For over six months BT Sport have sought to do what ITV, Setanta and sister channel ESPN have failed to do, and that is compete with Sky Sports. The channel is seeking to bring something different in our small screens, something more personality-driven and something where pundits will not just tell us what they think but they will also show us in the new state-of-the-art LED pitch.
Football FanCast visited BT Sport’s studios in Stratford and got to see first hand what transpires behind the cameras and closed doors. The tour started in the Tron-like 80,000sq-feet studio where up to three shows can take place at the exact same time. We got to watch the crew preparing for yesterday’s Cardiff v Aston Villa pre match show and at the same time there was a tennis show with Martina Navratilova on our left and a live UFC episode playing out back.
An hour later the channel’s Premier League anchor made his way to the studio alongside his pundits for the night David James, Neil Warnock and David Ginola. They all immediately stepped into the virtual pitch which can transform into a football or rugby field depending on the occasion. This is the place where the pundits will enter to explain and show the audience how the highlights of the match occurred.
All four men were in very good spirits and seemed very natural on the digital pitch, especially James, who is still fresh as he was active in Iceland up until recently. The former England keeper got so excited that he accidentally ripped his trousers whilst rehearsing a save.
That was not the only blunder of the night as Humphrey made the fatal mistake of sitting under the bars and having a Ginola shot hitting him in the groin. He then looked at me with a smile on his face and told me: “It’s different.”
We got the chance to have a word with the pundits and presenter earlier where the latter told us how pleased he is with this new challenge although he admitted that he took a big risk.
“What attracted me to BT was their ambition and they promised me they would make a splash but I don’t think even I believed that after six months we would be getting bigger viewing figures than our rivals on certain days for football matches”.
The former BBC presenter is particularly impressed with the channel as it holds exclusive Champions League and Europa League rights. “That is a signal of the intent that this place is here to stay and the ambition is incredible. I just feel really lucky to be part of it.”
The anchor enjoys working with all the pundits who he has been following since the time they were all making a name for themselves in the world’s biggest stadiums. However, he didn’t have time to be awe-struck as the veterans are looking to him to help them in the broadcasting part because this is something new for most of them.
“I think that’s the magic of what we’ve done, we have chosen pundits who are fresh, different and new and they’re straight out of the dressing room. I think that’s really important because they can give a fresh and current perspective of what’s happening in the world of football.”
Not long after, David Ginola enters the room and hugs his colleague who calls him a great laugh. The Frenchman is truly a man of banter as a bit later he shared a few jokes with David James.
The Tottenham Hotspur legend finds it brilliant to work for BT and proves it later on when he enters the pitch and joyfully performs a few of his old tricks.
The 47-year-old had a magnificent time at Spurs as a player but as a pundit he thinks that there is plenty of work to be done, especially after the Manchester City game even though the team had a good spell beforehand.
“Tim Sherwood changed so many things in the team such as introducing a more attacking formation, different attitudes and a different approach. I think he has got the overall idea about where the club should be and the only question is whether he will be aboard for good at Spurs or for another two or three years.”
However he is not very optimistic when it comes to his first ever Premier League club Newcastle. After Yohan Cabaye’s departure the former forward questions the club’s ambition and thinks that the appointment of Joe Kinnear was a mistake as he sold the team’s best assets without replacing them.
“I think it is irrelevant to talk about selling Yohan for £19-20 million because it is no longer a question of money. The question is where the club is going in football terms. I am not so sure, I am very concerned about the future of Newcastle.”
Neil Warnock, the father figure as he likes to call himself, is so excited about the young and vibrant company that he is not looking to undergo the “horrible nauseating feeling” that managers get to feel sometimes.
“The thing I find better is that I can actually say things without being fined,” said the outspoken Warnock. “When I was manager, the FA would fine me for whatever I said. Here, I really enjoy being able to say that this decision was bad or that decision was good. Although my mouth has gotten me into trouble over my career I enjoy saying what I feel.”
The 65-year-old has managed many teams in the past; including his boyhood club Sheffield United where he managed to take back to the top flight but also got relegation. Those were the best and worse memory of his career respectively.
The former Crystal Palace gaffer doesn’t think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will save Cardiff but is especially impressed with Everton’s Roberto Martinez and of course Jose Mourinho who he describes as the best in the League. He feels sorry for David Moyes but still believes in him.
“I feel sorry for him because I’ve been there and it’s a horrible situation no matter how much you get paid and what fabulous club you are managing,” said the former QPR boss. “Perhaps he thought he got a good side whereas as it turned out he needs full backs, centre halves, centre midfield players and another wide player. I personally think he will get another 18 months.”
The pundits then collectively leave the room as duty calls to entertain, another day at the office for them.
Senior channel executive producer Grant Best argues that BT Sport’s football have a “super team” that also includes Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen. He understands that some are new on TV but the channel provides enough support to make them TV people and some have already improved.
“The most important thing is the viewers,” says a smiley Grant Best. “They are the most important people to listen to.”
Jake Humphrey is a judge for the BT Sport FA Cup Young Presenter of the Year Competition which offers one 13-16 year old the chance to record an interview to air during BT Sports live coverage of the 2014 FA Cup Final. For details on how to enter and all terms and conditions please click here.