Stars, glamour, Ray Stubbs and a toaster - BT Sport starts its Premier League season: It was the first day for the new team in football coverage and no expense was spared - Liverpool v Stoke got the full Cup Final treatment
(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Blokes' weekends in Britain's parallel universe are full of half-remembered chores and pastimes: a perfunctory breakfast before taking the lad to his football and pondering how to look cool if he doesn't get picked. Afterwards, there could be a trip to Tesco in return for those pints the previous night with the boys, followed by an outing to see the local United, City or Rovers. On Sunday it might still be church, the in-laws and Ikea.
In the real world, meanwhile, the weekend has become a televised football theme park starting early on Saturday and continuing unabated until midnight on Sunday. And so, having rolled up and paid my money for a BT Sport subscription on top of my Sky package, I participated in the birth of the new world at 6am yesterday.
BT is the latest challenger to enter the live televised football market and take its chances with Sky Sports, for 20-odd years now the undisputed heavyweight of live soccer. The telecoms giant has committed pounds 1bn to its enterprise as it attempts to succeed where Setanta and ESPN failed and land a punch on Rupert Murdoch's satellite behemoth. BT has secured the rights to 38 live Premiership matches for its money (including 18 Top Picks!) and is offering them free with its broadband package. This is the essence of its project: to purchase a stake in the world's richest televised football market and deploy it to tempt customers to buy its core telecoms and broadband product.
If there is such a place as the moral high ground in the multibillion-pound TV football universe, Sky Sports has tried to occupy it. This is an ideological battle, it claims, between an upright organisation (Sky) committed to covering football for its own sake and a predatory outfit (BT Sport)which is merely using televised football as an entree to something altogether less pure. It would be like Coca-Cola claiming that Pepsi is only in it for the money.
As a global telecommunications entity, BT has the resources and expertise to go toe-to-toe with Sky for many years but within a few months we will know if it has managed to hurt the incumbent. Yesterday was a steady, if inauspicious, start. As a prelude to the coverage of the opening match of the Premier League, Liverpool v Stoke, we were treated to Danny Baker and Danny Kelly attempting to bring us an off-the-ball show that could have been sponsored by the Fortean Times. Thus, in the middle of a gargantuan and gilded studio we saw a toaster deployed to represent each of the two teams. Whichever slice of toast popped up first would, presumably, indicate the winner. Central TV rejected this in favour of Bullseye in the 1980s. I am one of the idiot punters who sacrificed a Friday night on the batter to rise in time to observe this.
I don't know if the BT Sport studio is the biggest in the world but there appeared to be enough space to build an aircraft carrier. Yesterday they attempted to deploy it to its full extent. Our host for the big match preview was the accomplished Jake Humphrey, assisted by a cast of famous English football faces. Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, David James were all wheeled out while Ray Stubbs, British football's favourite TV straight man, provided security at the back.
Liverpool v Stoke is not a fixture upon which you can construct an empire, but BT still gave it the FA Cup Final treatment. There was Ray giving us a guided tour of the Anfield dressing room. And there, too, were the Liverpool players disembarking from the team bus, all studied nonchalance and fixed stares.
James even provided us with an early contender for twisted metaphor of the season. "The Anfield roar put hairs on my neck," said the ex-Liverpool goalkeeper. I hoped that it wouldn't get too loud later, or else the big man, a hirsute chap at the best of times, might soon resemble a talking hedge. James also recorded a genuine moment of TV history: the world's first live commentary and analysis of a pre-match warm-up routine.
Later we would have a glimpse of Brendan Rogers's personal library. Peeping out from among the football tomes was an assortment of those self-help books from the life-coach oeuvre. These are an essential toolkit for any manager in charge of a team that includes Luis Suarez.
BT Sport is attempting to change the game in its space-age home but one aspect of yesterday's coverage was wearily familiar. The odds and offers of seven different online and high street betting firms danced and spun before us in a bewildering array of adverts. They are reminders that live football remains the most efficient instrument for fleecing the supporters.
Ex-Premier League referee Mark Halsey, left, and former England striker Michael Owen report from the sidelines for BT Sport at Liverpool v Stoke. Photograph by Matt West/BPI
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]