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51 international football matches, 28 Olympic sports, 1 sporting summer

Barbara Slater

Director, BBC Sport

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In just over 2 months’ time, the fifteenth European Football Championship kicks off as the host nation, France, seek to regain the trophy they last won at the turn of the millennium. Just under a month later, the attention of the sporting world shifts 9000 kilometres to Rio de Janeiro, for the thirty-first Olympic Games. Both events will be live across the BBC’s TV, radio, online and digital services.

“The good gold Beeb” was how one national newspaper, the Sunday Mirror, described our coverage of London 2012. Another, the Daily Mail, put the BBC, “top of the broadcasting medal table”. More importantly, audiences loved it with over 90% of the UK population tuning in and 96% of those surveyed saying the BBC’s coverage met or exceeded their expectations. Our aim was to immerse audiences in both the sport and atmosphere of the London Games.  We did things like broadcasting every sport live, basing our main studio in the centre of Olympic Park and deploying presentation teams at venues such as cycling, swimming and athletics. It worked. 

As the flame in East London was extinguished we set ourselves the target of living up to those expectations in Rio. So we hope to broadcast on two network TV channels, two national radio stations, an expanded Red Button service, across social media plus each individual sport streamed online. With extensive reportage throughout the BBC’s local, national and global outlets, fans of the Olympic Games will have every base covered.

The Games take place at 33 venues in Rio and another 5 venues in the cities of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasília and Manaus. It is a resource-intensive operation to do justice to an event of this scale, stature and national interest. We are planning to deliver roughly the same volume of output as London 2012 but with 455 accredited staff being sent to Brazil – around 40% below the total number of accreditations for London 2012 and 35% below Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games in 2014. It is also worth noting that, for example, more than 70% of the personnel covering the action on TV will be drawn from the freelance community, part of the BBC’s commitment to supporting production talent across the UK media industry.

We know that staff numbers can often attract criticism, but to put these into context we are deploying about one-fifth the size of the team of the US broadcaster rights holder.

We have purposefully re-prioritised resources over the last four years to ensure we deliver the best possible coverage of Rio 2016. The presenters, commentators, reporters and pundits that lead our coverage require the support of a wide array of production and technical staff. The days are long, intensive and high-pressured, with the majority of staff working from the International Broadcast Centre alongside the rest of the world’s media. As with Euro 2016, we are working in partnership with other broadcasters to share presentation facilities and maximise the efficiency of our production operations. As technology develops we expect to locate more of our major event production (and staff) in the UK without undermining the quality of coverage. But some of the technology we need to use is not broadcast-ready yet. 

The month-long European Football Championship are set to be the biggest yet with more cities (up from 8 to 10), more teams (up from 16 to 24) and more matches (up from 31 to 51). Last time 39 million people watched the BBC’s coverage of the tournament with a peak audience of 23 million for England’s quarter final defeat to Italy.

France 2016 has added excitement for home nation fans with alongside England, Northern Ireland and Wales qualifying for a major football event for the first time in 30 years and 58 years respectively. BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland will be on site to relay the latest news from within the respective camps, capture the stories from the legions of travelling fans and provide Welsh language services.

We are once again sharing the live TV rights with ITV with the most talked about match of the opening round, England v Wales, exclusively live on the BBC. World Cup and European Championship winner Thierry Henry and stalwart of England’s recent campaigns, Rio Ferdinand, are set to join Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer in the studio, with more big international names to follow.  BBC Radio 5 live will cover every match from France, with more than 200 hours of live output led by Mark Chapman along with Caroline Barker, Kelly Cates and Dan Walker.

Our digital services will provide a daily offer to licence fee payers that is unrivalled in its depth and breadth. The Brazil World Cup delivered more than 100 million page views to the BBC Sport website, demonstrating a global demand for the BBC’s coverage of major football tournaments. We’ll send 258 accredited personnel to France – fewer than we sent to Brazil for the World Cup.

On the pitches and tracks, in the pools and venues, a new generation of heroes and heroines will come to the fore, changing the path of their lives. Like a good football referee, the exploits of those working on the BBC’s coverage of these events will largely go unnoticed to the public eye. That’s as it should be; the immense effort required to deliver the best possible service for audiences will always be outweighed by the huge sense of privilege that comes with covering an Olympic Games or European Football Championship.

Barbara Slater is Director, BBC Sport

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