Monday Night Football raising the bar
Leighton Levy, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Monday Night Football has taken the Red Stripe Premier League to more fans than ever before.
Backed by a budget that easily triples the usual spend on production, a staff of 50 or more, nine cameras and the introduction of innovative concepts more in line with international standards, Monday Night Football has easily become the largest ever television sports production in Jamaican history.
When title sponsors Red Stripe partnered with the Premier League last November, word from the company was that they wanted to take the league to new levels, raising standards both on and off the field. Most important, the sponsors wanted to give fans an experience they never had before.
"The focus for us was improving broadcast quality," said Erin Mitchell, brand manager of Red Stripe. "We wanted to use the telestrator; we wanted increased camera angles and replay ability. Replay gives fans the ability to see things they might have missed and it's something that was not seen in local broadcasts previously."
Monday nights, she said, presented that 'prime time' viewing slot that has a huge amount of eyeballs. Put the two together and what you got was a new paradigm in sports coverage in Jamaica.
"Now that it's winding down I would say it's been an invaluable experience. It's something new in terms of the local landscape, in terms of producing sports at a certain level, but I definitely think from the feedback we've got - albeit everything isn't perfect clearly - because it's still a work in progress. But definitely, based on the feedback people have been happy with the overall direction of the television coverage and how it impacts everybody, all the stakeholders, the sponsors, the teams, everybody seems to be rallying around the project and now seeing its importance and significance," said Delano Forbes, the producer and technical manager at Phase 3 Productions, the company responsible for bringing the coverage to Jamaican audiences.
But bringing the matches on television live isn't anything new. Success was largely dependent on the producers introducing elements that would wow Jamaican fans.
"What we brought new to the table was introducing the night games, the whole idea of Red Stripe Football Mondays, which was totally a new concept, never been done before in terms of presenting sports locally," he said. "We were changing the look and feel of the whole league, so we produced theme music and came up with more engaging-looking logos and rebranded what the teams looked like on TV. So it was a holistic approach in terms of what was already being done."
Improvements, he said, included adding more cameras so the viewers could see different perspectives, the introduction of new graphics.
"We would show before every game the formation of the teams, all the standard things that one would expect and have seen in the Barclays Premier League, but which have never been presented on local TV in that way before," he said. "It just made the whole thing a little more engaging, a little more exciting; raising the value of the league, the players, the teams, the PLCA, the sponsors and most importantly, presenting a new vision to the viewing audience."
The innovations by themselves are great for the broadcast but as Forbes tells it, there are more far-reaching benefits to what is happening with the broadcasts.
"Nine cameras isn't anything new, but in terms of a sport broadcast, nobody has ever done it at that scale and I am glad Red Stripe is willing to make that investment. They have chosen to invest in the league with a focus on the TV broadcast because they also see that when it's on TV the level of play picks up. The level of interest also picks up, making some of the players recognisable to 'John Public', players and members of the coaching staff so everybody gets a certain level of visibility, allowing people to identify more with the players and understand their stories and making the league more viable. When it comes on to scouts and sending away footage so overseas clubs can look at these players, at least there is something now that can be sent."
Forbes said he was pleasantly surprised by how fans have responded to the work they have put in. Not only has the broadcasts put more people in seats in front of their television sets, the crowds at the stadia have also been encouraging.
"Initially, we thought getting people out on a Monday night was going to be a challenge. I am very surprised that most of the venues, except for one or two, have been sell outs."
Recently, chairman of the Premier League Clubs Association, Edward Seaga, praised the production, saying it now positions the league to be able to tap into international markets, bringing in greater revenue for the primary stakeholders.
Those words have not been lost on the title sponsors.
"We are very pleased that they have something that international broadcasters would be interested in," Mitchell said. "Since January 23 huge leaps have been made each week, very huge, and the feedback from fans; people at one point were saying that they're not going to miss Monday Night Football. It's something they look forward to."