Armchair fans wallow in match of the day by day

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The Independent Online
The Revolution in broadcasting regularly fills the media pages of the posh newspapers, and countless seminars enshrine it as the topic for debate of the chattering classes.

But out in the wild it is the armchair football fan upon whom the live experiments have been conducted over recent years. And the start of this particular season will have the average football viewer glued to the zapper, such are the opportunities available. BSkyB's latest multi-million pound deal has secured them not only live television rights to the English and Scottish Premierships, but also to the Nationwide League, the Coca-Cola Cup and England's World Cup qualifying games.

If you have invested in a satellite dish - an act which is at the core of the massive re-financing of British football - barely a day will go by without live football being available to you. On Friday evening, for instance, we will see the newly-launched channel Sky Sports 3 open its coverage of the Nationwide First Division with a treat for the King Edwards of the couch potato world when relegated Manchester City take on Ipswich Town, with the recently acquired Alan "that's a great ball" Parry, providing the commentary. The radio DJ Russ Williams is the anchorman.

On Sundays, Sky Sports will provide double-headers comprising a First Division game at 1pm, followed by a Premiership fixture at 4pm. Monday nights will feature the usual Premiership game, while the midweek slots will reflect Sky's acquisition of the Coca-Cola Cup, to be marked by the first-ever showing of an opening-round fixture when Swindon play Wolves on Tuesday 20 August.

It is a breathless schedule with, as Sky's Rachel Jeffries gleefully adds: "A further 18 hours of support programmes on football each week. We will also be showing some games from the Nationwide Division Two and there's a similar package for Scottish viewers."

Once upon a time if your neighbour disappeared for a week, it probably signalled a traumatic domestic incident, but now it will just mean that he's been Sky-balled.

The BBC has had to survive the Sky steamroller, not only in terms of lost programming but also with the loss of prestige of being a secondary- rights holder. Nevertheless, as they proved over the summer with Euro 96, there is still a majority of the footballing viewing public who regard the BBC with affection and loyalty.

They will be gratified to know that the boy Lineker, having marked his debut as a television anchorman, will continue as presenter of Grandstand's Football Focus while Match of the Day will have Des Lynam, and a combination of Linker, Alan Hansen, Trevor Brooking and Jimmy Hill, although Ruud Gullit will be detained by his commitments at Chelsea.

The BBC will also show live the home legs of Newcastle United's Uefa Cup campaign and will negotiate for the away legs as they come. "We did the deal two months ago," a spokesperson said. "So you can imagine how excited we were when they signed Alan Shearer. We may also be able to cover other English teams in Europe on an ad hoc basis."

ITV, who take over the FA Cup and England's internationals next year, will meanwhile look to Europe for their salvation. Their rights to the Champions' League continue with live coverage of Rangers - provided they survive the away leg to Alania Vladikavkaz - and Manchester United guaranteed until December. The fate of Blackburn last season will haunt them, however.

Jeff Farmer, the head of ITV football, said: "We are also still looking at possible Euroean coverage of Arsenal, Aston Villa and Liverpool, with the potential for live broadcasts if the game is big enough. We will also be showing 10 live First Division games from mid-November. As far as local highlights packages go, we are still negotiating."

As if all this were not enough, Channel 4's fifth season of the Italian Serie A will resume on Sunday 8 September, although the arch- nationalists will now claim that, thanks to Sky's money, most of the best Italian players are now over here.

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