The FA Cup according to ESPN

The FA Cup reaches its fifth round this weekend, and ESPN, which co-broadcasts the tournament with ITV, will be showing three of the matches live, including Sunday’s games at Crawley (capacity: 4996) and Liverpool (capacity: 45,362). For Jeroen Oerlemans, Head of Channels ESPN EMEA, the difference between the two grounds and two sizes of club is all part of the romance of the tournament.

“The FA Cup may have been talked down in the media recently, but for fans it’s never lost its lustre, its glamour, its importance,” he says. “Whenever we go down to places like Newport, we always have an FA Cup with us for our broadcasts and the eyes of the kids seeing people like John Barnes and Kevin Keegan with it is amazing. There is always this sense, the feeling, that this year it just might be their year.”

That it rarely is doesn’t stop people hoping, and Crawley will be looking to emulate some of the legendary giant-killing feats of the past by over-turning Premier League Stoke on Sunday. ESPN very much cuts its cloth to fit for each of the maximum of 25 matches it broadcasts each tournament, taking a mere dozen or so cameras – including specialty units that hang in the goal etc – to the smaller grounds that tend to appear primarily in the early rounds.

“Going to the small grounds is part of the charm,” says Oerlemans. “It’s fairly comfortable to do a great broadcast from the Emirates or Wembley or Old Trafford, because they’ve all been designed to cater for the needs of television. But if you go to Newport or Crawley or wherever we go, those are small venues that often don’t have a stand opposite the main stand, so we have to scaffold our own camera platforms. And we do that with love and passion, but they’re big challenges – it can be extremely windy. There is no fibre connectivity to these stadiums, so we need redundant satellite links out there . And still it can snow and you find yourself in serious trouble. It’s the nature of doing broadcasts at these grounds, but that’s all part of the charm of the FA Cup.”

SIS Live does all of ESPN’s football OB work (the broadcaster’s other main contractor is Arena which looks after the Aviva Premiership rugby), which includes x number of matches per round, with ITV and ESPN picking a semi each and then simulcasting the Final. ESPN, of course, did a mammoth 10-hour live broadcast from Wembley on Final day last year, plus covered the match itself in 3D.

Following a successful first year, few changes have been made to the formula for 2012, though a new pitchside table was ordered after the 2011 one was felt to look a bit flimsy on camera (though, as this clip from the Arsenal vs Leeds clash shows, it’s the presenters that could probably do with the reinforcing) and the mammoth, day-long broadcast from the Wembley Final – which was a hit with the fans – will be back again. As for 3D, the budget is apparently there, as is the willingness, it just depends on finding a carrier. “We would love to do it in 3D again,” says Oerlemans. “We think we have the right camera positions there, the lower angles that make 3D effective, but it depends on commercial negotiations that we need to have with our affiliates.”

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