One of the closest, most exciting Premier League football seasons in recent years is nearing its thrilling close. The destiny of the famous sterling silver trophy may not be known until the final whistles blow next month. With the relegation battle also likely to go down to the wire interest levels are soaring ever higher as the Championship and FA Cup near their climax too.
The popularity of the sport in the UK and around the world continues to go from strength to strength. From the A-League to the J-League, La Liga to the Bundesliga, the global reach and appeal of football is without equal.
And just 71 days from now, worldwide attention will shift from domestic leagues to the continent of South America, as Brazil plays host to the 20th FIFA World Cup. After almost three years and 820 qualification matches, the final 32 teams will vie for the title of ‘World Champions’.
Our aspiration is to make Brazil 2014 the first ‘24/7 World Cup’, which will appeal to all age groups, available across all devices at any time of the day or night. We will be producing all of this for less than the cost of a pint of milk for each viewer, listener or website user that accesses our coverage. To do that we aim to deliver 50% more hours of TV coverage compared to South Africa 2010.
In a previous blog, I explained how the BBC would be basing its production operations in Brazil and touched on some of the challenges in covering a World Cup in a country more than 30 times the size of the UK. Since then our TV broadcast partners, ITV, along with many other international broadcasters have announced their intention to cover the tournament from Brazil too.
With over 9,000 kilometres between BBC Sport’s HQ in the UK and our production teams in Brazil, it is technically very challenging to leave significant elements of the broadcast operation back in the UK. For example, the significant delay in communications between the two countries presents an unacceptable risk to the continuity and quality of our programmes if we attempted to control the live operation from back in the UK with commentators, cameras and presentation teams spread around Brazil.
After the draw in Bahia last December our core production team spent the next few days negotiating the split of live TV matches with ITV before joining the other international broadcasters trading with local and international suppliers to secure the best value flights, accommodation, technical facilities and connectivity. At the same time broadcasters entered into an arbitration process with FIFA to try to secure the all-important stadium broadcast positions.
The logistical complexities and resource requirements are perhaps best illustrated by considering a consecutive run of four live matches during the opening weekend of the tournament.
At 5pm BST on Saturday 14 June the BBC will be broadcasting live TV coverage of the Group C encounter between Colombia and Greece from the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Six hours later we will be with England as they kick off their campaign against Italy in Manaus. That’s the equivalent of covering one match live at Wembley in the afternoon followed by another match live in Moscow later in the evening.
And then under 24 hours later, we are live again on BBC TV for France versus Honduras in Porto Alegre – a trip from Moscow to Barcelona - to stay with the analogy. An hour after that match finishes, we are live in Rio for Argentina’s first match of the tournament – a short hop from Barcelona to Belfast!
This example doesn’t even take into account the matches we are covering in highlights form on TV and live on BBC Radio 5 live.
As a result of the huge distances involved and short time period between matches, we will need to deploy 12 separate commentary teams to cover the month-long tournament across the BBC’s TV and radio services.
In conjunction with our match coverage, we are planning extensive build-up and complementary programming across TV, radio and online. On TV alone this is likely to result in 50% more hours of World Cup programming than four years ago in South Africa.
Alongside 31 live matches in 31 days, there will be match re-runs and an early morning highlights show that will enable audiences to catch-up on the previous evening’s action before they go to work or school. A David Beckham expedition to the Amazon rainforest is captured in a special 90-minute documentary on BBC One with Rio Ferdinand also working on a Brazil documentary alongside his role as a pundit on BBC TV. Rio is joined in Brazil by fellow former World Cup internationals Thierry Henry, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Phil Neville.
Gary will be looking ahead to a World Cup in Brazil in another documentary as well as presenting a preview programme the night before the tournament starts. There will be two Football Focus programmes from Brazil and 10 editions of World Football Focus on BBC World News. We are also working on programme tie-ins with other BBC departments - from BBC Children’s to BBC Religion.
On 5 live and 5 live Sports Extra, there will be 24 days of football commentaries, with the majority of those matches live from the grounds plus a special discussion programme Postcard from Rio throughout the group stages with our roster of presenters and pundits in Brazil. The radio team has over 300 senior international caps between them while the likes of Mark Chapman and Dan Walker will be working across radio and TV in order to meet the needs of multiple programming strands.
The BBC will be covering the games online using content-rich pages that bring together video, audio, highlights, statistics, imagery and text commentary in one place. This live digital offering will complement our broadcast coverage, with a range of interactivity and choice that will enable people to join the conversation around the World Cup.
The BBC’s news teams will report on all the major stories from the tournament, both on and off the pitch. The World Cup, followed soon after by the Olympics in 2016, has thrown a media spotlight on Brazil and with it all the political, economic and social issues emanating from the world’s fifth largest country. The news teams will provide 24-hour bespoke content for the likes of BBC Breakfast, BBC News at One, BBC News at Six, BBC News at Ten, 5 live, Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 4, the News Channel, BBC World News, World Service, BBC Scotland, BBC Wales, BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Local Radio stations and BBC Brasil.
Throughout the planning process, all parts of the BBC have been acutely aware of the need to run as efficient an operation as possible, striking a balance between editorial ambition, technical feasibility and value for money.
Despite the considerable operational challenges, and even taking into account the substantial extra output we are committing to provide, the BBC will still cover all the matches and latest news across TV, radio and online with fewer staff than we sent to South Africa – current plans are that the BBC will send 272 people to Brazil in comparison to the 295 that travelled to South Africa.
Audience expectations are extremely high - with legislation ensuring that events such as the World Cup remain freely available in the UK, more than three-quarters of the population watched South Africa 2010 on the BBC with millions more staying in touch on BBC Radio and around the world via our global services. The massive growth in demand for our digital services since then has enabled the BBC Sport website to attract around 20 million unique browsers every week illustrating the public’s continued devotion to global sporting events and top flight football.
A World Cup in Brazil might just top all of that.
Barbara Slater is Director, BBC Sport