Asking BT Sport to be responsible with their new channel

This week to much fanfare, BT Sport promoted the launch of their new, European football-carrying channel, BT Sport Europe.  From next season, the broadcaster will be showing all 351 games from the Champions League and Europa League, taking the rights previously owned by Sky and ITV.

In this situation, it’s hard to know what to expect.  The announcement came equipped with the usual promises of innovation and revolution, but history tells us that such rhetoric can often be a disguise for an identical product.

There is cause for optimism: as part of their headline coverage, BT is promising a new ‘Goals’ show on Champions League nights which, anchored by the peerless James Richardson, will show key moments in games as they happen.  Those who have spent time in mainland Europe during the football season will be aware of how well that format can work and it’s certainly a pleasing addition to the British coverage.

The general fear, though, is of laziness and of reversion to formula.

The promotional material issued by the channel was heavy on the ex-professionals.  There was reference to ‘stellar cast lists’ and ‘exciting new additions’ which, as we all know, is football broadcasting code for ex-professionals and asinine opinions.

If that is the route taken by BT - if their new channel is just another medium into which Robbie Savage et al are crowbarred - it will be desperately disappointing.  Ultimately, what has separated the broadcaster from its main rival has been their treatment of European football and their willingness to employ personalities who actually add peripheral value to the product.  The European Football Show has been one of the great additions to the football landscape over these past two seasons and the program’s blend of journalists, writers and knowledgeable, erudite ex-players has been an enormous success.

Troubling, however, has been its determination to apply the Sky template to its domestic offerings.  BT’s Premier League coverage is every bit as mindless and seemingly constructed from the same ‘turn up and speak’ mindset that the channel originally promised deviate from.  Rather than being a genuine alternative, it has generally just become another home for retired players who can’t quite be bothered to re-train.

Football coverage has to cater to everyone and over-intellectualising punditry and presentation would succeed in doing nothing other than marginalising a different part of the viewing community.  But - and this is crucial - with the ratio of quality programming-to-white noise already heavily slanted, BT can afford fill these additional hours with something a bit more polished without risk of losing the demographics harvested by the inane chattiness.

Baffling as it may be, there are those who do quite enjoy the loud noises that Savage makes and who are fond of Owen’s banality.  Those people - whoever they are, wherever they live - have to be catered to also.

But if that lightweight style is confined to the existing channels and those personalities aren’t allowed to infect BT Sport Europe, then everybody wins.  Shouty, constructed talking points on one side, intelligent debate and discussion on the other.

Just - please - don’t use this as another stage for Fletch & Sav re-runs, haircuts and white jeans.  There’s enough of that already - aspire to something higher, something with more substance.

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