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Snooker Returns – The Broadcasters

Snooker is once again being broadcast around the globe, as the professional circuit returns with the Matchroom.Live Championship League.

We are taking a peak behind the scenes, with a series of features looking at the steps taken to stage one of the first sporting events since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to read about snooker’s return, from the perspective of the players.

This time we’ve been looking at the innovations ITV have implemented to both adhere to strict social distancing measures and continue providing cutting edge analysis and expert insight…

Being host broadcaster for a regular event on the World Snooker Tour requires extensive preparations and a large number of on site staff members. The team includes floor managers, sound engineers, VT producers, cameramen, a director and the producer, as well as the commentators and the presentation team to name just a few of many.

In this instance ITV Sport’s Executive Producer Neil Cox and his team made the decision to take the studio away from the arena and into the living rooms of presenter Jill Douglas and pundits Stephen Hendry, Alan McManus and Neal Foulds. Each of them were sent a broadcasting kit, which they have had to assemble themselves in order to speak to the nation.

“Everything we do has been done remotely to keep up the social distancing for everybody, so it all has to be done from people’s homes,” Cox explained.

He added: “We’ve been lucky in the fact that preparation has already gone into place for the horse racing, as they thought they’d be the first back. There had been tests done from different home studios with the racing presenters. However, doing snooker is very different to horse racing. The slight delay on the snooker meant that the commentary had to come from on site and we had to work out how to keep the presenters at home. It was bit of a shock, because we had seven days to organise that and we normally spend months planning in advance. It all happened very quickly.

“Our biggest problem is the communication aspect. You suddenly have several people separated off site and you are normally all together. The director is working from home, the guys who produce the analysis are at home, I’m at home and the PA is at home. Everyone in this production is working remotely. The technology that allows everyone to communicate didn’t exist seven weeks ago, we are the first people to use it.”

Expert analysts Neal Foulds and Alan McManus in very different circumstances.

Pundit and former world number three Foulds has been a mainstay of ITV’s coverage in recent years. Foulds concedes that changing his living room into a TV studio and becoming a stay at home analyst has had its challenges, but has welcomed the opportunity to continue covering action on the circuit.

“We have a very professional team. In this situation, it really highlights just how much work they do. I’ve had to become a makeshift floor manager, lighting engineer and sound man,” admitted Foulds.

He added: “When the kit was delivered, I immediately assumed there would be somebody to assemble it, but we had to do it ourselves. We very helpfully had someone from the studios on a video link, so they could see what we were doing, but in times like this you appreciate all the other roles behind the scenes. I don’t think we ever took it for granted, but all of a sudden there is a lot more to worry about than just focussing on the match.

“We normally start our days at around 11:30am. We originally just make sure all of the wires are plugged in, batteries are charged and the lighting looks right. I normally need to put the backdrop up, as it sits in front of a cupboard that I often need access to. I’ll make sure I can hear Jill Douglas, my fellow pundit for the day and the producer. Once that has all been organised we take a lunch break and return just after 2pm to have a rehearsal and get ready for the 2:50pm on air time.

“It does feel different, but we have a Zoom feed set up and myself and Alan McManus or Stephen Hendry are still watching the game and chatting about the shots, just as we would at the venue in the studio. I can still buzz through to speak to the producer and the other usual members of the gallery that would normally be in a truck at the venue. They may as well be in a truck at the bottom of my back garden! Sometimes I forget that they aren’t.

“I feel lucky to be working on it and broadcasting from home is an interesting development. I’d hate to think that we would always have to do this. You need people to come in and watch sport. This has been pioneering stuff, but sport is also about the spectators. However, for the moment everyone is very grateful to either be working in it, playing in it or able to watch it.”

The commentary team have joined a minimal number of event staff on site at the venue. They have had to go through the same rigorous Covid-19 testing and quarantine procedures as the players, to gain access and their workstation has been heavily adapted to allow for social distancing.

Commentator and journalist Phil Yates was behind the mic for snooker’s first match back between World Champion Judd Trump and David Grace on Monday. Back in March Yates was in Llandudno, ready for the start of the Tour Championship, when the event was postponed and the sport was brought to a halt. In his opening lines from Milton Keynes, Yates admitted that it was emotional to be back in the box and watching the World Snooker Tour recommence.

Yates said: “When we left Llandudno, I have never felt like that in my life. You just didn’t know what was going to happen in the future. When I’m not working on sport, I am watching it. To actually be involved in snooker and see the circuit cranking back up has been brilliant.

“I got the call to say this was on and I couldn’t quite believe it. I’ve been commentating for 29 years and this was a completely new thing. My overriding impression of the event is that the professionalism is off the charts. I am a serial complainer, but I honestly cannot praise the organisers enough. It really has been top quality and no stone has been left unturned. The test was horrible, but once we had it done we were taken to our rooms and kept away from everyone until the results. It all runs like clockwork.

“We aren’t in a specially erected commentary box like usual. Instead we are in a rather large room backstage. We have one long table with the commentary kit on it. I am at one end and my co-commentator is at the other, to adopt social distancing. We also have a perspex screen dividing us, to make sure we can still see each other. The one thing you need in commentary is to see the other person, so you don’t talk at the same time. We even have our own personal toilet, I wish we had that all of the time. On top of that each commentator has their own personal microphone which you unplug at the end of each match. Every tiny detail has been thought of and it is very impressive.”