Written by: Amos Murphy
Everything is scrutinised in modern football: players, managers, stadiums, kits and even die hard fans are all microscopically analysed. So how come the broadcasting companies which showcase these “unmissable spectacles” escape such criticism? How come they get away with putting on extremely deluded and biased shows? How come broadcasters like BT Sport find it acceptable to provide such poor “entertainment” at such a pricey cost?
Football is unanimously the most watched sport worldwide; on average annually fifty-million more viewers tune in to watch the UEFA Champions League Final than the NFL Super Bowl. From the ludicrously priced match tickets to the cheap and substandard merchandise; our beautiful game is nothing but a money making machine.
The one industry which have basked big time in the recent influx of cash into the game are the broadcasters. By disbursing millions to hold all the broadcasting rights, corporations are able to starve everywhere else of showing such matches, making their channel the only place to “experience the unmissable”.
Like a fresh faced teenage Brazilian starlet, BT Sport burst onto our television screens back in 2013 as part of a record breaking £3bn deal to broadcast premier league matches for the foreseeable future. The excitement was real; they promised to bring something different and a new dimension compared to the previous wayward channels such as ESPN and Setanta Sports.
They overloaded their panel with past players all of whom were clearly out on one last pay day. The likes of David James, Owen Hargreaves, Steve Mcmanaman and Michael Owen all featured along side the ever present ‘showbiz star’ wannabe Jake Humphrey – all house hold names but all lacking anything remotely interesting about them at all.
This trend of ex football stars cashing in one last time continued: Robbie Savage, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and the unlikely television personality Howard Webb all joined BT as it soon became clear they were looking to entice larger demographics, instead of offering a more impartial or balanced view on the game.
BT Sport, more than any other sports broadcaster, play ponderously into the arms of particular fan bases where they know they can please them the most. A prime example of this is in their recent coverage of both Manchester City’s Champions League quarter final and Liverpool’s Europa League tie at the same stage. Both teams were level going into the game and both had an away goal (two in City’s case) to take into the second leg.
City masterminded a superb second leg victory seeing off the all mighty Paris St Germain and booking themselves a first ever semi-final in the greatest club competition on Earth. So surely patriotism should be raging amongst the BT Sport panel, baring in mind City were the last remaining English team in the tournament and therefore flying the flag for this great footballing nation?
How very wrong. The programme started with an in depth VT focused all around PSG’s talisman – Zlatan Ibrahimovic and throughout the match Steve Mcmanaman (an ex blue himself) opted on firing a fusillade of digs and insults at City, making comments on the atmosphere and attendance despite the place buzzing for the majority of the 90 minutes and it being a sell out with the only absences in the corporate seats – a fair reflection on modern football itself.
After City had secured a win it returned to the studio to be met by a depleted looking cast, consisting of two ex United legends in Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes, who both looked like they’d just endured two hours of watching funerals on repeat instead of an exciting Champions League clash. Any attempts to praise City were quickly diffused by the two and the sole focus of the post-match analysis was around how poor the PSG performance was, not how good Manchester City were.
Fast forward two days later and it’s Liverpool’s turn. Anybody expecting the same hatred towards English teams tonight would be in for a nasty shock. Shots of passionate Liverpool fans hours before the game outside the ground and countless references to “special European nights at Anfield” we’re all present in the build up to the game.
This time the only rival ex-player in sight was Owen Hargreaves (even if his Manchester United career can be considered one), but there to provide an insight into Liverpool’s opponents Borrusia Dortmund, due to his vast German football knowledge.
Unsurprisingly this time there were no insults from the commentary team who offered extreme support despite Liverpool’s early capitulation. Michael Owen, who’s commentary has been referred to as “mind numbingly painful” on countless occasions, continued to inject hope and positivity even though Liverpool had given away an early two goal lead.
Now this is exactly how it should be presented; encouragement coming straight from the television box. This was extremely contrasting to the commentary from City’s quarter-final, where you’d be excused for thinking they wanted PSG to progress.
Of course, inevitably the pendulum swung Liverpool’s way and they turned around the deficit and went on to progress to the semi-final. We were then treated to a full ten minute, ad free segment where we could share the emotions with the Liverpool fans. On the pitch interviews and a full 42 different angled view of Jurgen Klopp and his team’s traditional “bow” to the Liverpool fans were all present as you felt a real sense of allegiance with the Kop faithful.
However, whilst the way in which Liverpool progressed may have caused the added euphoria at the final whistle, how come all of this eluded the coverage of Manchester City’s victory just two days earlier, despite being in the more prestigious competition?
The answer is a short and simple one. Along with Manchester United, Liverpool have the biggest fan base in the country which subsequently means more viewers and therefore more money. As BT Sport are still in the relative early days of broadcasting, it is essential they attract and maintain the largest audience possible. Hence the plethora of ex United and Liverpool players featuring on their shows.
An understandable tactic seen as though they’re trying to establish themselves, however is it not possible to be a bit less biased and a bit more impartial? It’s not like their current pundits are entertainment gold; you’re lucky if in between the mumbles and groans Paul Scholes lets off even a slight hint that he wants to be here and Rio Ferdinand offers nothing more than an hour and a half of moans and mumbles himself.
It is yet to be seen whether BT Sport have what it takes to rival the ‘big daddy’ of sports broadcasting Sky Sports, but whilst they continue to overload their panels with close minded and un-insightful pundits it will be extremely hard to escape the permanent shadow cast by the Sky Sports corporation.