Working for one of the most prestigious sports television companies in the world is a dream come true for many people, and working in the football department – well you might as well have won the lottery.
Yes, working in sport means the hours are unsociable and, yes, they are long.
After all the breath-taking, high-definition, live-stream of the beautiful game that is football, and the cutting-edge analysis to go along with it, must be produced for more than 10-months of the year.
It takes a team of highly professional, dedicated and sport-obsessed people.
This relentless work is all completely worth it for top football producer, Sean Boyle, who works for Sky Sports Football. He loves his job and the high-pressure environment that goes along with it. He said:
“It’s great to work here (Sky Sports Football) if you’re a big sports fan, which I am. You always dream of playing sport professionally and when that doesn’t work out, I think this is the next best thing.
He smiled as he continued: “As a young child I wanted to be a professional footballer, but it was clear early on that wasn’t going to happen.
“[I] get to come into work every day and talk, write and discuss a subject which I love which is football. I’m around people who are also passionate about the same thing. It’s a great atmosphere.
“It’s hard work. It can be unsociable hours. It could be weekends. It could be evenings, but that all gets put into perspective when you’re doing things you really care about. It doesn’t really feel like a job. It’s fantastic to work here. I feel very lucky.”
Before we sat down to talk the ins and outs of being a football producer, I witnessed first-hand the buzzing atmosphere of the office.
Laughs, jokes and banter interrupted the endless tapping of keyboards and the odd silence broke the workflow when something important happened on the TV screens showing live Premier League action behind the desks.
A unified gasp ensued as the blur that was Dele Alli was approaching the opposition’s box going for goal on the stroke of halftime.
He knocked the ball across the line putting Spurs two ahead in the game against Liverpool. Cheers and sighs simmered in the air before the tapping of keyboards continued. Boyle loves the office dynamics:
“The office is fantastic. Everyone’s huge sports fans. I used to work on cricket and I now work on football.
The people are great. The people are passionate. You’re working on things you care about and you’re working on things that mean a lot to a lot of people.”
The atmosphere down in the gallery when a live show is being aired is a completely different ball game.
A frantic yet smooth operation unfolds with an hour‘s rehearsal kicking it off. The team work to tight turnaround-times. There is constant communication throughout with the producers and directors ‘keying down’ to whoever they need something from at a particular time so they can communicate through microphones on a one-to-one basis with the appropriate team member.
During the live show, there is the odd heart-stopping moment when a package might not make it to air on time – but it always does.
Those who are at the game at an outside broadcast (OB) perhaps face even more pressure.
VT’s (VT coordinators) have arguably one of the tougher jobs at an OB especially in a nail-biting, all-action, end-to-end game because they are responsible for delivering the replays to the world.
They work out which of the many cameras at the game caught the money shot, find out who in the truck has it on which screen and get it to air within a matter of seconds. (The truck is a high-tech, multimillion pound gallery on wheels that seats most of the team – with a second truck host to the assistant producer and specially-trained editor).
It was evident when I found myself stood at the back of the somewhat military-like gallery the live show is a team-effort and takes incredible skill, talent and knowledge to get the job done.
As Boyle describes some of the aspects that go into making a live show successful, the task seems daunting, exciting and makes my ambition to work in the artform that is television even more pressing.
“There are a lot of people all across the business that pull together to make a live show.
“My job as a producer is to coordinate those people.
“Obviously you have a presenter; you have studio guests on the show which you book; you have a director who’s in charge of cutting the actual shots and pulling the elements together physically on the night; you have a team of cameramen.
“You also have a team of AP’s (assistant producers) who work during the week in the build up to the show. They do anything from any pre-recorded elements you might want for the show, and also on the night of the show they might be doing replays for the live game, or they might turn around interviews, or may help you with analysis.
“There’s a PA (a production assistant). Their job is in charge of timings – to make sure you get on air and off air and hit the breaks at exactly the right times, so that’s a very important job as well.
“A team effort is very much what it’s about.
“There’s also a real sense of pride in what we do and that’s a big part of it.”
Boyle has over 10 years’ worth of experience and it is encouraging as an aspiring broadcast journalist to see him still so enthusiastic about his job.
The team are young, the company they work for innovative and there seems to be real potential for progression. This point became evident to me when Boyle told me he produced his first ever live show at the age of just 25.
His previous work impressed those in charge which led to them putting confidence in him. Though he modestly says he was in the right place at the right time:
“I used to work on a show called Cricket AM.
“That was my first big break in producing. I got a chance through circumstance really.
“When the show went off air and everything on the show had gone reasonably smoothly, and there were no massive disasters, that was a great feeling.”
Boyle is now 34. His job sees him travel the length of the country, and he rubs shoulders with the biggest names in football. He is also in charge of runners, who are fresh out of university.
He attributes success in the industry to a number of qualities but always comes back to people skills.
A producer needs to be versatile enough to effectively communicate with angry managers, press and media agents, chairmen, your sporting heroes, and also the 18-year-old runner who has just given you a lukewarm cup of tea to begin a long shift in the late evening.
Although Boyle is a producer, a successful reporter must possess these skills.
He says a thorough knowledge of the sport is also essential. It’s a deal-breaker. If you want to work in the sports industry, you must know your stuff – and that includes sports you’re not as familiar with.
Boyle has a hand in interviewing prospective new team members. He looks for hard-working, communicative people with knowledge, passion and dedication.
He also says it is vital to know the world you’re trying to enter. Watch television. Really watch it and pick it apart. What works well? What would you change? What programmes do you love? What guest or pundit would work well where?
