'We are championing something so special and so beautiful'... behind the scenes at Lionesses Live
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There have been more than five million views so far but just how much do you know about what goes into making our daily show Lionesses Live connected by EE?
Joelah Noble, Abbie McCarthy, Josh Denzel and Amelia Dimoldenberg have been broadcasted into homes and workplaces up and down the country every day since July 3 and whilst the quartet and their guests may be the stars of the show, there is a team of dedicated staff working tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all possible.
“There are so many people working so hard behind the set – the camera operators, people on sound and all the others,” Abbie explained.
“Because it is live, it has that slightly chaotic energy sometimes and maybe people think we have just turned up, someone has put on a camera and we’ve just asked some of the players to come over. But there is so much hard work that goes into it, with the rehearsals, the tech run-throughs from the camera operators and things like that.
“We are truly blessed to be a small part of what is a big and dedicated team.”
The initial planning stage of Lionesses Live goes as far back as December, as a working group decided on the main activations for this summer’s home UEFA Women’s EUROs.
There are some major differences this time around though, as the England Women’s team show during the FIFA World Cup in 2019 was on the road, whereas Lionesses Live is predominantly based at the team’s training base and is also completely live, rather than as-live.
Once it was decided that the main activation this summer would be a daily show, the working group decided on a start date based around when the team’s warm-up matches would finish and set about deciding on the budget and logistics of delivering such a huge operation.
And as was the case with the men’s Lions’ Den last year, the team at The FA is working alongside partner EE.
The FA’s senior content operations manager, Damien Cullen, explained: “The main USP of Lionesses Live is being able to connect players with the fans and what we can provide that no one else can is a unique insight into the camp. No one else can really show that in the way that we can.
“We have to remind ourselves of that as we look to keep it fresh and do so while keeping it within the guidelines we have, and at the same time, give people that unprecedented access that means we can highlight just how much the players and team care about playing for England and showcase their personalities as they go through the tournament.
“We want to drive real-time engagement and be the focal point of the fan’s interaction with the players during the tournament. People seem to really like that they can engage in real-time, and it can become almost part of their daily diet as they check in every day to see how things are going in-camp.”
In March, the recruitment process started for a producer to run the operation on a day-to-day basis and by May it was decided to opt for co-producers, Lucy Reeves and Adam Boultwood. Lucy was brought in full-time, while Adam initially joined on a two-day consultancy before ramping up to four days shortly before the EUROs started.
Vivid Broadcast was brought in to help deliver on the production of the show and worked closely with Smyle and the FA’s marketing team on designing and building the set at The Lensbury Resort in Teddington.
Lucy and Adam are among four FA staff members who are working full-time on Lionesses Live on-site, which includes a syndication editor who sorts out the VT clips and loads everything needed into the system ahead of the live show.
There are a host of other FA employees involved in the delivery of the show, both in-camp at The Lensbury Resort and back at Wembley Stadium, including members of the marketing, communications, content and operations teams.
On the ground, Vivid Broadcast play a crucial role from start to finish and have six to seven members of staff on hand to help deliver Lionesses Live each day.
Smyle continue to play an important role, which was never been more evident than in the last week as the team tried to find solutions to the ongoing heatwave, which included adding a new section to the roof of the set to block out more of the sun.
Co-producer Lucy and lead presenter Joelah are among several members of the team based at The Lensbury Resort full-time, meaning they are able to see first-hand the interaction and atmosphere among the squad and coaching staff away from the cameras.
Lucy said: “By seeing them in their downtime, we get a sense of their personalities and we can work that into the show. It is a great atmosphere in camp and a good vibe, definitely.”
Whilst we as viewers tune in for the show a few minutes before it goes live, for Lucy, Adam and the rest of the team, their working day traditionally starts nine hours earlier.
The scripts will have been prepared the night before and after confirming the editorial aspects, running order and what clips and graphics will be included, the co-producers will then work closely with Vivid Broadcast’s on-site ‘gallery’ production team on the execution of the show.
Fan interaction is collected, and the team look to fine-tune the production, with a tech team rehearsal followed by a stand-in rehearsal and then the final dress rehearsal with the presenters.
Then it is show time.
There are three camera operators on ‘the floor’, where Lucy oversees everything. The cameras run on tracks to make sure they can move position when needed, and there is even more movement from Lucy, as she goes between the set and the waiting area over the bridge, where the guests are eagerly waiting to hear chants such as ‘Toooooneeeey’ or ‘Ellen White, White, White’ from Joelah and the other presenters.
At the same time, Adam will be calling the shots in ‘the gallery’, which is a Portakabin slightly away from the set.
Ep. 12 | Lionesses Live connected by EE
Nikita Parris and Keira Walsh join Joelah and Abbie for the departure show
Vivid has four or five members of the team in the gallery, as they decide which camera angles to use, make sure the sound is balanced, the VT and graphics are introduced correctly and ensure everything from a technical point of view is going smoothly.
