Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Behind the scenes of the FA Cup final

ShortList.com's David Cornish goes behind the scenes of BT Sport's FA Cup coverage

On the morning of 30 May 2015, FA Cup final day, Tottenham Hotspur are threatening to spoil Arsenal's big moment. Or BT Sports', at any rate. 

A post-season friendly against Sydney FC is crawling its way toward a conclusion on BT Sport 1, Harry Kane having scored with a delightful finish in the 43rd minute. Should Sydney FC score, they'll force friendly into an unusual extra time, and cause an unimaginable headache for Grant Best, BT Sport's executive director of programming and creative. 

"If that game goes to extra time... it gets interesting for us," he tells me in the basement of Wembley's car park, home of the decidedly unglamorous base of BT Sport's  FA Cup operations. Seven gleaming broadcasting trucks fill the vast underground space, filled with teams of graphics tweakers and production staff, pouring over VT footage and feeds from the ground's 35 cameras. Behind us, amidst a forest of cables and concrete, the BT Sport team are given one final briefing.


The true glamour of sports broadcasting

The day marks more than the culmination of BT Sport's FA Cup coverage. Some 11.6 miles south of Wembley, an equally expansive broadcast operation is looking after the thunderous conclusion of the Aviva Rugby Premiership, with Bath vs Saracens kicking off at Twickenham at 14:30.

If everything goes according to schedule, Tottenham's friendly on BT Sport 1 will segue seamlessly into an FA Cup preview piece, before breathlessly switching to Twickenham. At the conclusion of that match, subscribers will be beamed from one final to another at 5pm, offering a short ad break in which to grab another cold beer.

The mood in the Wembley basement is one of quiet productivity, contrasting with the frenzy of the sea of fans amassing outside the stadium. Stephen Cook, head of live football at BT Sport, and his team are polishing off VT packages highlighting the potential battle of the day – Sanchez (a prediction that would come to fruition in sublime style in the 50th minute) vs Grealish – and final words from the team’s changing rooms.

At this moment, a Sydney FC equaliser would shorten the length of a lunchtime pre-game piece from Wembley, rendering the freshly made-up faces and coiffed hair of the 11-strong team of punditry talent momentarily useless, with coverage skipping straight from the friendly to the pitch of Twickenham in a brutal act of continuity.


The banks of live feeds and VT footage, ready to roll

Mercifully, Sydney don't have a goal in them. The Arsenal vs Villa preview rolls and coverage shifts to Twickenham. Best’s next fear rears its head. 

"Now, the rugby final could go to extra time and kicks, which again will cut into the FA Cup programme schedule," he explains. "It's the kind of gamble you have to make with a day like today. But it's key to what we're doing here. Our focus is to be at ‘The heart of sport’, and it's this sort of schedule allows us to demonstrate that."

That's not the only roll of the proverbial dice BT Sport is making. The ever-trending Robbie Savage and Michael Owen will join Darren Fletcher (not that Darren Fletcher) in three-way commentary team – something rarely attempted in UK football coverage, indicative of the channel’s desire to innovate, and a nod to the approach to big game coverage set down by the likes of America's ESPN and FOX. 

"Our job over the next ten years is to get people to turn over to us," explains Best. "We want to be a channel for the fans, understanding what they're looking for and responding to that." Since their launch in 2013, BT Sport has looked to take on the likes of Sky Sports and the BBC - who are acting as the day's host broadcaster, offering BT Sport a direct feed of their camera selection - in offering a package of sport that generates conversation, pitting the views of formidable pundits against each other educating viewers without patronising them in the process.

"Sky Sports raised the bar in covering weekly events," says Best, who worked at the channel for some 16 years. "We're working hard to raise it further." 

In addition to 'grand spectacles' like today's line up, BT Sport is investing heavily in expanding its coverage for the 2015-2016 football season, adding the Champions League to its growing catalogue. There's also been marked growth in the broadcaster's use of social media, sending out short-form content in an effort to draw people in to the live broadcast's major talking points. 


The three-strong team channel their best boy band look for proceedings

As 5pm ticks around, the operation moves into its next phase. While the BBC broadcasts from its box, BT Sport assume their position on the turf of Wembley itself, a symbolic land grab from the channel, thrusting its presenters into the cauldron of dancers, mascots and restless substitutes.  

BT Sport’s average in-match audience figure of 186,000 - peaking at 238,000 – was lower than the BBC’s. But there's a long legacy of British viewers choosing the BBC over other channels when the option is presented and BT Sport’s FA Cup audience is growing (in match audience up 41% year on year). The main aim of the day is to demonstrate the calibre of the channel’s coverage, the value added over the likes of the BBC from a subscription service – as well as a nudge toward the quality of the imminent arrival of the UEFA Champions League on next season’s billing.


As final preparations are being made, word comes in that Saracens have surprised Bath in a 28 - 16 victory. "We can breathe easy now," beams Best.

From here on out, it's a normal day in the office: while the game holds untold significance for the fans filing into the 90,000-ish seats of Wembley, for the broadcasters functioning in the underground car park, this is just another 90 minutes of sporting story to share with the viewers at home.


The FA Cup is part of a BT Sport football line-up that also includes 38 Barclays Premier League matches per season, plus coverage of France’s Ligue 1, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga all exclusively live



Ex-Fifa Boss thinks The Onion is a legitimate source of news


Is this Messi's best-ever goal?


Why American fans will never quite 'get' the beautiful game


The 10 Most Ridiculous Moments From Sepp Blatter's Time At FIFA


Watch Joe Hart think he's about to be hit by a baseball


Rory McIlroy on pulling pints, private jets and performing at the top



#Pogba Lost His Head to the Emoji Keyboard Yesterday

When the Theatre of Dreams became the Theatre of Content

by James Bird
16 Jan 2017

Rio Ferdinand's reaction to Ibrahimovic's equaliser is perfect

He certainly enjoyed this one

16 Jan 2017

Remembering Pierre van Hooijdonk, the original football ‘striker’

What really happened at Nottingham Forest?

by Dave Fawbert
13 Jan 2017

People are remembering Graham Taylor's defence of John Barnes

"You're talking about another human being"

by Dave Fawbert
12 Jan 2017

Fifa has voted to expand the World Cup to 48 teams

More fun or devaluing the competition?

by Dave Fawbert
10 Jan 2017

Football's most mortifying forgotten social media profiles

The Bebos and the MySpaces they thought were lost to history

05 Jan 2017

The ultimate six-pack guide; how to get washboard abs

by Sam Diss
03 Jan 2017

"I was the goalkeeper that should've been chipped by Cantona in 1996"

by David Preece
22 Dec 2016

Watch Bayern Munich's Thiago play a weighted pass to Santa

Santa Baby, put the ball in front of my run, for me

by James Bird
22 Dec 2016

Football Manager scouts brutally assessed our crap lunchtime kickabout

Would our childhood dreams be ruined by the world's most popular football simulator?

by Tristan Cross
20 Dec 2016