Many of my counterparts are, like myself, training to be reporters, presenters and journalists. The same advice applies to us. I wanted to know specifically what a presenter or reporter could do to make the life of producers easier. This is what Boyle said:
“Be proactive. Think about what the story is for a particular game, who we should interview and what we should ask them.
“I’ll always have a handle on that as the producer but I work with a whole range of different reporters and they vary. Some of them come to me and say: ‘I’m thinking this or I’m thinking that or I’ve got an idea for this feature here.’
That as a producer is so good to hear because they’re taking an interest in the show – they understand how it all fits together.
“What I don’t want is not to hear from them having to call them up and say, right we need this, we need that.
“When you’re doing an interview, I think it’s important to have an understanding of what you want to get out of that interview.
“You may have a killer question you want to ask your subject whether it’s a player or a manager or whoever.
“You’ve got to know when to ask it. You’ve got to ease them into it, you’ve got to have a nice manner with the subject you’re interviewing. Establish their confidence.
“Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through – there’s a balance to that.”
The role of a reporter, therefore, is not just about timing, knowing when to come on air, when to fall silent to cut to a pre-recorded package.
A reporter can ask some questions after a game. They can give a match report and work to timings. A great reporter is self-driven and gives input into content.
So, what did Boyle think are important attributes of a great producer in addition to those he has already outlined?
“Creativity’s important. You don’t want to just turn out the same old stale stuff. You’re always trying to think of new and interesting ways of doing things.
“You can do a big build up to a game and that’s fine, you work hard all week on that to put that together and that’s fine but that’s the easy part.
“You go to do the game itself, it’s live – anything can happen.
“So how you react to that and how you respond to that and how you deal with that is the true test of a producer. A big part of that as well is being calm under pressure. It’s live television.
“Especially when you’re starting off, you can feel the pressure a bit, but pressure’s good. Pressure brings the best out of you and helps you work hard and sometimes you need that edge.”
An edge – that something a little extra is what has made the Cristiano Ronaldo’s, the Ian Ward’s and the Lewis Hamilton’s some of the best in the world in their fields. It is what Pep Guardiola has been giving Manchester City so far in their campaign this season and why they are currently eight points clear at top of the top flight.
It is also what makes the best in the sports broadcasting industry stand out. It is what helps towards success.
Hours and hours dedicated to your profession will set you apart. The long, unsociable hours are something Boyle mentioned a number of times. It can take a toll on other aspects of your life but there are perks to doing a job you love:
“I think it’s fantastic if you’re ever at the pub on a Sunday night and everyone has their Sunday evening blues, and you’ve got to go back to work – I sometimes feel a bit guilty because I’m looking forward to going back.
“I’m working on things I love to work on. I think sometimes you’ll find yourself on a day off and you might watch a football game that’s on and you think what am I doing? You think, if I was working, I’d be working on this.
The benefits of working in television are fantastic and far outweigh anything else.”
The benefits outweigh the downsides to the job but the perks tip the scale entirely. Boyle is visibly enthused as he recounts his best moments in the profession so far:
“I have a couple of personal highlights that would stick in my mind for sure.
“Last year I did the Championship playoff final, which was great. It felt like a really big game. It was at Wembley, it had a really big build up, a lot of time off the back.
“To be working on a game like that which is regarded as possibly one of the richest games in sport, with hundreds of millions of pounds at stake. To do that felt really great.
“Also last year, in February, I did what was then the EFL Cup Final. It was Manchester United against Southampton, and again at a sold-out Wembley.
“About 10 minutes before kick-off, we were on an advertising break and I very quickly ran out of the truck and ran down the tunnel just to look around at the crowd and saw all these people there and that was a pretty cool moment – I was thinking wow, what am I doing here?
“So that would definitely be one, but there’s been lots. When I was working on cricket I went on tour to Australia, and that was a great experience.”
His passion really was infectious. I felt as though I was there with him, and again my desire to work in the industry gripped me more tightly than ever.
However, Boyle’s job comes with a host of responsibilities and pressure. Maybe not as much as pressure as Bobby Moore faced going into the FIFA World Cup final in 1966. Though, had Boyle been producing the game which was watched by over 32 million viewers, he may have shared a little of the burden Moore carried into that final.
Boyle does produce games that matter to people and they need to see every shot, every miss, every win. They need to be able to hear pundits giving analysis at half time. They need to be able to see slow motion analysis explained on the touchscreens by the likes of Mers (Paul Merson).
He has to take into consideration Ofcom guidelines. He has to consider his audience. Families often watch games together. It is vital to protect children from harm and offense. They may be upset by a broken leg on camera, or blood. Tensions run high at games and bad language must be managed to protect the viewers.
On a magazine style show where there is a lot of pre-recorded material, undue prominence becomes an issue and must also be managed:
“Quite often you’ll get PR people ringing you up saying: ‘We’ve got an opportunity. You can go and film with this sports star. He’s opening a new Adidas store’.
“You’ll know that when you get down there, they’ll try to make it into an Adidas advert.
“Your job [as a producer] is to find the right balance between getting the interview but not providing undue prominence for the brand that’s associated with them.”
Television is an exciting, wonderful industry to be a part of. It comes with perks and can have a real family-feel, but it comes with huge responsibility and hard work.
To be the best in the game when it comes to providing world-class television content, there are many components that need to be considered and all this is literally in a day’s (or night’s) work for the likes of Sean Boyle working at a top broadcasting giant like Sky Sports.