hexagon Cup set a new standard for padel coverage, showcasing the sport in a fresh and engaging light. Aurora actually carried out two ‘first’ broadcasts of two brand-new competitions back to back. First, the Hexagon Cup took place from 31 January to 4 February, with the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) E1 World Electric Powerboat Series taking place in Jeddah from 2 to 3 February 2024.

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The journey of the Hexagon Cup began with a vision to take padel broadcasting to the next level. Aurora’s founder and CEO, Lawrence Duffy, traced the project’s roots to a conversation with Enrique Buenaventura, one of the founding members of Formula E, which took place around one year ago.

Duffy says: “Some of the shareholders of Hexagon are some of the same shareholders that were involved in the launch of Formula E. I was approached by Enrique Buenaventura, who’s the chief legal officer of Formula E, about a year ago at a Formula E event; he was a padel player, a very, very good padel player in Spain, and he wanted to create a marquee padel event in Madrid. He thought he could get the best players in the world to participate for the largest prize money that had been offered in padel to date.

“He was on the way to doing that and he approached me and said, “Lawrence, we want to try and make the television different, and we’d like you to have a think about doing it,” so we started to develop the project around the fourth quarter of last year.”

Duffy comments on the two innovative broadcasts: “The commonality [between E1 and the Hexagon Cup] is that we were asked to bring some innovation to this project, if we could. It was a shorter lead time [than for E1] but again, this tech stack of standard cameras, then special cameras and graphics, then data, was the same sort of approach to try and bring these elements to the output; to bring a level of distinction, a distinct signature, the same as with E1.

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“We hope that people watch E1 and say, “oh, right, I know what that is, that’s E1,” because you just have to look at it to see it’s distinct from anything else on TV. We wanted to do the same with Hexagon; create a signature broadcast, which was in keeping with the brand position that Hexagon had.”

Aurora created a signature style for the Hexagon Cup broadcast, which went out from 31 January to 4 February 2024

Delving into the research

Inspired by Buenaventura’s vision to transform padel coverage, Aurora embarked on a journey to create a signature broadcast that would captivate audiences worldwide.

First came the research. “We spent a lot of time looking at padel coverage,” says Duffy. “We did a couple of trips to existing padel events, one in Sweden, one in Italy. Padel coverage is good, and we are very respectful of that. We also thought there was maybe a few things we could ask some of our partners to bring to it that might add some value in terms of production. And then we set about doing that.”

The difference between this padel competition and others already on the market is the team element. Traditional padel is formulated very much like tennis, with singles and doubles competition. However, the Hexagon Cup has a male pair, a female pair, and a next gen pair who for 2024 were men under the age of 22 – with the gender of the next gen pair alternating each year – with all six in one team contributing to their overall points to win the Hexagon Cup. Altogether six teams compete in the Cup, with each team owned by celebrities, including tennis stars Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal’s academy, football player Robert Lewandowski, and Hollywood actress Eva Longoria.

Comments Tom Crump, Aurora’s director of development: “Not only are we trying to tell the story of those individual tournaments – male, female and next gen – but also the wider Hexagon Cup output including the coaches and celebrity owners. As Lawrence said, we looked at existing padel tournaments that happened around the world and thought, how can we take this to the next level? Because we know that’s what the client was after.”

As part of that elevation of this new product Aurora decided to bring something new and different to its output with cameras, audio and graphics.

Aurora Media Worldwide’s broadcast team on the ground in Madrid, Spain

Here comes cameras and sound

Crump continues: “Padel is popular. It’s one of the fastest growing sports out there so there’s already a built-in audience. But how could Hexagon Cup expand on that audience, and how could they tell the story differently? They wanted to separate themselves through broadcast from existing products.

“We looked at the existing camera plans of other tournaments and thought, how can we elevate this? How can we bring a unique broadcast signature to this? So having a four-point wirecam was something that was really important for us. We were at a venue that was quite tricky for that but Mediapro supplied it for us; it was an important point of difference for the coverage.

“We brought some enhanced audio as well,” continues Crump. “For the first time ever, we wanted to bring people closer to the action. We mic’d up the coaches so when there was a change of ends [of the court] we could get some elite insight into the tactics and what’s being talked about.”

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That insider audio was in Spanish, so Aurora found colour commentators that could understand what was being said and interpret that for English-speaking broadcasters.

Aurora bought in British sports journalist and television presenter, Ned Boulting, and Argentinian professional padel player and coach, Mauri Andrini to commentate on the English feed. Comments Crump: “Ned is obviously a very experienced broadcaster, but with very limited experience in padel before. However, he was a revelation; his take on the sport and understanding of the sport was great, alongside Mauri Andrini who was a former player and coach of the GB team.

