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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 5 August, 2020

BT Sport's CL coverage makes me long for ITV and Roy Keane -- or at least Sky Sports

The station spent over €1billion to secure the rights to the competition.

Gary Lineker (right) and Rio Ferdinand in the sky box prior to kick-off.
Gary Lineker (right) and Rio Ferdinand in the sky box prior to kick-off.

A FRIEND WITH little or no interest in football happened to pause for a few minutes and focus on the TV punditry following Man City’s disappointing 2-1 loss to Juventus last night on BT Sports.

“Why are they so monotone,” she asked. “I couldn’t imagine talking like that about something I have a passion for.”

It was a good question for which I had no immediate answer. There is the argument that this a TV show that BT Sports have spent over €1billion on and that there is too much at stake for their analysts to say anything overly controversial or challenging.

However, I have also been in the presence of people with little or no interest in football watching Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville on Sky — in contrast, they have been mesmerised. So what are Sky doing that BT are missing?

90% of football punditry is down to the content and delivery of what the analysts say, and BT is still coming up a little short in this regard.

There has been some nice innovations by the channel — having an alternative camera on the game while replays are being shown is a refreshing change to shouting in your living room at the TV director to focus on the game rather than pointless shots of players staring into space.

In addition, using Howard Webb to comment on refereeing decisions is also a good idea, even if his presence is rendered virtually irrelevant in some of the less controversial games. Meanwhile, their promo packages and post-match interviews are also on a par with anyone else.

Yet when it comes to pure punditry, BT Sport currently lags behind its main competitor — Sky. Granted, the latter station, once often accused of bland, thoughtless analysis itself (and still sometimes guilty of promoting it), have risen the bar substantially in recent times.

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People will now go out of their way to watch Monday Night Football, or see what Souness or Neville has to say before a big Sunday afternoon game.

By contrast, last night, BT’s flaws were exposed. The build-up had seemingly lasted forever, and then Gary Lineker reminded viewers that there was “just over an hour” until kick-off.

Rio Ferdinand did flirt with controversy, suggesting Manuel Pellegrini didn’t “understand” how to play against teams in the Champions League, however it is far from a new or original insight.

Steven Gerrard, despite no longer having direct links with any of the players involved in the competition, has not made the seamless integration into punditry á la former teammate Jamie Carragher.

Even Gerrard’s quips, such as his suggestion that he’ll “have to be careful what I say or Rafa will think I’m trying to sell my book” lacked any real wit or conviction.

The studio was consequently lifeless long before kick-off, and struggled to recover thereafter. It was hard not to long for a Roy Keane or an Eamon Dunphy to revitalise proceedings with a witty or provocative remark, or a Neville or Carragher-type figure to inject some passion into the debate.

Even the once-brilliant Paul Scholes seems to be increasingly nice/afflicted by the pervasive blandness, while Owen Hargreaves’ stint as a pundit so far is as solid yet unremarkable as his playing career.

It’s still early days and BT have plenty of time to improve, given that they’re still relatively new to the game while they have secured the Champions League rights for the next three years, but they still have to convincingly establish a specific voice and style of punditry, which Sky have managed to successfully cultivate in recent seasons.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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