Behind The Scenes

Pitch precision for EURO 2012

On the soccer pitch, teams must be precise to win, especially in premier competitions like UEFA EURO 2012.

The same can be said for production teams covering these tournaments.

On Wednesday, “precision” was the dominant theme as ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Jed Drake discussed coverage of the Spain versus Portugal semifinal with a roomful of producers, directors, researchers and others.

“We must have absolute precision at every turn in order for us to put the stamp on the event that we all want to do so dearly,” said Drake.

After countless hours of coverage the past three weeks and an unwavering focus on Drake’s mantra, EURO 2012 is on the verge of its culmination for more than 125 ESPN staffers who have been working fulltime on the project.

In Sunday’s final, Spain faces Italy at 2:30 p.m. ET. The match will air live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and ESPN Radio. The above video takes you behind the scenes of ESPN’s English-language production for a glimpse at the great work that has been done all tournament.

(L-R) Steve McManaman, Ian Darke, producer Matt Leach and associate producer Andrew Hush at Metalist Stadium in Kharkov, Ukraine.

In addition to our Bristol, Conn.,based production team, a handful of ESPN employees are currently overseas in Poland and Ukraine for EURO 2012, including producer Matt Leach, who is working with the lead English language commentator team of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman.

Over the past month, Leach has traveled some 13,000 miles (4,250 from the U.S. and 8,800 in between matches), taking 16 flights with connections through Vienna, Berlin and Athens. Of the eight EURO 2012 host cities, he’s traveled to five, including Warsaw and Gdansk in Poland, and Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kiev in Ukraine, spending about equal time in both countries.

Leach shares his experiences of covering this premier global sports event:

“There have been so many moments that I’ll take with me from this tournament and this trip. Normally in production we spend the games sitting in mobile units outside the venue, so one of the best aspects of this assignment is that I get to sit in the commentary position inside the stadium.

“Being able to see and hear the Polish fans sing their national anthem before the opening match in Warsaw, as well as the Ukrainian fans sing theirs later in Donetsk, was something I’ll never forget. The Spanish and Irish fans partying around Gdansk from dawn until dawn is also etched in my mind.

“We have come across several Americans in our travels. One gentleman in the lobby of our hotel in Donetsk asked if we were from ESPN. Upon hearing we were, he launched into a soliloquy about how he’s been in Eastern Europe for the better part of the past six months for business, and the thing he misses the most is our coverage of sports.

“There were also several college-age kids who flew into Gdansk for a match and spotted Ian and Macca as we taped a preview segment for SportsCenter. Ian spent a few minutes with them after the taping, a conversation they claimed was the highlight of their trip. Back in Donetsk, we met a family from San Francisco who traveled 14 hours to watch England play Ukraine in the group stage. They recognized Ian right away since they get up at 4 a.m. to watch Premier League games during the season.

“They thanked him and us for the work on the Premier League. Macca, as you would imagine, is recognized everywhere we go by fans from every nation, and he has handed out more autographs and taken more pictures than I could keep track.”

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