Two of the stars of BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight took time out from rehearsals to offer advice to RTS Futures members on a tour of the broadcaster’s facilities in East London.
Working as an analyst, said Austin Healey, “Your job is to tell the truth. You’ve got to be honest if you’re on television – people will spot a lie when they’re at home watching.”
After retiring from rugby more than a decade ago, Healey worked as a pundit for the BBC – and even hosted a short-lived ITV game show, The Fuse – before becoming a key member of BT sport’s rugby team, both as part of its live coverage and as a regular on Rugby Tonight. Hugely knowledgeable about the game, the former England international is known for his plain speaking and irreverent presenting style.
Rugby Tonight host Sarra Elgan has been working in TV sport for more than a decade. She is a rugby specialist who has also covered speedway for Sky Sports and football for CBBC.
Elgan offered encouragement to the RTS Futures members, particularly women, that a career in broadcasting is more attainable than ever before. There are more opportunities now, she said, adding: “Years ago when I started, you didn’t see many women in sport.”
RTS Futures visited BT Sport in early February at its HQ in the former 2012 Olympics’ International Broadcast Centre. As well as rugby, the broadcaster also covers Champions League and Premier League football, Australian cricket and women’s tennis on its five sport channels.
“Rugby Tonight has stayed the course – it was there at the very beginning of BT Sport in 2013,” revealed Rugby Tonight’s executive producer, the head of rugby at Sunset+Vine, Titus Hill. The production outfit produces 1,200 of hours of live coverage and magazine shows a year for BT Sport in a deal that runs to 2022.
Every Wednesday during the rugby union season, a production team of around 60 people are straining every sinew to get the one-hour magazine show ready to go on air at 8pm.
Twelve-hour days are the norm on a Wednesday, said Hill: “If you want to work in TV, you’ve got to be ready to work long days – you work until the job is done.”
This week, the show includes a discussion of the previous weekend’s Six Nations’ action, a pre-recorded interview from England’s training camp and the regular enthusiastic involvement of the amateur guest players – all in full kit – in the audience, who re-enact key passages of play from matches.
Rugby Tonight is loose, almost anarchic, in style. In contrast to Sky’s approach to sports coverage, the show eschews high-end graphics and touch screens in favour of large blokes hitting tackle bags and – in tonight’s show – cross kicks aimed into a dustbin across the studio floor. It is, unapologetically, a fan’s show, which is reflected in the make-up of the audience who clearly know their rucks from their mauls.
On the studio floor – Europe’s biggest sports studio, no less – herding the audience from one item to another and constantly reminding them when to clap and holler is Donna Merritt.
“I’m the director’s eyes and ears, and put in place on the floor what he or she wants from where they’re sat in the gallery,” she explained. “I ensure shows run in order and to time.”
Making telly, she said, is a team effort: “There is no-one bigger than the show –you’re all part of a team.”