'We feel we have taken the fan a little step closer to what’s going on': An FA Cup broadcast with ESPN

The Independent goes behind the scenes

Four years ago Disney-owned ESPN entered the British market after winning the rights to screen 46 live Premier League matches in the 2009/10 season. The collapse of Setanta certainly gave ESPN an opening but it surely would have only been a matter of time before the broadcaster joined the battle for armchair fans in the UK.

ESPN is probably even more synonymous with sport in the US as Sky is in the UK. Its portfolio includes the rights to games in almost every major sport including US sports such as Major League Baseball, NFL American football, college football and basketball. It has 6,500 employees worldwide and has over 30 years of broadcasting history.

In the UK, ESPN is probably recognised by most for their FA Cup coverage which has given the broadcaster greater visibility to British football fans since they showed their first match in 2010. Their coverage of FA Cup final day last year certainly proved their commitment to fans who would like nothing better than to absorb football’s big day by watching hours of build-up to kick-off. With the game scheduled to start at 5.15pm, ESPN incredibly chose to start their coverage at 8am, whilst ITV began their show just two hours before kick-off. FA Cup final traditions such as the usually dreadful team songs have disappeared over the years but ESPN did manage to revive some old favourites: following the coaches as they travel to Wembley, showing the players getting off the coach and of course interviews with fans outside the stadium.

Andrew Hornett, executive producer of football coverage at ESPN, was a fan of bringing back extended coverage before the cup final despite the logistical concerns: “I think it is terrific for us to do be able to do a 12-hour day live from Wembley. As fans I can think of nothing better than having the FA Cup from 8am to 8pm.

“It is a fairly complicated operation to do show after show all day because you are live the whole time with about 300 people focusing on production.”

The sporting giant looks set to replicate their marathon coverage for this year: “We are already thinking now what we are going to do with the FA Cup final [coverage],” said Hornett.

ESPN invited The Independent to go behind the scenes during their recent coverage of the fourth round tie between Brentford and Chelsea at Griffin Park. Arriving at the stadium at 8am with kick-off still four hours away, preparations were already underway. For outside broadcasting, a mobile unit or vehicle is used, in this case two main match trucks were in operation. They transmit the signal as well as co-ordinate the cameras in the stadium in front of a ‘wall’ of video monitors. The key stages of production, including processing, recording and transmitting footage and audio are dealt with here in these mobile broadcasting centres.

Former Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers, Southampton and England international Graeme Le Saux is now a regular on our television screens. He has had more than just a glimpse into two different worlds of playing and broadcasting football: “What it does make you realise is the amount of people that are involved in the game and the huge effort. I would want current players to see what goes on behind the scenes, just for them to understand the huge effort it takes to give their sport such a high profile.”

For this cup tie ESPN had 90 staff on duty, used 20 cameras and approximately 15 kilometres of cable throughout the stadium. Just to show the game there has to be agreement between the Football Association, the clubs, the police, the local authorities and the various broadcasters.

The final production meeting ends before 9am, two hours before the build-up starts live at 11am with the game set for a midday kick-off. Former BBC reporter Rebecca Lowe is presenting today with Ray Stubbs fronting the other FA Cup game shown live by the Disney-owned broadcaster on the same channel.

Lowe began her preparation a few days ago but still arrived at 7am to run-through storylines and topics to be discussed with her guests later. Lowe describes the differences between working for ESPN compared to her experience at the BBC: “On a commercial channel like Setanta or ESPN you can be more audience specific because people watching and subscribing will be football fans. It gives you more freedom because you can assume knowledge.

“You can’t take as many risks on the BBC as you can on ESPN I think.

“ESPN is a massive but you only realise that when you go to America. There is a real motto at ESPN which I have never experienced anywhere else, which is to serve the fan.”

Lowe is passionate about and is in her element when presenting an FA Cup game: “The FA Cup to me is what football is all about.

”It's what I grew up loving. My earliest memory is of Crystal Palace reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup and watching that in 1990 at home realising what football can do emotionally to you.“

Presenting live during an FA Cup game though is where Lowe experienced her worst moment in her career: ”I was presenting when Fabrice Mumaba collapsed [after suffering a cardiac arrest during last year's FA Cup quarter-final between Bolton and Tottenham]. That was the hardest thing that has happened because it was something that you didn't expect when you woke up in the morning. That was horrible to experience and I will never forget how that felt. That was the toughest and the worst thing.“

Live TV also can cause problems in terms of schedules. Floodlight failure or a serious injury to a player – leading to an extending stoppage - could affect an entire day of programming. ESPN only use one channel for live British sports. ESPN Classic has been used on occasion to screen live content when problems have arisen though.

“Today we have got a 12pm kick-off and a 2pm kick-off [Leeds United versus Tottenham on the same channel], if we had something major that happened here that delayed this game... the knock-on effect [to programming schedule] is a major concern,” says Hornett.

”Everything can go wrong,“ he admits. ”It is live television and things do go wrong. Cameras can break, VT machines can break. You try and make sure that you are backed up in every area. You check everything. Sometimes you check everything again and then you go on air and it doesn't work anymore. That can happen.“

A trademark of ESPN's coverage of the FA Cup has been pitchside panel. Essentially rather than presenting from a studio the panel take their table onto the pitch before kick-off and at half-time. This has been a successful innovation which has taken the fans closer to the action.

“We go to places maybe other TV companies haven’t gone,” says Hornett. “When you do something different you always face criticism and that’s inevitable. We believe we were right for FA Cup matches to be pitchside, to try to get behind the scenes and to try to get into dressing rooms. We feel we have taken the fan a little step closer to what’s going on. I think being pitchside has been a great addition to our coverage.”

Broadcasters operating in the UK still do not have the kind of access to teams that ESPN enjoys in the US. For instance in the US rival NFL coaches meet producers and directors separately to talk them through their tactics and suggest areas of the pitch the production team could focus their cameras on.

Lowe would like this to change: “I would try to get more access to players and managers. I would love there to be more trust between footballers, managers and broadcasters.

“There isn’t that same feeling between the broadcasters and athletes here as there is in the States.”

“We are getting better access over time,” says Hornett. “Perhaps we are behind in this country in terms of access. I think it is our job to break down those barriers.”

It is clear the ESPN staff here at Brentford’s stadium, despite their different upbringings either in the US or UK, genuinely love the FA Cup. On this occasion the League One side produce a shock with a deserved 2-2 draw against the European Champions. The game today and the replay against the Premier League club could end up earning Brentford around £1million.

The FA Cup in recent years has suffered as the bigger clubs have prioritised their Premier League and Champions League commitments but it seems they are beginning to realise that the oldest domestic competition in the world brings football back to the fans.

Hornett shares this sentiment: “I think clubs are realising that the FA Cup does mean so much, it’s not just about money but it means an awful lot to the fans. I think that’s so important in the modern era that it’s not about just money, that it is about the fans and it is about our heritage.”

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album