Nick Butler
Nick Butler insidethegames tieSomething mentioned a lot over the last two weeks has been how easy it is to move around the various Olympic sites in Sochi.

All you need is your little white laminated accreditation card which acts as a visa into Russia, as well as a portal into all manner of desirable, and less desirable, places once arrived.

But what is it like for those who do not have accreditation and are not official rights holders for the Games?

This was not something I had really pondered until I ventured outside the Olympic bubble to visit the La Terrassa hotel which houses the Fox Sports broadcasting operation for Sochi 2014.

After missing out, once again, to NBC in the battle for official Olympic rights in 2011, Fox Sports are allowed neither to broadcast competitions nor use footage of them. But, as they did at London 2012, they have still invested heavily in their Olympic coverage, for the new Fox Sport 1 channel, as well as for their website.

The first evidence they have successfully negotiated the hurdle of being a non-rights holder is, on arrival after what seemed a lengthy journey away from the Olympic Coastal hub, I am greeted by a brand-spanking balcony view of the Park in all its glory.

A virtually identical view, albeit in a different city, to the one they enjoyed on top of Westfield Shopping Mall during London 2012, this view alone is a huge asset to their coverage.

The Fox Sports presenters prepare for action with the Olympic Park as the backdrop ©Adore CreativeThe Fox Sports presenters prepare for action with the Olympic Park as the backdrop
©Adore Creative

"When anchors and hosts are shooting this way it screams that you are at the Olympics," senior vice-president of news Richard Jaffe told insidethegames.  "As a viewer it translates excitement and authority. It puts you there, and hopefully it puts the viewer there as well."

The story of how they secured this view is a fascinating one. After an initial visit to Sochi in 2011 by Jaffe and executive vice-president Jeff Husvar proved unproductive, Husvar found himself on a plane next to Rupert Wainwright, President of film company Adore Creative. Wainwright, winner of a Grammy for directing a music video for MC Hammer, also directed the bid film: Russia: The Door is Open, which helped Sochi's successful campaign to be awarded the Olympics - not to mention successful Russian bids for last year's Summer Universiade in Kazan and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

"Jeff and I met on a plane and then he got in touch and asked if I could help him out," Wainwright told insidethegames. "At first I said no way because it will be such a nightmare, and I didn't think we should touch it with a barge-pole. But we did some research and then sent a location scout down here who looked at every single hotel in the entire city. Here was the best one, and we kept on and on at them and eventually settled on it and just managed to sign the contract before it was taken away from us."

That was only the start of the process, though, and the restructuring work, which included building the studio in Moscow before transporting it south, has been going on ever since. Wainwright and his team are also remaining present on site in Sochi to ensure that everything runs smoothly for the duration of the Games.

The Fox Sports set in the process of being constructed ©Adore CreativeThe Fox Sports set in the process of being constructed ©Adore Creative

So they have a location but how do they get around the hurdle of not being able to cover actual sport? The focus is firmly on thinking outside the box - or outside the accreditation - I suppose you could say.

Although all shot from the same building, the coverage interchanges between different studios so as to add a touch a variety while sometimes the camera is turned round to leave the distant mountain hub of Krasnaya Polyana as the backdrop instead of the Olympic Park.

The two Canadian presenters, Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, have also been brought in essentially to add a touch of humour to proceedings. Poking fun at current affairs as well as the lack of broadcasting rights, their work so far has included a "no access report" where they tour venues they are not allowed into, as well as a skit where their bodyguards are present at all times, including when they are in bed or in the shower.

In a similarly tongue-in-cheek vein, an "Olympic Still Photography" section forms a backdrop to their coverage to make up for the lack of footage while there is also a strong focus on back stories and more lighthearted angles.

But the most important dimension was getting experts on board. "Our game plan in London 2012 was to find the four most trafficked sports and to get a former Olympian champion as an analyst for each," Jaffe told insidethegames. "We decided to do the same thing here so hired four ex-Olympians in figure skater Michelle Kwan, Alpine skier Picabo Street, ice hockey star Chris Chelios and snowboarder Andy Finch."

The four Olympians, plus Jay Onrait and Dan OToole, are a key part of the coverage ©National Hockey League/Getty ImagesThe four Olympians, plus Jay Onrait and Dan OToole, are a key part of the coverage
©National Hockey League/Getty Images

"You want someone who knows what they are going through, for example, say it's the day before the Olympics: How are you feeling? Are you nervous? Are you worried about this? I want them to take us inside the locker room and combine the experiences they had with why something has turned out as it has now."

Jaffe adds that, although the coverage is mostly focused on the US it is not 100 per cent so and if there is a Russian story which makes sense to do, "we do it because it is a home Olympics." He adds: "I feel like it's our obligation that if someone does something spectacular, I don't care where they are from, we will focus on them."

But the coverage can also encompass more serious angles and, as they do with every event they cover, disaster planning has been conducted and if necessary they have the capacity to broadcast live on sister station Fox News.

This reveals an attention to detail which is evident throughout my tour around the hotel turned studio complex.

A slight squeak is emanating from a chair, so oil is immediately sent for to avoid it being picked up on the microphones. The studio window is also covered by a curtain when not in use to avoid the summer glare. "And we are at the Winter Olympics you know," I am reminded.

The 65 strong team, which includes smaller crews from Fox Brazil and Sky New Zealand as well as the Adore Creative team, consists of make-up, security staff and drivers as well as roving reporters in other Olympic venues. I also see a day production schedule which includes car and make-up rotas - with an hours make-up followed by an additional "touch up" session essential particularly for the female presenters and pundits.

A visit to the make up room is a vital part of preparing to face the camera ©ITGA visit to the make up room is a vital part of preparing to face the camera ©ITG

In terms of challenges, the huge planning work and multiple visits to Sochi undertaken before the Games has negated most of them but, and this is something I can emphasise with, the Olympics is described as "ruthless from a scheduling standpoint" in comparison with other events - where the longest they would usually cover a sport for is maybe "four or five hours for Nascar."

But the overwhelming message that comes across is that it is all worth it.

"We sent 30 people to London 2012, were the second most trafficked site in the US and got one billion page views and over 43 million video streams," Jaffe reveals. "This shattered every record we have ever had and we even beat NBC For us to come in on our first one and to beat NBC on our first major Olympics coverage - well I'm sure it didn't please them.

After just three days of Sochi 2014 they have already enjoyed 55 million online page views this time around.

But do they remain frustrated that they do not have the broadcasting rights? "Obviously, I would have loved to have had the rights and that would have been really fun," says Jaffe. "But a lot of people are seeing what we are doing and I think there is enough interest that everybody can share in it."

Further light is shed on future aspirations by Husvar, who admits that "the Olympics just wasn't in our cards in the last cycle" before adding that: "as our business moves forward, we will continue to be interested, engage with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), and try to be involved."

Husvar adds that building a relationship of trust with your National Olympic Committee, and then getting to know all of the Governing Body heads, is vital. He has already met and explained his objectives to the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs.

Preparations are already underway for the Fox Sport coverage of Rio 2016 ©Getty ImagesPreparations are already underway for the Fox Sport coverage of Rio 2016
©Getty Images

So, while Fox do not have the coverage and are unlikely to have it until post Tokyo 2020 at the earliest, they have done a pretty good job of negating this handicap and plans are already underway to create similar coverage at Rio 2016.

It may be somewhat different and outside the box but the coverage is also a further example of the Olympic ideals of diversity and inclusivity and, although I leave the La Terassa Hotel clutching my accreditation badge slightly tighter, it is an illuminating privilege to see a different perspective of journalism in action.

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.