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SPORTING MOMENTS WITH FREYA RADFORD, BBC SPORTS PRODUCER
- 26 Mar 21
We’re all looking forward to a huge summer of sport, with everything from the Euros to Wimbledon, the Tour de France to, of course, the Olympics and Paralympics.
Brands and broadcasters will all be creating wall-to-wall sport content, so we caught up with Freya Radford, a producer at BBC Sport, to find out more about her amazing films, including The Legends series and Picture This – and of course which Audio Network tracks she loves using!
Hi Freya! Can you tell us about your role?
I’m a producer for BBC Sport; I work for a team called BBC Sport Plus. We provide feature/story-telling content for different teams and sporting events throughout the year. I’ve been in the role for three and a half years.
How did you get your first break in the industry?
I studied TV and Film production at Teeside University; we got taken on an ‘away day’ to a CBBC set with loads of other students, to meet make-up artists, set designers and lots of other people in the industry. I noticed the line manager was standing on his own during a break, and I thought, ‘I’m just going to go up and speak to him’. I introduced myself, and told him that if he ever wanted anyone to do any work experience, then I’d love to come along.
He said I was the only person who’d come to introduce themselves, and that really went a long way! He got in contact with me quite soon after, and said he had a ‘shadowing’ opportunity. Then there was a floor runner role on Tracy Beaker – that was my break into the industry.
I’ve always wanted to work in sport – I play it a lot and I’m a fan – so sport was where I aspired to be. For about a year, I used to email the production talent manager at BBC Sport my CV every month! He eventually emailed me back, with a four-week job, after which a staff job came up, and that’s how I got into sport.
Persistence is key, you’ve got to put yourself out there!
Which brands do you admire in sport production?
I am a huge admirer of Nike, I just think that their ads are incredible. I think I watched their ‘Dream Crazy’ advert every day for about three months and I still watch it now if I feel like I need some sort of inspiration of how to make something cool! They’re a big inspiration in thinking outside of the box.
In terms of storytelling, which I do a lot of in my job, creative inspiration comes from The Players’ Tribune - they tell stories of individual athletes, and I really love their strand ‘a letter to my future self’.
I’m a massive football fan – we do a lot of football content, as it’s probably our biggest audience; I like finding stories from younger footballers coming through. I play netball and hockey myself, so I love watching those too. The hockey at the Olympics is always cool - the Olympics is probably the biggest event at the BBC, so I’m excited to make content for that.
What, in your opinion are the key elements needed to create sports content which speaks to your audience?
For my team, when it comes to finding athletes whose stories we want to tell, it’s a lot to do with younger people – we’re often targeting a younger audience. But good storytelling depends on finding a story that people can relate to; a story that’s got some different elements - a bit of jeopardy is always good and for us, it has to tie into an upcoming event. We don’t do many one-offs.
So, for Wimbledon, we’ll look at an up and coming tennis player; our football stories have to be really different, because there’s so much football content. We want to tell stories that people haven’t heard before, or tell them in a different way.
What is the Picture This series?
During the pandemic, we had a series commissioned, Picture This. The idea came about because we were looking at what content we could produce when a/ we couldn’t do much filming and b/ sport wasn’t happening at the time! We also wanted to interview up and coming players, for whom we didn’t have a lot of footage.
So the idea of animations came about through that; we’d always wanted to try out animation, but it’s always been so busy that other things had taken priority. The pandemic allowed us to slow down and trial animation.
We commissioned one with Jack Harrison; we did a sit-down interview and then commissioned an animator to bring his story to life and ‘fill in the gaps’. A colleague is a huge Leeds United fan; I was discussing the team with him, so we thought we’d focus on someone that the audience wasn’t that familiar with. We spoke to Jack about his crazy journey – he walked away from Man United at a really young age, and made it to the Premier League his own way.
That had such a great response on our channels that another two were commissioned. This year, there are going to be another six across different sporting events this summer, like tennis, the Olympics, cricket. Each one uses a different freelance illustrator and animator as well.
Were there any interviews you particularly enjoyed working on?
Out of the three ‘Picture This’ episodes that are already out, I particularly enjoyed working on the Axel Tuanzebe piece. He’s such a nice person! He came over from the Congo and couldn’t speak English when he got here. He then got A*s for all his GCSEs and then he’s captained Man United at every age group.
I really enjoyed finding out about his family and life back in the Congo and the challenges they faced when they came to England and moved to Rochdale, leaving all their family behind. They’re amazing. Axel himself really loved the piece and thanked us for doing it. That was my favourite one to work on, as I learned a lot as I was doing it. If humble was a person, it’d be Axel! It makes you feel honoured to be able to tell their story.
