Kevin Garside: BT's 'matey' atmosphere quickly became tiresome


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The Independent Football

All that waiting, all that expectation over the summer, it is over my friends. The Premier League is back. While it is the duty of BT Sport's football anchor Jake Humphrey to inflate his own programme with hyperbole, which he duly fulfilled with his opening statements, it is the prerogative of the punter to validate the product with his or her on/off button.

Liverpool versus Stoke was not a game worthy of the red carpet. Humphrey and fellow cast members were caught between rolling out the big BT Sport proposition and maintaining credibility; not easy with this canvas. Ultimately this is about commerce not football. Sport is merely the instrument with which to attract or keep customers in the hugely profitable telecommunications business. BT wants you to pay them, not Sky for all your phone/broadband/digital/broadcast provision.

It is in the interests of all that BT Sport succeeds where Setanta and ESPN failed. Not only does their introduction broaden the product base, it forces a reaction from the principal provider of live football in Britain. Already Sky has responded by revamping output, including the pairing of Jamie Carragher with the excellent Gary Neville on Monday nights. Apart from a few bells and whistles BT Sport conformed to the latest television conventions; presenter flanked by a three-man panel of experts on a fancy set.

Humphrey migrated from his seat behind the front of house desk to a green, backlit pitch with life-size goals and a third space featuring oversized electronic hoardings. The effect of the latter was to make Humphrey, a tall man, look tiny, and the space empty.

BT executive producer Grant Best dresses his modus operandi thus: "One of the phrases we have been using internally is 'seriously entertaining' because that is what we want to be. We are building something that is re-imagining how you can watch sport on television." Singing from the same hymn sheet, Humphrey, seeking to impose his own stamp on the role of presenter, weighs in with this: "I want to make it a warmer, friendlier, a more personal experience. Everyone knows a lot about the Premier League but we can open it up even more and get even closer to the names and the faces."

So this is what the re-invented wheel looks like. Personally I found the overly chummy chat with David "Jamo" James and Steve "Macca" McManaman an irritating rather than endearing feature. Broadcasting is a skill. The moment that the craft is watered down to boost connectivity with the audience, it risks looking amateurish, which is no incentive to tune in. Matters improved after the match when the programme became an amalgam of Sky's Soccer Saturday and Grandstand with a social networking twist. But this was not the programme's selling point.

The show began an hour before kick-off. A run-up that long might be justified for a World Cup final but Liverpool v Stoke? As an interviewer "Jamo" will take some time to evolve. The "new" broadcast idea of informality broke down almost immediately when James pointed his microphone at his old training partner, Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. The line of questioning, largely vacuous, was never going to illicit anything we did not already know. It contributed to the desired laid-back atmosphere while simultaneously demonstrating how hopeless that approach is in this environment.

Football does not attract the casual viewer, but a knowledgeable audience seeking insight not laughs. Football is, if not a serious business, one to be taken seriously. What we want from our analysts is expertise, not chumery. I don't want "Jamo" to be my mate but to be my expert witness. Humphrey's endless banter with his colleagues was irritating to the end. What have we learned, he asked at the end of the match? I would venture this. Football is central to the enterprise. On this occasion, BT Sport paid insufficient attention to this, diverting our gaze from the core issue with too much emphasis on packaging. All that waiting, indeed.

Did BT have a good game?

Presenter Jake Humphrey knows his stuff. Personable, matey delivery but irritating after a while. 8/10

Pundits Tony Pulis and Owen Hargreaves excellent additions. David James, too casual. Steve McManaman, too predictable. 7/10

Commentators Ian Darke, arguably the real star of the show, informative and insightful. Michael Owen in support, so-so. 8/10

Studio Life-size goals nice idea but on scaled-down pitch a perfunctory addition. Big electronic posters made space look empty. 7/10

Ambiance Attempt to create chummy, frat-house atmosphere was laid on way too thick. Need to take a layer of cream out of that approach. 5/10