Raising the game for BT Sport

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's Steve Hopkins, Toby Allen and Jim Hilson on supporting BT's foray into sports.

The challenge

Steve Hopkins, board account planner

The past couple of years have seen a convergence in broadband and TV provision. People often decide where to get their TV from and then roll their broadband into that provider. Partly because more TV content is now delivered through broadband, but mainly because of price. It’s both cheaper and neater to pay one company for both services. The saying "content is king" has never been more true.

So imagine our delight when BT came to us and said that it had secured exclusive rights to 38 live Premier League matches next season (including half of "top pick" games), all of Aviva Premiership Rugby, all the content from ESPN and with more to follow – and that it would be launching three premium sports channels (BT Sport 1 and 2, as well as ESPN).

We knew it was a potential game-changer – a chance to take a stance in the world of premium sport. When we heard the pricing structure – that BT Sport would be free to all BT broadband customers – we knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Identifying the role for communications was the first task. This wasn’t just about telling a bunch of BT broadband customers to switch on their new, free sports channels. For the business case to stack up, we also needed to sell a whole load of channel subscriptions to non-BT broadband customers and use the sport proposition to drive BT broadband acquisitions.

Research revealed that gaining credibility was key. History tells people that the alternative paid-for sports provider to Sky in the UK tends to be secondary in class.

But when we talked to people about the channel assets BT had already secured – a brand new, open-forum studio at the Olympic Park, presenters such as Jake Humphrey and sporting talent – their minds were changed. Straight away, it sounded like a refreshing alternative.

The decision was therefore taken to build our communications vehicle out of these channel assets. The communications would be set within the studio, fronted by the presenters and, from here, messages would be delivered in entertaining ways to capture the drama and excitement the channels would deliver.

The work

Toby Allen and Jim Hilson, creative directors

We wanted a narrative that invited everyone in and a visual treatment that presented sport the way it will be on the channel itself – entertaining, vibrant and colourful. Sport with a smile, if you like.

We knew we had to use Jake Humphrey because, as the lead presenter, he sets the tone for the channel but also has a natural enthusiasm that is very infectious. Just like any sports fan, there’s still a bit of the big kid about him. So we thought about playing him as a Willy Wonka figure, taking us on a journey through a factory of sport in the making.

He would be our guide to the new channel, showing us elite sport in a way we haven’t seen before. Think Robin van Persie as a sleight-of-foot conjurer, rugby players as dodgems, Joe Hart saving an exploding cannonball fired by Gareth Bale. And Daniel Sturridge on a human hamster wheel.

The idea was to take real sporting feats and give them an entertaining twist. Martin Krejci is a director who can make a trip to the fridge look epic, so we knew he could make a trip around the studio look spectacular. True to form, he came back with loads of filmic touches "to put on a show", as he put it.

And some show it was. Eight days at Elstree Studios on the same set they filmed Star Wars, nine different set builds assembled in next to no time, 19 elite sportsmen and sportswomen, and more called up from the subs bench. In the middle of all this, there’s Jake – dodging tennis balls, explosions of colour and 18-stone rugby players, before finally finding his way to the BT Sport studio, where the real show starts this summer.

It’s not often you get to launch a brand and give sport back to a sport-loving nation. We hope it’s as entertaining to watch as it was to make.

Beyond TV, the campaign is deep and far-reaching, and has demanded commitment from both client and agencies. An enormous outdoor plan (planned meticulously to protect sensitive information), digital outdoor (built with the responsiveness live sport requires), homepage takeovers, social content, national press dominations, radio, stadium comms, club partnerships… the list is daunting and exciting in equal measure. The birth of a brand.

Next: embracing the journey. With a ten-year commitment to the BT Sport studio at the Olympic Park and more sporting rights to come, BT is committed for the long haul. As are we. We hope the work will grow and evolve to match that continued ambition.