Step-by-step organization of a Champions League final by Mediapro
By Óscar Lago, Production Manager, MEDIAPRO
In September 2017, UEFA appoints the Metropolitano de Madrid stadium as venue for the final match of the UEFA Champions League, which is to be held on 1 June, 2019. With little less than 2 years to go until kick-off, the machinery starts rolling. Although UEFA had not yet decided who would be awarded production for this event, we in MEDIAPRO set to work immediately.
For many of us it would not be our first UEFA Champions League final. Technical managers, producers, video and sound technicians, or operators we had already been in charge of the final match of Europe’s most important competition at club level, which was already held in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in 2009 or in Lisbon in 2014.
However, the fact that the one at Metropolitano stadium was our second or third final never meant that the project would be designed more calmly, on the contrary, the experience of having gone through an event like this increased even more the feeling of giddiness and the sense of responsibility. Once the event is over is when one becomes fully aware of the importance of the biggest one-day sport event in the world.
Only ten years have passed since the first final in which we were involved –back in 2009-, but it feels like ages in the TV broadcasting world. A new language, new technologies, new tools. Hardly anything of what we did in 2009 is valid today as developments are frantic. But there is one thing in common: both instances were the time to show the world that we, in this corner of the world, are fully capable of and have enough talent for facing the challenge entrusted to us by UEFA.
In January 2018 the timer starts ticking and we hold our first meeting with the UEFA team in charge of the final. There is something that has not changed over this decade: UEFA always maintains absolute respect and keeps full trust in the people in charge of the broadcast. We could say that their motto is: ‘Maximum cooperation, minimum intervention’. All is based in a relationship of mutual trust. We know each other and we have been working on a weekly basis in the broadcasting UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League seasons for more than 10 years. We know the demands as to procedures required by UEFA and they know our work methods and what we can offer them.
The previous preparations for each UEFA Champions League final require quite an exhaustive job by UEFA. At this stage, there are still 18 months to go and we already have the schedule for all visits and meetings to be held at Metropolitano stadium: five in total between January 2018 and March 2019. Meetings are a genuine proof of the work and supervision of all details as required by UEFA. On one side there is us, the MEDIAPRO team that will be in charge of TV production alongside the UEFA team, but there are a lot of parallel meetings taking place in adjoining rooms in regard to a wide array of aspects surrounding the final: security, marketing, power supply, press, etc. Faces show a mix of enthusiasm and responsibility. Looking at it in retrospective, the sport event only lasts a couple of hours, or five if we consider the run-up, so if anything goes wrong there will be no time to react. Everything must be foreseen, even incidents and contingency plans for sorting them out.
TV approaches for the UEFA Champions League finals held in the past four years have all been quite uniform. UEFA sets minimum requirements to be complied with, but from there on there is room for proposing positions and types of camera we feel comfortable with. And the final held at Metropolitano is, technically speaking, the second time in which 4K and HD production is carried out with the same cameras.
Camera deployment is well-know by all: 8 Super-Slow, 6 Ultra-Slow units, 2 travellings, 2 pole cams, an aerial camera, the helicopter camera, 2 beauty cameras on the outside on cranes, 7 cameras for viewing team arrivals –including 2 steady cams on quads for covering the arrival of buses from the outside to the stadium’s inner tunnel, plus 5 cameras for covering the moment in which the players come out to the pitch from the tunnels.
However, this year we wanted to take a risk and introduce some changes in order to improve this approach. The most personal of these was replacing the central camera on the field by two cameras located 20 meters away from both corner flags. This has become usual in Spanish football productions in recent years, but hardly ever seen in the rest of Europe. In MEDIAPRO we believe this provides a clear improvement on the images featuring players involved when an action ends. On the one hand, we always rely on two options as both cameras keep a close-up view of the player who carried out an action once it is over and this allows choosing the best angle based on where the player is looking to depending on what players are there in the middle, as they are placed between the camera and the relevant player. On the other hand, as these cameras are away from the technical area, constant obstructions of the view caused by the movements of both coaches and the assistant referee in the surroundings of the central camera are prevented. This is the reason behind the fact that most producers from other countries discard this close-up view from a low-positioned camera, with spectators unfocused on the background –a take with a high aesthetical and narrative value- which forces them instead to resort to a high camera which background frame will be the pitch itself. This latter take has a much lower aesthetic and narrative value as, on the one hand, it seems to be isolated from the context and, on the other, as it is an oblique take, watching the player’s expression becomes much harder.
For TV production of the grand final we have 42 cameras. This may seem a lot, but the most important thing is not quantity but knowing how to use them. It may seem a trivial thing, but what does this actually mean? The key in production is knowing how to assign to each camera a specific role based on each action in the game and then have all this inside your mind so in a matter of tenths of a second you know that the relevant action will be seen in a much better way in one or in other camera without needing to look or going over the image. Everything goes very fast and there is no time for hesitation.
Our production team for this final had a large advantage on its side, no other than the fact that for three years now the TV production model for LaLiga –the Spanish league championship- has been set at a very high standard: 23 cameras in two games every week, about 30 cameras in the Clásicos, the name given to the matches featuring Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona. This leaves us in a very comfortable position when facing a match involving 42 cameras… which actually turned out to be 43! We held a lot of meetings and a very strict level of foresight, but just 10 days to go before the match and with the assembly already in progress, we decided to include a camera providing a view of each coach with the fans on the background, in such a way that if a goal were scored, viewers could see -in the same open view- the celebrations of both the relevant fans and coach. A change that was welcomed by UEFA as they –like us- felt this would substantially improve match production.
A special note deserves production and execution of the opening ceremony. In recent years this ceremony has become a kind of mini-concert lasting about 7 minutes and this entails a series of technical requirements and a very high standard of production that Daniel Lozano and his team succeeded in achieving in brilliant fashion.
This has been a very complex and demanding job, but a highly rewarding one for the whole MEDIAPRO team. As for the quality of the football played by both teams, we would rather not say anything. A pity, although sure that the Liverpool fans did not leave Madrid greatly concerned about that…