Ken Mainardis, Getty Images

Getty Images' Ken Mainardis

  • Agency plans World Cup logistics up to six years in advance of tournament
  • Getty took strategic decision to partner with rights-holders like Fifa and Uefa 15 years ago
  • Outreach programme to sponsors and licensees helps to establish scale of World Cup operation

The story of Getty Images and its long association with the Fifa World Cup reveals a lot about the way technology has changed professional sports photography. But one thing has remained constant about the business: the anxiety a picture editor feels about missing the defining moment.

Ken Mainardis – senior vice-president for global editorial

“You can put in years of planning but at the end of the day it all comes down to the talents of your team,” says Ken Mainardis, senior vice-president for global editorial with the picture agency. “I would say there’s a little nervousness that those moments can slip by.”

Mainardis says England “has always been an enormous market” for Getty’s stock of World Cup images, so it’s inevitable that he picks out Maradona’s handball against England in 1986 and David Beckham’s sending off in the 1998 ‘rematch’ as two moments it would have been catastrophic to miss. He hastens to add that the agency succeeded in capturing both, but the way the photos were distributed differed somewhat.

“The majority of the imagery from the 1986 World Cup would have actually been flown back to London for a picture editor to see,” he says. “There would have been an image [of the Maradona handball] sent from the ground over telex, but not necessarily the best image. If I remember rightly, the best photo was flown back and picked up at Heathrow airport the next day.”

During the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even up to the ‘86 tournament in Mexico, Mainardis says one of the most important tools in a photographer’s arsenal was not a reliable Wi-Fi connection but a hair dryer.

“I remember there was always an incredible rush of photographers to get back to the wire room in those days because if you plugged in your hair dryer anywhere later than the ninth or tenth photographer, it invariably blew the fuse and you could no longer dry your film,” he says.

For this year’s tournament in Russia, a state-of-the-art fibre optic network will connect all of the World Cup venues – from the foot of the Urals in Yekaterinberg all the way down to Kaliningrad near the Baltic Sea – to a central data centre hub in Moscow. This will relay an estimated 1.5 million photographs back to agency’s central office in North London, where a team of editors will endeavour to make them available to customers in less than a minute.


Mainardis describes the preparations for a World Cup as “an enormous undertaking” on a par with covering the Olympic Games. He adds that the even-numbered years that bring a summer Olympics or a World Cup are the drivers of Getty’s sports business. A five-man major global events team normally starts planning for the World Cup up to six years in advance and tends to focus on two things.

“The first is technology,” Mainardis says. “How do we get our content from the camera to our customers around the world in the absolute most optimum time? There’s a lot of work that goes into defining and installing the technical infrastructure that links all the key photo positions in every venue back to our editors.

“The second thing, which is I think unique to the World Cup, is the logistical challenge. There is no logistical challenge like the World Cup. It’s by far the most difficult.”

Getty will have five groups of photographers, each accompanied by an IT technician in Russia for the tournament, all of whom have to cover more than one city during the competition. Their travel arrangements are scheduled by the major events team with allowances made for missed flights and the unexpected. The major events team also plans out photo positions to cover the basics but also make space for more creative treatments. These groups consist of five editorial photographers for each match, one located in each corner of the pitch and one shooting from the stands or overhead, while a further two photographers will be in attendance to shoot exclusive content for Fifa.

“We set out to get the key moments and reactions and celebrations of every game so that we tell the story, but at the same time we are always looking to layer on an added different perspective that might be from above, that might be from a remote camera in a roof or it might be from a photographer taking a unique position that you might not have seen on your television set,” says Mainardis. “One of our main challenges is to try and show something that you won’t see from one of the 32 television cameras covering the game.”


Russia’s hosting of the tournament and the remoteness of some of its cities has been portrayed as a negative for fans and for Fifa’s commercial prospects, but Mainardis says the sheer demand for football content means the World Cup is insulated from factors such as geographic location. Regardless of where the tournament is staged, it remains a media powerhouse.

“We have a very good visibility to historic performance of photography at the World Cup,” he says. “The demand for World Cup content has only been growing by the tournament over the last 20 years,” he says.

For this, Mainardis thinks the agency can thank the decision it took some 15 years ago to be more than a supplier to the sports industry – to instead embed itself with the content teams of major sports rights-holders. These days its clients include federations like Fifa and Uefa, although he prefers to describe them as ‘strategic partners’.

“We took the decision that we needed to really become part of the family, part of their own content strategy,” he says. “We saw a big convergence nearly a decade ago of governing bodies becoming publishers in their own right. Fifa itself started a media department that wasn’t just a communications department, it became a publisher. We saw an opportunity for us to work seamlessly with them to be able to help their content strategy.”

Every quarter, the agency carries out a review to determine how the content landscape is changing and how partners like Fifa use its imagery. Increasingly this has informed the need to optimise photography for social media platforms, apps and websites.

“We spend a lot of time talking to different teams within Fifa about how they’re going to use the content, about how they need to use it,” says Mainardis. “The style of photography has changed; it’s becoming much more immediate and we try to give a much more authentic, kind of behind-the-scenes, almost documentary-like feel to that relationship.”


