It is one of the biggest broadcasting operations of the year for the BBC, but how does their Wimbledon jigsaw come together?
Tennis365 sat down with BBC TV Editor Ron Chakraborty to get the inside story on a sport event that is always the centrepiece of the British sporting summer thanks, in part, to the magnificent coverage provided by BBC television, radio and on their website.
When do the plans start for Wimbledon each year?
Sometimes it feels we never stop! We usually have our internal review of all the output in September and look at what changes we’d like to make the following year, both operationally and on the air. We also meet with the AELTC in the Autumn to share plans and liaise closely with each other over our respective operations in the months leading up to the tournament.
Things step up in May when we start building the technical infrastructure at the Club, our Outside Broadcast trucks arrive three weeks before the tournament starts, the production team arrive the week before, then at 11am on that first morning it all comes to life – two TV channels, network radio, 18 courts online, it’s a big machine.
How do you decide which matches to put on BBC1, BBC2 or red button?
That’s one of the toughest parts of the job. You can make a plan at the start of the day built around the star names, the potentially exciting matches, the big stories and of course the remaining British players, but the tennis will rarely go accordingly to plan. Sometimes the match you’re looking to showcase on BBC1 turns into a one-sided affair and a great story will emerge elsewhere. A few years ago we even took the ultimate decision and relegated Andy Murray to the Red Button as he was two sets up in his first round match and Rafa Nadal had just gone two sets down.
Inevitably you will frustrate a small amount of viewers who were keen to watch the original choice of match, but thankfully we have six Red Button options and we stream all 18 courts online so everything is always available.
Do commentators get a choice of what matches they work on?
Commentators can certainly ask to work on certain matches and those requests are factored in, but ultimately one person has to have control of the daily schedule to keep it fair. We do our best to make sure commentators work with a variety of teams, covering different players on different courts to keep things fresh.
How many staff do you have working on Wimbledon fortnight?
We have a couple of hundred people here. The majority of those are from the production team and technical crew, but Wimbledon is such a big event for the BBC team we will also have teams from News, Breakfast, Children’s and Nations & Regions, and we do our best to service as many of the other BBC TV, radio and web outlets as we can using our on-site resources.
Do you judge the success of Wimbledon on ratings or the quality of the broadcast?
It’s a bit of both. In the audience appreciation statistics the BBC uses, Wimbledon is usually one of the most popular events the we have, regularly scoring in the 80s out of 100. At the same time, we want to make sure the event resonates as much as possible and those big moments reach the biggest audiences. So far it’s been a successful Wimbledon on that front, with over five million people watching Coco Gauff’s 3rd Round match and Murray and Serena’s doubles not far behind.
What is your personal favourite Wimbledon match you have worked on?
I’ve been working on Wimbledon for 21 years so there’s so many to choose from! Jana Novotna’s win and Goran Ivanisevic’s Monday final were special occasions, Tim Henman gave us so many epic evenings, the 2008 Federer-Nadal match is undoubtedly one of the greatest sporting events of all time, but I’ve got to go for the 2013 Men’s Final. I managed to sneak onto Centre Court for the final set of Murray-Djokovic. What a moment. What a man.
Does the success of Wimbledon each year highlight the power of a major sporting event on network television?
Definitely. You can say that about so many sporting events, but Wimbledon is really special to the BBC. To have the same rights holder for more than 90 years is unparalleled in sports broadcasting. Ask people what reminds them of Wimbledon and they will often mention the BBC theme music, or Sue Barker’s presentation, or Dan Maskell’s commentary. As people what they like about the BBC and Wimbledon will fit in alongside the likes of David Attenborough, Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing. Around 30 million people tune into Wimbledon on the BBC every year which is a massive chunk of the population, and it helps elevate it from just another sporting event to one of the great traditions of the British summer.
Wimbledon will be across BBC TV, radio, and online through to the Men’s final on Sunday.
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