“It was the combination we never knew we needed; they were just amazing. They really held it together. And they were long days as well. Alongside that, we produced a Spanish feed as well, with Spanish commentary.”

Aurora developed innovative new graphics to illustrate ‘smashes’ on the court, which are a differentiator between padel and other racket sports, and which give players a solid advantage over their competitors

Smashing it with graphics

The graphics package also needed to bring a point of difference to create the signature look unique to the Hexagon Cup. Notes Crump: “We thought, how can we bring a real elevated data point to the coverage through graphics? So we looked at a few companies out there that who could bring something slightly different in terms of data, but we decided to stay with FoxTenn [for live data gathering and player performance analysis] and wTVision [for real time graphics and playout automation] who have a lot of experience in the padel arena.”

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With FoxTenn gathering the data points and wTVision interpreting that into graphical data for broadcast, Aurora had a strong team to push forwards. Crump says: “Our point was to take existing companies working in padel, but try to push them to new levels and new data captures and new expressions of data. So FoxTenn had 26 cameras dotted around the court – little black and white cameras that collected all the data – and then wTVision would then implement that data.

“The main augmented reality (AR) innovations we looked at were heat maps. Heat maps are traditional in other sports, but never really been seen  in padel before,” continues Crump. “Then we asked, what are the real points difference in padel? What are the things that are really important to the game and actually help win you points? ‘Smashes’ was the thing that came out from speaking to the Hexagon guys and other padel players; if you could smash well, it was really advantageous. So smash speed, speed of smash, and how many smashes you could get out the court are two data points that we really wanted to showcase.”

FoxTenn helped to build those templates for smash capture to provide that point of difference for the graphics. Creative agency Interstate Creative Partners then designed the graphics look and feel for Aurora, in line with the Hexagon’s overall guidelines.

Aurora also wanted to showcase the players in the Hexagon Cup within the graphics package to raise their profiles on screen. It had to capture still imagery of each athlete as they arrived on site shortly before the tournament, and turn those images into ‘hero’ characters for the graphics package.

Notes Crump: “Those images were important to help tell each players story, as they’re not quite in the Premier League level of celebrity yet. And actually, we had one substitution, so we had a spanner in the works when one of the players got substituted out and we had to go and find imagery of another player to drop in.”

Altogether six teams compete in the Hexagon Cup, with each team owned by celebrities, including tennis stars Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal’s academy, football player Robert Lewandowski, and Hollywood actress Eva Longoria [pictured on the court]

Social media success

On top of the main linear broadcast was a full multi-platform content plan covering a comprehensive digital approach. Lightbros, a Madrid-based creative agency, worked on the digital side alongside Aurora. Aurora and Lightbros developed and pushed out 10 live streams that then became video on demand, six daily highlights across the week of the event, plus a full event digital highlights show and over 300 live clips published across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube Shorts and X.

Adds Crump: “Some of the numbers on YouTube were staggering. We had over five and a half million impressions on YouTube, 1.2 million views with an average watch time of 28 minutes, which is exceptional. So in a channel that was just launched at the start of the week – a fresh new channel – we did really amazing numbers.”

Duffy concludes that for the next Hexagon Cup, Aurora can bring even more to the broadcast. He says: “You bring the data components to it and those are really interesting. I think we can do more of that. I think we were just really scraping the surface in terms of what happens on the field of play and how the audience understands how a match is won and lost, and padel’s a really new sport, so I think there’s clearly an audience for it.

“Also, we could use more behind the scenes footage, which is the other major vogue in live television; the question is what happens before the players step on court, or how do they interact with each other in a team scenario? Dropping those mics into that discreet audio listen is really helpful; it really tells its own story.

“I think the innovation in the graphics and the data is so central to everybody’s proposition, I think, these days in sport,” continues Duffy. “We’ve just been lucky that we’ve worked with a lot of people who have let us get on with it and trust us to develop and innovate. It is always a challenge to think, “what’s the next thing that we can do?” but it’s really gratifying that some people look at us as being able to do that. It’s a challenge for us and our partners to think, “okay, how do we go at this again with the sport and try and invigorate it?”.”

The success of the Hexagon Cup is now being analysed by the creators, and it should be back in 2025 as an ongoing annual event.

Hexagon Cup was distributed across nearly 200 markets internationally, with the broadcasters including WBD Discovery and Eurosport, ITV, ESPN, DAZN, Supersport, Tencent China, Fox Mexico, Fox Australia, and Sky NZ.

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