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London Marathon: BBC Sport Looks Back in Order to Move Forward With Coverage of One of Sport's Most Joyful Events


London Marathon: BBC Sport looks back in order to move forward with coverage of one of sport's most joyful events No remote production workflows this year - but under consideration for 2022 race By Will Strauss, Editor

Friday, October 1, 2021 - 09:01

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BBC Sport senior producer Micky Payne on the Mall during the 2020 London Marathon

Ahead of this weekend's London Marathon, SVG Europe caught up with BBC Sport senior producer Micky Payne to find out how the race coverage will be produced now that COVID restrictions have been eased in the UK.

The London Marathon is one of sport's most joyous televised events.

From the potential 50,000 runners pounding 26.2 miles through the streets of London (plus another 50,000 virtual runners doing the same distance elsewhere around the UK) and one of the best elite fields outside the Olympics to the iconic landmarks on the course and the countless human interest stories raising millions of pounds for charity. It is an event that provides hope in ways that other sports and tournaments don't.

Thanks to COVID-19, last year's race was reduced to an Elite level-only race, albeit, with thousands of virtual runners. The 2021 Marathon will be much more familiar though and not just in terms of route and the number of runners.

BBC Sport is the current UK rights holder, as it has been since the first London Marathon took place back in 1981. It is also the host broadcaster, providing both the domestic and international cuts. Its coverage, and the OB set-up, will also be a hark back to 2019, as senior producer Micky Payne (pictured above) explained to SVG Europe in the week before the event.

The Marathon is a big production effort and for this year, with the uncertainty around COVID, and the uncertainty around absolute confirmation of what the race would look like, we've decided to keep the model from 2019 and then review it after this year.

We are pretty much lifting and shifting from 2019, he acknowledges. So, for this particular year, and we're going to review it after this year, we've still got exactly the same model. We've got six outside broadcasts: The Start, Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Blackfriars and The Finish. Each has its own sets of cameras, directors and reporters.

That is supplemented by six RF cameras on motorbikes two on each elite race: wheelchairs, women and men. So, a bike with the lead group and a bike to follow and track whatever the story is behind the leaders. And then two helicopters help to join the dots between the OBs for the elite race. Once the elite races are finished, we concentrate on the masses properly with those six OBs and our reporters.

While BBC Sport is looking backwards in order to move forwards, this approach hasn't been without its trials.

[The challenge] is trying to remember and relearn what we did!, he says, only partly in jest. In the two and a half years [since the last full Marathon] there's obviously been a lot of technological change that's been exacerbated by the lockdown, especially around remote production.

Nothing will be done remotely this year, he adds. But that might change in 2022, assuming the BBC holds on to the rights for the race. Its current contract expires this year.

The Marathon is a big production effort and for this year, with the uncertainty around COVID, and the uncertainty around absolute confirmation of what the race would look like, we've decided to keep the model from 2019 and then review it after this year.

It feels like there are a couple of aspects of it, where we could do a bit of remote stuff, which would help both the carbon footprint and push the green initiatives and it might help with some costs long term.

Although Payne is keen to embrace remote, there are caveats especially from an editorial perspective.

Because it's such a big event, if the main editor or producer is back in Salford, doing the main output remotely, it could definitely work technically, but editorially you feel so far away, he says.

Remote production will work. It's just getting your head around it and letting go of the hands-on control you would normally have.

All those weekend conversations with your presenter, with your reporters with the marathon people, with the OBs. Instead of having it face-to-face, or at least in the same sort of area, you would be doing it on the phone or over TalkBack. And it would be quite unsatisfactory, from a purely personal level.

We might have to do that though because that is the way things are going. It will work. It's just getting your head around it and letting go of the hands-on control you would normally have.

Feeling like you are part of the race, and relaying that to viewers back home, is also harder when you are many miles away, he acknowledges.

I think particularly when you've got thousands of people back on the streets doing a run, plus thousands on the street in certain parts of the country supporting them and cheering them on. That's such a huge part of what we're trying to get back into showing and reflecting. Being there is all part of that. You can feel it much more. I think, coming back after two and a half years, that's important for this year.

Race coverage The London Marathon is very much a game (or race) of two halves: the elite; and then the charity fundraising and human interest.

Payne picks up the story: So, the wheelchairs are first off and that has got good domestic interest and strong international interest. You've got David Weir, who has been there forever so we cover that with the OBs and with two motorbikes. One goes with the lead men, one goes with the lead women.

We give that all the build-up and the coverage that it needs. But then the complication comes at 9am. The women's rac
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