LONDON — This week, our UK operation broadcast one of the two semi-finals of this season’s FA Cup — the world’s oldest and most coveted domestic soccer cup competition — live from Wembley.
ESPN in the UK brought exclusively live televised coverage of the Merseyside derby, contested by Liverpool and Everton, which finished 2-1 to Liverpool after a late winner from their star striker Andy Carroll.
Liverpool, owned by Boston Red Sox owners, Fenway Sports Group, contributed two of their alumni to ESPN’s soccer talent team: Kevin Keegan (the ex-England soccer team manager) and John Barnes (one of the most revered England soccer players of all time).
ESPN’s UK production team brought viewers a 90-minute build-up from our custom-built set. In truth, our pre-match build-up was far longer than that.
On-site preparations began last Thursday morning with technical crew travelling to Wembley and cable rigging taking place around the iconic venue, followed by sound and vision testing on Friday.
On the day of the match, host Ray Stubbs led a 90-minute build-up pitch side from ESPN’s custom built set featuring some of ESPN UK’s brightest on-air innovations.
ESPN Arena, presented by ESPN football analyst Craig Burley and reporter Darrell Currie, used augmented reality technology to demonstrate how each team should approach the game using players on a virtual football pitch.
And The Bench — a new in-programme element supported by Budweiser — featured as auxiliary set during the pre-match build-up from the Club Wembley suite, providing viewers with a taste of the anticipation of the big match as former Everton star Kevin Ratcliffe and former Liverpool star Ian Rush discussed the match with Currie.
Following the end of the match, Stubbs was re-joined pitchside from ESPN’s custom built set by ex-Everton players Keown and Graeme Sharp plus ex-Liverpool players Keegan and Barnes, supported by ESPN reporter and presenter Rebecca Lowe from the players’ tunnel and press conference.
The post-match discussion lasted for around one hour after the final whistle and some of the jubilant Liverpool fans also took the opportunity to stay behind and gather around their heroes Keegan and Barnes.
The pitch-side approach is not just something fans seem to like. In focus groups, the pitch-side studio is cited as a very strong positive with fans impressed as opposed to Sky’s more formal coverage in a traditional studio.