As an example of the way digital media has influenced the type of images produced by the agency, Mainardis references the player portraits the agency shoots for the governing body in the fortnight before the tournament. Where once these images were fairly straightforward head-and-shoulders shots, they have now become “much more candid, social-ready portraits”.

An example of one of Getty’s more candid player portraits: Arturo Vidal of Chile ahead of the Fifa Confederations Cup Russia 2017. (Photo by Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

He argues that Getty has been able to leverage the behind-the-scenes access provided by its partnership with Fifa to benefit its more traditional ‘clients’ in the world’s media. “I think we’ve genuinely taken readers and clients to parts of the venue that they wouldn’t have seen before, he says. “Whether that’s dressing rooms, whether that’s access directly next to the benches.”

The other advantage of Getty’s relationship with Fifa is the access it gives to Fifa’s roster of sponsors. An outreach programme to the governing body’s licensees and partners establishes how they are planning to activate around the event so that the agency can support them in their efforts and accurately gauge the scale of the operation that it needs to put in place to service the tournament.

In some cases, the agency works directly for the sponsors, providing a dedicated photographer to provide a visual record of their tournament activations and images for distribution on digital channels. A good example is the work Getty does for timing brand Hublot for whom it shoots photos of referees, key moments from multiple angles and photos of the brand’s ambassadors and delivers them rapidly for social use.

In others instances, Getty acts on Fifa’s behalf as “the camera of record of all of the marketing activity at the World Cup”. Here, a team of dedicated photographers capture images of branding, sponsors activations, fan fests, media, hospitality, fans and venues.

Mainardis says the photographers have to be attuned to the specifics of each brand – for example, they can’t take pictures of children with alcoholic products – and they are supported by their edit teams in delivering appropriate images in the shortest timeframes possible.

The introduction of fan festivals is an extension of a growing trend to turn cameras away from the on-field action and onto the off-field action, the essence of why sponsors associate with sport and Fifa.

“Whilst a group of players in front of a sponsor board still has its value, a group of jubilant, nervous or excited fans can have a broader use and longer shelf life for a brand,” he says.


The Getty chief says the agency has a detailed understanding of how its photography is used and which platforms it appears on, but he won’t be drawn on the proportion of images used in digital media versus print.

“In this day and age, the ability to tell the story of where your content goes is extremely important, to be able to show your customers, or your partners in the case of Fifa, about the return on their investment,” he says. “About three quarters of everything we send for the World Cup is used in some form, whether that’s in print or in digital platforms, so that is a very high percentage if you think about the millions of images that we take.

“I won’t go into the specifics, but we are able then to say whether content was used on digital platforms, whether it was used in print, what geography it was used in, what type of publication it was used in – all of that intelligence we’re able to share with our partners.”

The UK and Western Europe continue to be the strongest markets for Getty’s content. Beyond that, Mainardis says the World Cup in Japan and South Korea created “an enormous explosion of demand” for football content in Asia.

“I think the biggest surprise, which maybe many people wouldn’t be aware of, is the enormous demand for and interest in the World Cup both commercially and editorially in North America – it’s actually a powerhouse market,” he adds.

“Again, this whole digital explosion of content in recent years has meant that the World Cup has penetrated North America much more successfully than it used to and taken it to audiences that are absolutely passionate about football, whether that’s Latin audiences, Italian, Greek or Spanish [ex-pat] communities. When you layer that over with the commercial reach of companies that associate themselves with the World Cup, which often have very large presences in North America, all those factors mean the region has become a very exciting market for the World Cup.”

Diego Maradona is confronted by a posse of Belgium defenders during the match in the 1982 Wold Cup in Spain. Credit: Steve Powell /Allsport

For his favourite photograph from the event, Mainardis chooses not the ‘Hand of God’ but another image of Maradona, one that captures the extent of the Argentinian’s talent rather than his trickery.

“It was taken at a World Cup in 1982 in the opening game between Argentina and Belgium, by a photographer called Steve Powell who went and did exactly what we were talking about: looked for an angle that was totally different from what the other photographers were shooting.

“He was able to capture a picture of Diego Maradona on his own from the back, so you can just see the number 10, sort of surrounded by Belgian players, like a matador surrounded by bulls, and it really is one of the all-time great sports images, not just football images.”

Fifa on its relationship with Getty

“From a communications strategy images are a key point of entry to our messages,” says Fabrice Jouhaud, chief communications officer for Fifa, on the relationship with Getty, which has existed since 2009. “An eye-catching photo automatically grabs the attention of the user; hence, this is key, especially for our social media coverage.

The agency assigns staff photographers to cover Fifa duties and activations during the World Cup and throughout the year. These duties include building a stock of photography for the Fifa collection, taking player portraits in the build-up to the tournament and developing new technologies and photographic techniques to capture the event – like 360 gigapixel technology, a huge visual file which enables the viewer to zoom into details and people within a stadium.

The agency also photographs the Fifa Best Awards which recognise the year’s best players and managers. At the last event in London the company supplemented the photography of the arrivals on the ‘green carpet’ with a walk-in photobooth and invited the players and partners to pose for informal images.

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