Exclusive: TV bosses want rugby coaches to reveal gameplans
Broadcasting revolution would see pundits briefed on expected key moves before kick-off
English rugby will be asked to agree to a broadcasting revolution that would see coaches sharing tactics and gameplans with television commentators before matches.
The radical proposals are being put forward by BT Vision, who won the rights to cover the Premiership next season and are emerging as serious rivals to BSkyB as Britain's premium sports broadcasters. The company are paying close to £1 billion to become major players in football and rugby, and will pitch a series of innovations to the 12 Premiership coaches this month.
The taboo-busting ideas include teams revealing elements of their gameplan to TV commentators – who would be sworn to secrecy – and players being filmed in training practising their moves. These would be compared to match footage to show if they worked.
Other innovations to the English game include players being interviewed as they come off the field at half-time or go into the sin-bin, and a camera in the pitch to give a worm's-eye view of scrums.
Premiership coaches contacted by The Independent on Sunday said they were keeping an open mind ahead of face-to-face meetings with BT producers in the next fortnight. BT agreed a deal last September worth up to £152m to take over from Sky and ESPN as sole broadcasters of the Premiership for four years from August, and to show European games for three years from 2014.
Leicester Tigers' director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, whose team host Toulouse in the Heineken Cup today, said: "BT are going to canvass clubs as to what we think are acceptable boundaries. They want to be cutting-edge, as producers always do.
"I think clubs would be open to it. You have to build the game and build the brand and build support within the game.
"That's what BT are paying for and money will be a dictator, no doubt. If it's not going to affect anything intrinsically within your culture, you can have common sense between the two parties. The more appeal you get into the wider public, and the more educated they get about what goes on, is appealing."
The plans have been shared with clubs' backroom and management staff but Richard Hill, the Worcester coach and former England scrum-half, said he would reserve judgement until he met BT.
The London Irish coach, Brian Smith, said: "I'm all for innovation and I'll wait to see what is proposed. There would be an appetite for this from the real rugby devotees. Something like the NFL Hard Knocks programme that follows a team in pre-season could work well. But I'm pretty sure the coaches would guard their tactics jealously. I wouldn't be keen on sharing our thought process or detailed preparation. It's sport, it's not Big Brother."
Cricket crossed boundaries by mic-ing up players in T20 matches, with the likes of Shane Warne telling viewers how he would bowl his next delivery, and following through by taking the wicket as planned. If successful, the rugby experiment would put pressure on football managers to follow suit and open up training grounds to the cameras.
Cockerill said: "The French interview players as they come off at half-time. You'd suggest they pick the right sort of player, live on telly.
"The other stuff, from a Leicester point of view – and we had this discussion with ESPN – is that some things in rugby have to be sacrosanct. Hearing the coaches talk in the changing room or at the training ground – some of that is your IP [intellectual property].
"We don't want our scrum- training coach filmed because we want people to wonder, 'Why are they good at that, how do they do it?' It might just be that we bend over and push harder than the others, and there's no secret to it whatsoever.
"A lot of it comes from America, the NFL and basketball there," he added. "The coaches meet the presenters or commentators the day before the game and talk through their tactics, so the commentators have a better inside knowledge of what's going on during the game."
However, Cockerill warned: "I would be concerned if it wasn't a two-way street. Building a relationship with the clubs is fine, but not if as soon as a club is playing poorly it's: 'The coach should be sacked' or: 'That player should be cited'."
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