"We hit new heights in terms of efficiency"
Football World Cups, like Olympic Games, often take AFP to new levels. Did this happen at the 2018 World Cup?
Vincent Amalvy : The World Cup in Russia was an editorial, logistical, technical and budgetary challenge. With few resources but excellent preparation, we hit new heights in terms of efficiency. The quality of the Russian organisation helped us. But the success was also due to a very good synergy between the different sections of the Agency: text, photo, video, graphics and videographics.
Didier Lauras : We have been cutting costs. With the money we spent on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we managed to cover all the special events in 2018, including the World Cup in Russia. We reorganised our coverage for that and the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (South Korea) by cutting back on the number of special correspondents in text. For the first time, we did not have a desk on the ground.
Why did you make this choice?
DL : The text desk should no longer be seen as the last stage of editing and publishing but as a major player in the production process, a significant part of which can be done from a distance. The factual story of the games and factboxes about the matches were therefore assigned to the desk. The reporters on the ground could therefore focus on the atmosphere and interviews.
VA : This is a way of working that we are increasingly using because technology allows it. We can work from wherever and we do not have to move our desks on site like we did before. Beyond the text side, all the editing was relocated for this special operation. Content was published from our desks in Paris, Montevideo, Berlin, London and Madrid.
How did this reorganisation affect the coverage?
DL : Strongly integrating the desk into the production team reinforced the value created by our on-the-ground reporters and improved the coverage. Our special correspondents had more time to get quotes, craft their story angles and collect information for the desks to use. No matter whether someone was on the ground or elsewhere in the world, each member of the team contributed to the coverage. In the end, we probably improved our quality and still saved money.
VA : For this World Cup, this division of labour allowed us to be more stable in terms of moving around geographically and we had more flexibility in terms of production. In concrete terms, photographers provided some of the video content, text journalists worked together in all production languages, video journalists provided quotes from teams the text side had decided not to cover, etc. Everyone worked as a team and the mixture of skills functioned well.
How was this big team coordinated?
VA : We had 100 or so special correspondents, our team based in Russia and the "cluster" of dedicated desks. The coverage was coordinated from a temporary office in the centre of Moscow, a stone's throw from the Luzhniki Stadium, where the World Cup Final and opening ceremony took place.
DL : There was a daily meeting between the central chief editors in Paris and the on-the-ground coordinators. All the different production teams from all languages participated, as well as our German sports subsidiary SID. This meeting gave us an outside perspective and, beyond Russia, to mobilise other AFP offices including those based in the 32 competing countries. What sets AFP apart is its ability to bring its whole network to bear on a story or event.
"With the money we spent on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we managed to cover all the special events in 2018, including the world cup in Russia."
– Didier LAURAS –
The world was waiting to see the images. What staffing levels did AFP have in place, notably in video?
VA : The video team tripled in size from the Brazil World Cup, reflecting the changes in the Agency. We needed such a big team to have live coverage of the off-the-pitch action away from the matches. As much as possible, our teams worked on the move using Aviwest transmission boxes. The aim was to go live for the key moments, depending on what rights we held. There were major negotiations before the tournament between the organisers and non-rights holders like AFP, the aim being to produce the best possible content without having access to the matches.
DL : AFP increased its firepower and sent 2,000 broadcast and web videos in five languages. Aside from showing the teams, cities and stadiums before the tournament, we also brushed up player profiles and offered images of training and press conferences, while also following reaction in fanzones and news from the sidelines of the tournament. Video is central to our work now. It is not possible, for example, to do an interview unless video is involved. A 20-minute one-on-one with Neymar, Lionel Messi or Kylian Mbappe goes from being a good score to a world scoop.
"What sets AFP apart is its ability to bring its whole network to bear on a story or event."
– Vincent AMALVY –
Did the photo service again dazzle with its innovation?
VA : We deployed our latest robot technology to support our photo team on the ground. Seven of the 12 stadiums were equipped with light robot cameras, either manually controlled or automatic, that we have developed in partnership with Nikon. In Russia, we had more than the other big agencies. Many of them were placed in stadium rooves and backed up by photographers who specialise in taking aerial shots - mainly Kirill Kudryavtsev and Jewel Samad, who lived for a month in the walkways above the pitch. All of this gave us some original production and was a special feature of this World Cup visually.
DL : These aerial shots were a real success. The stadium "catwalks" were only opened up to the agencies at the last moment but Vincent, in charge of the organisation, decided to gamble on these positions rather than take up more conventional ones. Our competition did not necessarily grasp the innovative nature of this aerial angle. At first, they opted for standard positions and it was only after seeing the success of AFP's images in the media that they changed their mind. Our rivals only got into the roof from the semi-finals on.
What lessons can be drawn for forthcoming big sporting events?
DL : As well as the massive operations for Olympics, World Cups or European Championships, there are a whole series of important sporting events to cover, 10 or so in 2019 alone. There is the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, the African Cup of Nations in Egypt and the Women's Football World Cup in France. Then comes the Rugby World Cup in Japan, not forgetting the world swimming and athletics championships. The organisational part has been done. On the editorial side, we will be doing as much from distance as possible, taking the Russia World Cup as a model.
VA : We are already working on coverage for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Given the budgetary pressures, we have to prepare carefully with the IOC and the organising committee to make sure we get the best possible return on our investments. Before that, we need to cover the 2020 European Championships that are spread over 12 European cities. That will be a new technical challenge but luckily the teams will be leaving their national camps the day before the matches and return the night of the game. Our job will be to cover the travels of the teams and the fans.