Sky Sports are in no mood to let BT Sport settle into the Premier League broadcasting battle this season. With the announcement of the first set of televised fixtures, Sky have powerfully asserted themselves over the first weeks of the campaign. They are covering the prime sun loungers with their branded towels while, for now at least, BT are consigned to the shade.
There are four live games on Sky Sports on the first weekend and they include what they believe to be the "three biggest stories" of the new season: managerial changes at Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Sky Sports made clear last night that only once would David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini begin their Manchester tenures, and only once will Jose Mourinho make his second debut, as it were, at Stamford Bridge. And so Sky have the games. They begin, on the evening of Saturday 17 August, with United's trip to Swansea City. The next day, after Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur, they have Mourinho's celebrated return, at home against Hull City. On the Monday night it is Pellegrini's debut, at home against Newcastle United.
This is the pattern through the first few weeks, as Sky hoard all the biggest and best games for themselves. They have Manchester United v Chelsea, in the second Monday Night Football of the season. They have the first Liverpool v Manchester United game and the first north London derby later that same Sunday afternoon. The Manchester derby in September, Chelsea v City in October and a big November too – Arsenal v Liverpool, United v Arsenal and City v Spurs.
BT do not have quite the same firepower, even after spending £738m on a three-year deal with 38 games this season. Most of their matches involve one big team and one lesser side. Tottenham v Chelsea in September and the Merseyside derby in November are BT's best but they have nothing between two sides in the Champions League.
It is such an imbalanced beginning that it looks like a concerted plan, as if Sky Sports were determined to go all-in at the start. BT certainly hope this is the case, insisting that they have kept their powder dry, that they have more first-choice picks left in the second half of the season. BT could never out-punch Sky Sports but they might hope to out-manoeuvre them.
Sky, though, are confident that they will still be in a strong position for the second half of the season. There are 20 weekend rounds of fixtures left after this first set, and Sky have 12 first-round picks, having used just eight so far. BT have eight left for weekends as well as five weeknight selections. And while that might make for a more even contest, Sky can decide which weekends they make their first pick with.
Despite the imbalance, this is certainly a contest. Neither party is desperately keen on the other and they are willing to make it known, publicly or privately. In the PR battle, Sky's boldest move so far has been to make their schedule free on the first day of the Premier League season, Saturday 17 August, the day BT kick everything off with Liverpool against Stoke City at lunch-time. BT Sport had previously kicked off the war by declaring that live top-flight football would be free for BT Broadband customers.
Not that Sky would describe it that way. "Our strategy is not based on getting anyone back," insisted Sky Sports managing director, Barney Francis. "It is based on providing the best for our customers. It is a fabulous opportunity for people to celebrate the first day of the Premier League season and look at our new-look schedule. We are celebrating the first day of the Premier League season by inviting every home in Britain to enjoy that marvellous day."
Sky Sports v BT Sport: Selected fixtures
During the first two months of the new Premier League season, Sky Sports have the plum fixtures:
19 Aug Man City v Newcastle 26 Aug Man Utd v Chelsea
1 Sept Liverpool v Man Utd
1 Sept Arsenal v Tottenham
21 Sept Chelsea v Fulham
22 Sept Man City v Man United
17 Aug Liverpool v Stoke
24 Aug Fulham v Arsenal
31 Aug Man City v Hull City
14 Sept Man United v C Palace
21 Sept Norwich v Aston Villa