BT Sport bring new lease of life to oldest cup competition

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Football News

Jake Humphrey certainly talks a good game. Two hours before Arsenal's FA Cup encounter with Coventry City he is in a production truck, waxing lyrical about BT Sport's innovative approach to football broadcasting.

"We want to be different," he says. "There's no point being sat in a studio. We're following the story."

These are not cocksure assertions, however, and as BT Sport prepare to host their first live Friday night match from the sport's oldest cup competition, it is evident that the sport's newest broadcasters are willing to go to places where Sky will not. And, with record viewing figures set to be posted this week, the supporters seem to like what they have seen.

Tucked away in the bowels of the Emirates Stadium, Humphrey and his assembled team of experts for the evening - David O'Leary, Steve McManaman and Gary McAllister - go through their pre-match rituals. Arsenal's record appearance holder, a two-time Champions League winner, an ex-Scotland captain; these are an esteemed collection of pundits. But there is no mistaking who is in charge.

Humphrey is not just the face of the football coverage, but he also plays a significant role in various aspects of the output itself, be it the angle of the story or the angle of the cameras. It was his idea to introduce the pit walk during time spent fronting F1 for the BBC Sport, and it is an adapted technique he has taken to his new role.

Little over an hour before the show is due to go on air, Humphrey is ushering a cameraman though the Emirates Stadium tunnel, telling him where to focus his lens, as they perform a dry run of his tweaked version of a pre-race stroll through the paddock.

Humphrey's creativity is matched by the producers who, after having successfully done so at Old Trafford earlier in the season, begin their broadcast outside the ground in order to offer a more accurate representation of the matchday atmosphere.

Gone is the studio looking out onto a lifeless arena before it is open to the punters, and instead a stage constructed from scaffolding poles is erected, and it is where the opening sequence begins. If it rains (which it eventually does) they either get wet or stick up the umbrellas. This is live sport, after all; open to the elements and unpredictable.

Humphrey, O'Leary and McManaman then have just three minutes to wade through the crowds and puddles and into their position pitchside to deliver final analysis before becoming spectators when the match gets underway. This is when things really begin in earnest for the crack team of producers, editors, graphics experts and camera operators.

There are 100 staff in the stadium - the majority housed in trailers in a glorified indoor carpark - to ensure the programme runs smoothly, and the evening's only technical hitch proves to be something unrelated to the TV broadcast.

Shortly before half-time there is a floodlight failure and, as the players agree to persist in the dim light, many of the 60,000 crowd brighten the stadium with flashbulbs. It makes for a beautiful shot as the cameras sweep the ground and, although there is no way to plan for such instances, it is down to BT Sport to make the most of them when they arrive.

The game itself offers a more expected outcome as the Premier League leaders overcome their League One opponents - in spite of a spirited display in the second 45 minutes - with two goals in each half to confirm their passage into the fifth round of this season's competition.

Arsenal are rewarded for their endeavors with a home draw against Liverpool in the next round, while there is another notable tie with Chelsea and Manchester City also paired together. It also provides BT Sport with the opportunity to do it all again, content in the knowledge their maiden Friday night broadcast was a resounding success.

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