Sky serves up unappetising fare from the Premier League cash cow

View from the sofa: 92 Live Sky Sports News; Sports Special BBC 5 Live

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The Independent Football

The Premier League season has only just started, and largely thanks to Sky it is already full of cow parts. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Allow me to explain the cow thing. It stems from a meal my brother and I once had in a country where we couldn’t speak or read the language. After we had pointed at the menu and given the sign for “two”, the beaming waitress presented trays groaning with various pickles, a large dish of carbohydrate typical of the region and the main event: a massive bowl of soup with a film of bright-red, chilli-laden oil on top.

“Cow,” she said, pointing at the soup. “Beef?” we asked. She looked at us quizzically, before repeating: “Cow.”

She probably wasn’t wrong. Because under the chilli oil was a grey liquid with tubes and pipes of animal origin wallowing in it. It wasn’t beef as we know it, that’s for sure. In fact, the best term for the chunks was one my brother came up with, months after the event: bovine apparatus. Cow parts, to the layman.

Discounting the organic plumbing, the soup was tasty. The cow parts were unwelcome and unnecessary, the products of a show-off chef.

Just like the bovine apparatus had ruined our soup, the crackle of expectation that comes before a freshly minted season has been drowned out by needless noise and carnie-style “step right up” badgering from Sky. We have endured the irritating narrative of bickering bosses after the Community Shield, then been subjected to Sky Sports displaying the subtlety of a three-year-old with its attention seeking in the face of BT Sport’s quiet acquisitions of packages which used to be Mr Murdoch’s domain.

We could see that Sky was getting twitchy when it announced 92 Live, a ploy it used to less-than-successful effect two seasons ago when BT Sport first arrived on the scene. Then, highlights of the token schlep around every club in the league to try to convince us that they care about those outside the magic 20 included Louis Tomlinson signing for Doncaster Rovers and Dave Whelan waxing lyrical about Wigan’s hopes in the season following their FA Cup adventure.

This season Tomlinson was back on the scene but the One Direction poppet was only there to tell of his undying love for Rovers and helpfully broadcast Sky’s hashtag to his gazillion Twitter followers. Whelan, funnily enough, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d gone out for a Chinese takeaway, or whatever he calls it.

But we still had the same desperate time-filling as two years ago, at clubs where naff-all was happening because naff-all happens at football clubs in midweek in the middle of summer. Carl Froch sparring with some Nottingham Forest players was about as good as it got.

Robbie Fowler, the former Liverpool striker, possibly summed up the whole thing best when he described it as “like someone shouting how big their bollocks are while flashing”. It was a succinct observation, sadly made less biting by the fact that Fowler had only a few weeks ago leapt out of a plane to publicise his former club’s new kit.

Despite Fowler’s damage to his own glasshouse through his chucking of stones, he had a point. And with the forced excitement and seen-it-all-before feel of 92 Live, it seemed as though Sky had been caught on the hop. Perhaps the broadcaster had thought BT would be another Setanta, a plucky upstart who would be quashed as soon as the big bucks started getting thrown around. But it was wrong – not only is BT flush with cash (it is forecast to trouser a couple of billion quid profit this year), it has been smart in its acquisitions, both in terms of content and personnel. The presenters include Gary Lineker, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand, which if nothing else would make BT a fearsome opponent in its corporate five-a-side league.

BT has steered clear of the brash, look-at-me tactics employed by Sky. To return to the metaphor at the beginning, its stock is tasty enough without bits of colon or aorta chucked in. It has helped that BT’s understated billboards, with the slogan “home of the Champions League”, say enough without needing to scream at you. Whisper it quietly, but Sky might be a teensy bit scared. Lucky it still has the cricket.

For a more rounded introduction to the Premier League season, Mark Pougatch on 5 Live was just the ticket. His 90-minute special, broadcast live from Bournemouth’s Dean Court on Wednesday night, revealed that the club’s arrival at the top table is not all about hanging celebration bunting and dreaming of taking on the big boys by the seaside.

Sure, the panel of Harry Redknapp (who appears to have substituted “t’riffic” for “fantasic” as his favourite word since his knee-induced sabbatical), Tony Pulis (who sounds even more Welsh on radio) and Steve Claridge (who clearly still wishes he could play) said in various ways that it was a credit to the club and the manager, Eddie Howe, that they have made it and, yes, they could survive but they will get beaten. But the most sobering part of the show was the chairman, Jeff Mostyn, talking about the brand they have become part of and the regulations they must adhere to. He described the bigwigs from the Premier League descending on the premises for an induction session as “a day from hell” (imagine someone denigrating the almighty top flight in that fashion on Sky) before listing the hoops they had to jump through with the league, while also dealing with sponsors and kit suppliers unused to the demands that come with being a part of the Best League In The World Ever.

“They [the Premier League] arrived with a huge shopping list, we had to put in a 140-seat media tribune and install high-definition TV in every one,” Mostyn said. “But the biggest thing was when they told us to dig up our award-winning pitch and install undersoil heating. That would have had our groundsman phoning Samaritans: he loves that pitch more than his own family. I told Richard [Scudamore], ‘Have you been here before? We’re in a microclimate: our pitch never freezes.’ But he said it wouldn’t go down well with the other 19 clubs, so...”

Mostyn’s comments should be taken in context; after all, they will earn a good few million this year regardless of where they finish in the league. But they did serve as a cold bucket of water to Sky’s overheated build-up, which itself was self-deflated by the first day. Let’s face it, aside from Leicester City’s impressive win over Sunderland the offerings were decidedly lukewarm – with or without  cow parts.

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