Football frenzy behind the scenes at RTP.jpg

Football frenzy behind the scenes at RTP

WORLD CUP madness has started and, for most of us not lucky enough to have tickets to those all-important games in Germany, it’s a case of settling down in front of the TV, or listening to the games on the radio.

But what happens behind the scenes of a large media organisation like Rádio e Televisão de Portugal (RTP – formerly RDP)? How do they organise coverage for over 10 million people in Portugal and across the world? The Resident’s Chris Graeme discovers that, for them, it’s been a seven-month headache.

Rui Martins, who has been working for RTP’s International Relations Department for 14 years, is the European Broadcast Union (EBU) delegate, representing Portugal in the European Broadcasting Union’s International Relations Programme Group. He has been involved in co-ordinating the coverage of every major news, sports and cultural event in that time, including the Expo 98, Formula One Grand Prix, NATO meetings, Portugal’s European Presidency in 2000, Uefa football championships, Euro 2004 and now the World Cup.  

“In general, most people are simply not aware of the background work involved. They just switch on their radio or TV and, hey presto – it’s all there! But the planning at the legal and technical stages, even before the coverage of the event itself, is long and drawn out, and can take up to a year for a major international event,” he says.

The first question for any broadcasting organisation is, if exclusive or non-exclusive broadcasting rights have to be paid and, if so, how much? “Usually, they ask too much, and we simply cannot afford it and have to bargain with the entities involved to bring down the price,” says Paulo Sérgio, Deputy Director of News at RTP.

“Being an active member of the EBU means we have some leverage in negotiation because of unspoken agreements, since, sooner or later, they will want to cover an event in our country,” agrees Martins, who was responsible for sorting out all the broadcasting rights with official organisations for the Germany Championships 2006.

“After the rights are sorted out with the Rights Agent, the event has to be structured and this means technical facilities, equipment, staff, reporters and their accreditation, the ISDN phone lines and satellite link-ups, flash interviews, last minute bookings, the access passes for technical staff on site, VIP guests, and so on. For this, we have to not only work together as a team in our organisation, but also in synchronicity with the foreign organisations,” Martins explains.

“Not intending to boast, but through experience, I have learnt to know exactly what door to knock at, which makes things a lot easier in what can sometimes prove a complicated situation such as organising world class events,” adds Rui Martins.

Not only this, there’s also the staff and journalists’ hotel accommodation, transport and ticketing to think of and, in fact, Paulo Sérgio spent no less than three weeks on the ground in Germany, searching out hotels for the Portuguese coverage team.

“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes, and I can tell you it’s a never-ending story. When one event ends, we’re already working on another, often several at once. For example, we’re already working on the Beijing 2008 Olympics file,” says Martins.

Paulo Sérgio says that the cultural needs, when organising and covering a large sporting event, such as the Portugal Euro 2004, the Athens Olympics 2005 or the German World Cup, are different in approach in a Latin country from an Anglo-Saxon one. This means that Fifa have traditionally not made it easy for small countries, like Portugal, to cover some aspects of the football events themselves.

“We have the rights to broadcast the games, but we also want to broadcast the official press conferences before and after the games live, and Fifa aren’t terribly co-operative over that. For Central European countries, it’s just not important, but, for us, it’s vital to broadcast the Scolari and Figo press conferences,” says Paulo Sérgio. RTP says that it is still waiting for a decision and still doesn’t know if it will be possible, but believes that one of the reasons could be because the German hosts want to control the amount of unnecessary press coverage of the event which gives them extra work.

“Fifa have had some concerns in the way things are reported by Brazilian, Argentinean and Columbian reporters, who are often very complicated, and so they tend to imagine we are just as demanding,” he added.

Portugal’s RTP and SIC television have the broadcasting rights to cover the games for Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and the other Lusophone countries.

“This is normal practice to pool together and, anyway, we have a large community of Brazilians and Angolans here, and we have a special channel for RTP Africa, which broadcasts for Cape Verde, São Tomé & Príncipe, Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique.”

This time round expectations are running high and RTP is investing 150,000 euros in sending a team of 15 reporters to cover the event, which is the largest team of reporters and technicians sent by the organisation abroad to date. “This has to do with 2004 which was madness for the Portuguese people and so expectations are high for the World Cup. If Portugal hadn’t got so far in 2004, I don’t think we would have been making such an investment and pushing the boat out so far,” admits Paulo Sérgio.

But do things ever go wrong? Of course they do, like in any organisation. “Sometimes a team of reporters turn up, only to find they didn’t have a commentary position working, and this can provide us and our technicians with a lot of headaches, but we usually sort it out in the end,” explains Rui Martins. “Sometimes a problem arises but, in the true Portuguese manner, we throw it all together at the last moment. Despite any problems, it all somehow turns out fine,” says Paulo Sérgio with a grin.