As well as the live streams, there are also members of the team cutting clips ready for use on social media, maximising the insightful and amusing moments from the show.
For all of the planning and hours put into the production, the success of the show will ultimately come down to the players and that is where everyone involved has spoken of being so fortunate when it comes to the Lionesses.
Adam said: “The big thing is the players are genuinely such a good bunch. They are really charismatic, really personable and just seem really down-to-earth, whilst still being extremely professional as well.
“Being around them, you can see their personalities and we are trying to bring that out in the show and showcasing that because that is a big part of what we wanted to do. These are elite athletes but the group are also full of such great characters and we want to get that aspect across.
“We are getting to know them as people. As much as you can have a connection with the Lionesses as a team, which is great, you also have those individual personal connections that the players have. They have really loyal fans who are keen to get involved with the show to ask them questions, and us being able to help bridge that gap a little bit is really great to see.”
The appreciation also appears to be mutual, with the players seemingly having a great time and sometimes watching on from the coffee stand just off-set.
Wednesday’s guest Alessia Russo, who was joined by former England international and now pundit Ian Wright, said: “Being on the show was great fun. Obviously, the football is very serious so it is nice to have stuff like that going on where you can relax and have a chat with the great guests on the show.
“All the girls who had been on the show said they had loved it. It was nice to have a little chat about things and it is nice for the fans as well because they can see a little bit behind the scenes and listen to the kind of conversations that go on.
“I didn’t realise how much work and effort goes into the show until I went on it. It is really well put together and everything is on the dot, which is impressive when you consider it is live.
Everything is done really professionally and the set is amazing and the hosts are great. It was a really nice experience.”
Unlike most shows, Lionesses Live does not have a set time every day as the producers factor in the team’s schedule and ensure the number one priority is the players’ welfare.
Lionesses Live work closely with the England Women’s technical staff to make sure everything about the show is done with the players’ performance in mind, including how many people are brought on-site and when, and even down to the set position.
That is where the cross-departmental work at The FA really comes into its own as a host of areas in the organisation assist Lucy and Adam to deliver each show.
Covid protocols are pivotal, with all of the staff tested at the beginning and the end of each day and all of the guests being tested on-site.
They have also utilised the hotel’s infrastructure to create a network between ‘the gallery’ where Vivid is based, an FA production office and the in-camp video team so they can all work from the same footage without needing to transfer hard drives or meet face-to-face.
There are contingency plans for every occasion and some of those were called into action in the last week as the team dealt with the heatwave which made parts of the set unusable and saw some of the equipment stop working.
But as the old adage says ‘the show must go on’ and it has. The end result has been a broadcast which has seen good viewership numbers and excellent online sentiment from those watching.
Lucy said: “Without wanting to sound like we are blowing our own trumpets, we have enjoyed watching the show. We want to keep improving as we go on and make sure no complacency sets in and make sure that everyone is pushing.
“Apart from the odd technical issue [because of the heat], things have generally been going well.”
And for the presenters, it has been a dream come true.
Joelah has worked on a host of different projects in the past, including Premier League Uncut and BBC’s Throwback Party.
She said: “I just feel like there is nothing like this. We are living in the same place as the players and seeing them go for a coffee or hanging out around the set when we are not filming – even when we were filming we had Beth Mead shouting out answers and stuff like that!
“I have never been in a situation like this where I have had such close access to players. I have worked with quite a few footballers before but this is really special.”
It is a sentiment shared by Abbie, who has also worked for BBC Radio and MOTDx, among others.
She said: “You admire these people because of all the skill and the craft that you see on the pitch but we are nosey and we want to know what they get up to away from the pitch. We want to know what is going on in camp and hopefully, we are getting to share that with the fans of the Lionesses and hopefully make them feel really connected to this team – connected by EE you could say!
“It is special because we are basically inside the camp and you can feel the energy and see everything that is going on. We are getting a real insight into how they are getting ready for the tournament.
“More than anything, I just love that we are able to ask the players questions from their biggest fans live. That is everybody’s dream.
“I would watch a show like this and would love to ask certain players questions because I have watched them for years and we are getting to do that for other people. It is really cool.”
“It has been a dream,” Joelah added.
“We are championing something so special and so beautiful. To think that the generations to come are watching this and being inspired by this is really beautiful.”
“Yeah I totally echo everything which Joelah has said,” Abbie responded. “I have followed so many of these players in the Barclays Women’s Super League and other leagues around the world. So to be able to watch them in a major competition like this is amazing.
“Everyone loves getting stuck into a major tournament and this is a home EUROs! This is such a special one and the girls are creating history, inspiring a whole new generation and we are able to hang out with them on set and have fun too.
“To say that this is a dream would be an understatement.”