Sport: Football: Barclays Premier League: Two tribes go to war ... in watching and talking: Barry Glendenning on the first day of the long-hyped battle between BT Sport and Sky
(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) 'A tale of two goalkeepers, I think it's been here today," mused commentator Ian Darke at the conclusion of Liverpool's win over Stoke, BT Sport's maiden excursion into the field of live Premier League football coverage since their gazillion pound acquisition of the rights to broadcast a mere 38 of this season's matches. It was more a tale of two broadcasters, with the media and telecommunications firm having made no secret of their ambition to shake up the world order long established by Sky Sports in their summer-long PR blitz.
"Without getting personal, the presentation of football hasn't come on a huge amount in the last 15 years. We think we'll bring something different," said Simon Green, BT Sport's director, in the minor skirmish of seemingly endless pre-season sniping and bickering between the two broadcasters. In yesterday afternoon's broadcast, his employers finally showed their hand: a telegenic bloke and some other blokes who used to play football watching and commenting on a game of football. It was much like every other presentation of football in the last 40-odd years, which it is worth remembering, is no bad thing. It would be churlish to say that BT Sport did not bring something new to the party, although the differences were rather nuanced. During play at Anfield, the scoreline and clock were placed at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen in a radical departure from the televisual norm. In the cut-throat world of broadcasting, where innovation is everything, one imagines the suits at Sky were quietly seething at being beaten to the punch at this controversial turn of events. Concerns they might retaliate by having their scoreline and clock float aimlessly around the TV screen for 90 minutes have proved unfounded thus far.
Where suits and ties tend to be de rigueur on Sky, the BT Sport dress code was less formal, with anchor Jake Humphrey looking casual as he chaired a panel of Tony Pulis, Owen Hargreaves and Steve McMananan, who all seemed convivial, relaxed and at ease in loose, open-necked shirts before the much vaunted "central hub" and its dot matrix monitors that is the centrepiece of BT Sport's preposterously massive studio.
But while it could be argued that there is something inherently wrong with watching Pulis wax lyrical on the subject of football while he is wearing anything other than a tracksuit and baseball cap, the former Stoke manager did provide some interesting insights in the face of a barrage of mischievous comments from his fellow pundits on the "physicality" of the many bruisers numbered among the ranks of his former charges.
Behind the chaps, sitting alongside BT Sport's Opta egghead and stat man, their resident social media analyst Christian Howes was unique in having made a sartorial effort, with the dandyish handkerchief in his breast pocket lending some much-needed gravitas to proceedings as he cheerfully informed us that "79% of mentions of Arsenal [on Twitter] are positive". This observation was made some time before Aston Villa scored the first of their three goals.
In the commentary box at Anfield, Michael Owen provided match analysis alongside Darke, while the former referee Mark Halsey was also on hand to provide an officials' take in what is likely to prove a genuinely welcome and useful innovation.
Through no fault of Halsey's, the game's lack of controversy meant his contributions occasionally sounded contrived and surplus to requirements, not least as he explained how the equally redundant Hawk-Eye "might work if it were needed".
Despite the best efforts of assorted players from both sides clattering the woodwork, the new technology was not needed. Neither, for that matter, were the World Rugby Sevens matches with which the broadcaster's coverage of the 3pm fixtures was repeatedly interrupted. Up with that nonsense, Sky's unflappable Gillette Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling would not put. Obviously feeling compelled to raise their game by their new noisy neighbours, Sky's response was quickfire in the form of Saturday Night Football, a show that did exactly what it said on the tin and more, despite appearing to think it was Top Gear, but with football instead of cars.
Presented by the urbane and always excellent David Jones, working alongside enthusiasm's Jamie Redknapp, it was filmed before a studio audience comprised largely of blokes standing around and occasionally whooping half-heartedly. With its contributions from Sarah-Jane Mee, this new show boasted one feature that was noticeably absent from its BT Sport equivalent: the input of a woman. In the battle to win hearts and minds, this controversial development could turn out be a game-changer.
New direction: BT Sport introduced a number of what they may call innovations, above, but the differences to Sky, left, were more nuanced than they were dramatic
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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