FA Cup Final : BT Sport Coverage 2014

“For the neutral, an absolutely terrific start” [Ian Darke, BT Sport commentator, 2014]

I don’t want to talk about the ‘magic of the cup’. I don’t want to mention that bloody nine year wait for an Arsenal trophy. I certainly don’t want to discuss the idiot who leaked a picture of the Arsenal victory parade bus before they had won it. All of those things will have been done to death in the days preceding the 133rd FA Cup final. It is of course nowadays just another footy match to most. The magic has long gone. The laughter about Arsenal’s lack of success has turned to sadness and pity. And the less said about that bus the better. The only thing keeping my interest in the FA Cup final this Saturday evening, 5pm kick off now folks, was the extensive TV coverage afforded. I mean just look at the number of people newcomers BT Sport had on air!

BT Sport

BT’s FA Cup Final team

We all know about the traditions of lengthy build ups to this match, stretching all the way back to the 1960’s and fantastically documented in the Football Attic blogs here and here. In recent seasons this sort of thing has made a comeback through Setanta and ESPN. The fact both their UK football output is now defunct is neither here nor there. Perhaps the most similar reincarnation of the old World of Sport style has been with BT Sport, who like to link together their sporting output as if the whole day is one big programme. Presenters chat to the next set of presenters before they hand over in the faux-chummy way we’ve become accustomed to, nobody really saying goodbye. On this occasion during Cup final day the coverage shifted from Wembley between 1pm and 4.15pm for some live Premiership rugby.

Before the egg-chasing, BT viewers saw a Cup themed Sports Panel with the excellent James Richardson filling in. From midday there was then an hour long preview show live from Wembley (and I mean all over Wembley) anchored by Jake Humphrey. Opening the show on Wembley Way in front of some early rising Hull fans alongside Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Jimmy Bullard, dressed as if off to the darts in a stereotypical blokey loud shirt. I do wonder what these fans do having arrived at the ground a whole five hours before kick off. There’s only so much pestering of the cameras one can attempt before it becomes irksome. Yet year after year there are fans there waiting.

That wasn’t it for the BT line up. Throughout the hour we also saw regular pundits Neil Warnock, Steve McManaman and David James cropping up in unusual places around the ground. Of course all bases were covered elsewhere; with Darrell Currie and Lynsey Hipgrave at the nearby hotels, Arsenal fan and actor Tom Watt convening with his own kind (fellow Gooners, not other luvvies) and professional Frenchman David Ginola inside the stadium. Ginola has had a couple of hosting roles this season and has done alright. Here his role mainly consisted of being excited and enthusiastic while asking quite basic questions to move the show along. Enthusiasm is not a bad thing, certainly compared with the pure disdain we’ve suffered from the likes of Lawrenson, Hansen and Shearer on the BBC in the past at having to cover games that aren’t blockbusters. So it was also a great sight to see ex-Hull midfielder Bullard genuinely delighted to be there. Right from the start he talked of how it was a privilege and honour to be granted access-all-areas at the home of football, not having been fortunate enough to have played there before. It was a refreshing change not to see pundits going through the motions, counting down the days until the next golf match.

BT Football

BT Sport’s first FA Cup final

Ian Wright is what’s known as a ‘personality’. That usually means he rubs viewers up the wrong way but there’s no doubt he’s a TV natural and does really care about the game. I’ve never really had a problem with him, he’s been used by all the major broadcasters over the years and will be going to the World Cup with ITV in Brazil. As an Arsenal favourite he was in his element during the build up, strolling round the pitch perimeters lapping up the applause and mingling with the fans. He was lively and unpredictable. The sort of thing these long broadcasts need every now and again.

If Wright and Watt represented the Arsenal perspective, Bullard and Warnock were most certainly pro-Hull. The underdogs in a Cup final are often treated with a mixture of disrespect and patronisation. It wasn’t really the case today. Chief reporter Ray Stubbs, a veteran of Cup final interviews gone by, had an interesting chat with Hull boss Steve Bruce about his Wembley experiences as a player. Helen Skelton of Blue Peter fame, now BT’s lower tier football host, drew the short straw by travelling down on the Hull supporters coach and having to interview the fans. The inserts weren’t live of course, BT have had their knuckles rapped for that recently. All these little things did add to the occasion and provided the colour and much-overused word ‘atmosphere’ that we’re told we need for these days.

