Stadiums tour whets the World Cup appetite
First and foremost apologies for taking so long to post again. As Fedster (comment 32) rightly points out, in my last blog I said I'd reply to programme ideas and thoughts on the coverage and I haven't.
Not good enough, I'll try to do better - and there are some replies below. My only excuse is that I've been away for a while. Indeed for most of this time I was in South Africa on a Fifa Venue Tour.
On this trip, coachloads of the world's broadcasters were taken around each stadium to see the TV facilities available - positions of the commentary boxes, interview areas, camera locations, length of cable runs, truck parking areas, etc.
It's the first time any of us had seen the facilities that will be provided and it was very useful and interesting to see the contrasts around the country.
Having seen eight of the 10 stadiums in five days I would strongly recommend any fans travelling there to plan well ahead and get yourselves organised. Do not underestimate the size of the country and get your transport options sorted well in advance.
I saw some of the best stadiums I've ever seen and, combined with the warmth of the welcome awaiting us wherever we went, this really led me to believe the ingredients are there for a great World Cup in South Africa.
People, though, need to go into it with their eyes open and realise that they shouldn't be narrow-minded and expect everything to be the same as it is in Europe. It won't be and this is what makes this first World Cup in Africa such a unique and exciting event.
Each of the 10 stadiums is very different, so to prevent a blog of 'War & Peace' proportions I'll start by looking at the three where England start their campaign.
Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, is where they will play the USA in their first match (and potentially Germany in the last 16). As you can see from the photos it is an open-sided stadium with an athletics track around the pitch. There is one main stand where, amongst the spectators, the commentators and the main camera platform will be situated. Something could possibly be lost in terms of the atmosphere generated, but everyone will have a great, unobstructed view of proceedings.
The main stand at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium
For those players used to the tight grounds of the Premier League, with the fans close to the action, it will certainly be a different experience. It has turned out to be a ideal draw for England as their chosen training base is only a few minutes down the road.
The stadium is very different from compact Premier League grounds
Rustenburg is a quiet town. It is situated to the north west of Johannesburg and I'd expect most fans to fly into there and then drive the two hours or so out to Rustenburg stadium. A platinum mine is nearby as well as a huge game reserve (Pilanesburg) - how long until we get the first shot of an England fan with three lions?
Cape Town Stadium (where England play their second game against Algeria) has the picturesque backdrop of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, but internally it's also stunning. One of the brand new stadiums, all of the broadcast facilities are conveniently located and so should make for an excellent TV spectacle. This venue will host eight games (as many as Soccer City) including a semi-final - England v Brazil?!
Located in the district of Green Point I'd imagine most spectators will either walk from the centre of town, which would mean crossing the Fan Mile, or catch one of the buses which are being laid on. Very close to the stadium complex is the Waterfront, the tourist centre of Cape Town with its array of shops, bars and restaurants. On matchdays I'd imagine this will resemble Trafalgar Square or Princes Street on New Years Eve.
Cape Town Stadium has a picturesque backdrop of Table Mountain
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth (where England play their last group game against Slovenia) looks really unusual from the outside and is impressive and modern within. Port Elizabeth is one of the biggest cities in South Africa, nicknamed "The Windy City", and the wind has been a major factor in the design of the stadium, hence the curved design of the exterior.
The stadium is also close to the port area, as in Cape Town. The city has a mild climate and, being situated at the eastern end of the Garden Route - the famous tourist trail - I suspect will prove a popular venue.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium has an interesting design
It was a fascinating experience seeing the stadiums, and all of the ongoing work, and it really brings it home just how close the World Cup is. If it is of interest I'll give a brief insight into the other venues in due course.
As promised (at last) here are some thoughts on a few of your comments from my previous blog:
Murray (Comment 1) and others - you will now have seen that the split of games with ITV has been done.
In response to a few queries it is definitely our intention to showcase the whole country of South Africa, not just Cape Town and Johannesburg. This was really brought home to me just how important this will be on the venue tour.
We will have a bus touring the country, carrying TV, radio and online journalists, which will visit every host city as well as landmarks of political, historic and cultural interest. It will appear on a daily basis in our TV coverage, on 5 live and also online.
Fifa are also sending out up to 10 "feature" crews to cover things around the event rather than just the football. Added to this there will be city guides online and we will also use various devices in the presentation studio to highlight the various host venues.
Mike Martin (14). I hope you enjoy your membership of the Woodland Trust, a fine organisation. Your comment has kept my work colleagues and family entertained for hours, so thank you for that!
As far as your queries go: as you rightly point out John Motson will not be commentating on these finals for the BBC. That said don't be surprised to see him appearing on various BBC outlets in June/July. We'll have a team of five commentators - Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce, Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton and Steve Bower.
5 live will provide commentary on every game and will also be doing the usual phone-in shows, with the likes of Danny Baker on board.
Clartmaster (17) asks about HD. It's worth pointing out that the BBC was the first to transmit football in high definition when we did the 2006 World Cup. It is something we will continue to do whenever we can. This World Cup will therefore again be in HD (as was Euro 2008). All the Carling Cup live games we covered this season were also in HD and as an industry standard it's something the BBC is committed to going forward.
As I explained previously the main issue is around the infrastructure at BBC TV Centre which means Match of the Day cannot be done in high definition currently and is one of the reasons why presenting the World Cup from there would have been problematic. It is something we are working on and, by the time BBC Sport moves to Salford in 2011, I am confident we will have found a solution.
Brekkie (18) asks about the studio. "Everything else the BBC covers has studio arrangements in place". I'm afraid this is not the case. Whether we locate ourselves at the International Broadcast Centre (under the jurisdiction of Fifa) or attempt to find a suitable location elsewhere, we still need to build a studio.
Nothing is provided for us to use and certainly nothing is delivered as part of our TV contract. Each broadcaster makes their own editorial choice based on programming needs and the budget available to them.
Consequently, wherever it is, a studio needs designing, constructing and provided with the necessary technical infrastructure and connectivity. By retaining the studio we will use in Cape Town, the aspiration is that at future events, should a remote studio be required again, we will have one readily available for use at much reduced cost.
As Cape Town 2020 and others rightly point out, all of the main match coverage is provided by Host Broadcast Services for Fifa. It would be totally untenable for each national broadcaster to put in their own facilities to provide the main coverage.
Countries have greatly differing styles (and quality) of coverage and by providing a uniform, neutral feed of the highest quality with some of the best people in the business everyone should be satisfied with the match pictures. The BBC and ITV, like other broadcasters, will add on facilities in the form of studios, commentary, unilateral cameras, interviews, etc.
And a couple of other things to, hopefully, whet the appetite: our pundit line-up is still being resolved, but aside from our regulars you'll all be familiar with (Hansen, Shearer, Dixon, etc) we'll be making an announcement soon about some exciting additions for 2010. Watch this space!
In terms of things like shows on the BBC HD Channel, our opening titles, new analysis tools and additonal programming around the matches it's all starting to come together, but isn't all there yet. All being well I'll be able to update you on these plans in the coming weeks. And yes, Fedster, I promise to respond more quickly next time.