What role do you think sport has to play in bringing people together to discuss important issues?
I think sport has a huge role to play – especially on social issues. With the LGBTQ+ History Month launch, it was something BBC Sport really wanted to support and we wanted to send a message and show our tone of voice on these issues. We wanted to be celebratory and show how far we’ve come, but also not sugar-coat the things that the community have been through in sport.
For the promo trail, it was a totally blank canvas. But with the restrictions on filming, we were wondering what we could make that was going to be really eye-catching and make people stop and watch. I saw the light board that we used on Instagram, so we got in touch with them to use it for the launch.
We got in touch with illustrator Alex Francis – she loved our idea of creating a big piece of artwork with athletes’ names, words associated with the community and then BBC Sport’s message.
The idea from the beginning was that we’ll use quotes from our archives from LGBTQ+ athletes, ones who really champion it in their sport; Megan Rapinoe, Billie Jean King, Gareth Thomas and Caitlyn Jenner. The music was an Audio Network track which we loved straight away; Audio Network was our go-to for this launch, we wanted something which was building in the piece.
What is the Legend Series?
The Legend Series, which BBC Sport made in 2019, was part of a larger campaign we had called ‘Change The Game’ for BBC iPlayer. It was part of a ‘women in sport’ season for the summer. There was one series called ‘World Beaters’, focusing on five athletes who were at the top of their game. The Legends series focused on athletes who were either retired or still competing.
The idea was that we’d get celebrities to advocate for the legends, who knew them well. I worked on one centred on Simone Biles, who was friends with Maddie Ziegler. She was the youngest legend, so we wanted a young person to talk about her. You got to know who Simone was as a person.
The other one I was involved in was Serena Williams, and we got Alicia Keys to advocate for her. Essentially it was about powerful women, and women championing women. We recently repurposed that film as part of our Black History Month support in October, celebrating the achievement of Black athletes.
Which female athletes or women working in sports do you particularly admire?
There’s so many who I think are amazing; one who’s working in sport is Alex Scott. When she’s commentating, she’s confident to give her own opinion and is championing women being in that space.
Katelyn Ohashi (gymnast), she is incredible. But Serena – Serena’s the one!
Watch Katelyn show off her skills in this stunning Toyota Yaris ad:
Which sporting events are you looking forward to?
I am a massive cricket fan and the BBC have coverage of the new cricket format called ‘The Hundred’ – it was supposed to launch last year. It’s a six-week tournament and it’s a round robin, so they all play each other. They want to bring a new audience to cricket - it’ll be shown on a Saturday night on the BBC.
I was asked to make content for their kit launch, as each team has their own kit design. We collaborated with the ECB, and decided to do a fun kit launch trail. Rather than just going through all the kits, we had fun with it. We got three influencers to each create the perfect promo image for their shirt (from where they’re from). So Sideman had Birmingham City; Lady Ice (from The Rap Game) had Manchester; Chris Hughes (from Love Island) is a massive cricket fan – we gave him the kit for London Spirit.
Then they had to go and create the perfect promo image in their town and we got Jofra Archer to select who’d done the best one – it was great fun. For ‘London Spirit’ we took Chris to a haunted house! We wanted something that was light-hearted to capture this new audience.
I was going to be working full time on The Hundred, so hopefully it’ll be going ahead this year.
What are your plans for the Olympics?
I don’t work directly with the Olympics team, but we’re going ahead as if it’s happening; we have to wait for the decision, obviously. But I’ll be doing a Picture This on one of the athletes.
How is the way we tell stories adapting alongside the unprecedented time we find ourselves in?
We are having to change with the times in terms of the content we’re making. Us and a lot of brands are doing work with illustrators and illustration because there isn’t necessarily a lot of archive available. But I think we’re conscious of not wanting to get too bogged-down in the pandemic; we still want inspiring stories. It’s been a challenge, but we’re all having to adapt to it.
Are there any go-to genres that you use for your sports content?
We actually laugh when I choose music because there are two guys from Audio Network that are my go-to artists: Alex Arcoleo – I used his music for when I’m looking for some depth in pieces. And he definitely pulls on the heartstrings!
The other one is Martin Felix K – he’s really chilled and lo-fi, so I look to him when I’m making something cool.
And for something that’s celebratory, I normally use the search function, or I email Sophie from Audio Network and get a playlist! There’s some bangers on Audio Network - some tracks I come across, I would listen to in my car, it’s great!
What album/artist/track has kept you going this past year?
Wretch32 is my go-to artist. I’ve listened to his songs every day - his music’s got me through the pandemic!
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