It’s difficult really to innovate football coverage, most of the good ideas have been in place for years and the ones that aren’t any good are soon binned. So you have to credit them for some nice little touches for their debut final. Jake, Michael and Ian recreated the short journey the team bus takes whilst inside the Wembley complex, underground in the bowels of the place you don’t normally see. It was on a golf buggy and seemed a bit naff but it was still a nice idea which I haven’t seen before. And I watched all twelve hours of last year’s coverage on ESPN. Another quirk was Lynsey, David and Steve tracing the walk the winners, and losers, make from the tunnel up to the Royal Box to collect the trophy. Sure it was nothing groundbreaking but in a condensed format compared to previous efforts it flowed nicely and wasn’t too long or drawn out.

From a geekier point of view, if this can get geekier, other very nice touches were in the little bits just before the adverts. The theme music was adapted from the regular tune to a classical, stirring version. Either side of the breaks classic Cup final goals were shown, with original commentary. Nothing new there but the clip began by focussing on a live shot of the part of the empty Wembley turf that the move began on, then fading seamlessly into the archive footage. Again something I’d never seen previously but proved a really nice way of introducing an old favourite. As ever viewer interaction was utilised in the form of a Twitter hashtag (#MyFACupFinalDay) which was exactly what you think it was. Tweets sprawled up at the bottom of the screen with the usual nonsense fans talk about; superstition, beer, ‘come on you Tigers’, it goes on. A child was also involved, briefly, in the form of Joseph Hadfield who won the Young Presenter of the Year competition that ran much of the season. His prize was to have a quick chat with Michael Owen as the pair emerged from the tunnel. Host Humphrey seemed as up for that part as he did the whole day. He has received mixed reviews on his debut season as a football presenter but for all his faults he really does try to bring the viewer in as much as possible and comes across as a genuinely likeable person. He had dreamed of hosting this event since childhood. He did himself proud.

Three man commentary team

Warnock and Owen didn’t forward Darke the light-blue shirt memo

Once the build up was over and Leona Lewis had finished the usual double of Abide With Me and the National Anthem, the only real point of note was the three man commentary team as opposed to the usual two. BT’s first ten or so Premier League matches used this set up of lead commentator, co-commentator and occasional summariser in the form of ex-referee Mark Halsey. He was quickly shown to be out of his depth and they reverted back to the traditional two-man line up. However for this final Ian Darke and Michael Owen were helped out by Neil Warnock, who added infrequent opinions. It actually did seem to work. It allowed Owen a bit more time to think and less time to waffle, gave Darke a bit more to work with and can certainly see a similar set up being introduced next season. My main concern was about Warnock talking too much but he was very laid back and understood his role well. The criticism would be that he was very pro-Hull and quite bitter towards the Arsenal players and refereeing decisions but considering that was also my stance I wasn’t too fussed. It was also probably Owen’s strongest commentary to date.

As the game went into extra time the broadcast was extended by 45 minutes until 8.15pm to allow time for the winning goal, trophy presentation and post match dissection. Again the bright points during this included a distracted Ian Wright playing up to the crowd around him. And the benefit of pitch side presentation was the players milling around behind them so the likes of Jack Wilshere and Yaya Sanogo came and joined the pundits for a quick chat too. It worked out well for BT with the coverage going as smoothly as you could have hoped for. The game was also a decent one; the highest scoring final for six years. It draws the curtain down on a very impressive first season for them at the top level. The best could yet be to come with the continued Premier League and FA Cup rights and then the big one – the Champions League exclusively live – from 2015. It’s just a shame Arsenal had to go and ruin it all by winning the damn trophy.

Watch the BT Sport FA Cup Final promo
Watch Ian Wright’s post final celebrations on BT
Read my blog on how ITV covered the 2014 FA Cup final

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

2 Responses to FA Cup Final : BT Sport Coverage 2014

  1. Pingback: FA Cup Final : ITV Coverage 2014 | Mark O'MEARA

  2. Joseph Hadfield says:

    A really thorough evaluation, and a really good read indeed. Much obliged that my name was mentioned, didn’t know anyone would actually watch my segment, but appreciate it muchly.

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