As the new football season draws closer large numbers of us will know where we will be on a Saturday night. We will be parked in front of the television and welcomed once again by Lineker alongside Messrs Hansen and Shearer to review all the day’s action from the Premier League. It is a cosy, familiar setting in which we will undoubtedly be treated to bad puns and the same nuggets of wisdom as the previous year. Namely, that you can’t win anything with kids, the crucial importance of winning ugly and having strength in depth. But the BBC is arguably at risk of losing viewers if it does not consider re-vamping a format which has remained unchanged for years. In an era of new digital technology, web content and the red button it is surely time to give the viewer greater freedom over the matches they want to see.
The Saturday night MOTD has become something of a footballing institution. Players and managers alike will share a joke in their post-match interview about their team featuring last on the programme again. For devoted football geeks out there said MOTD line-up is still available on Teletext a few hours before kick-off. But does this not feel slightly arcane as we approach the 2010/11 season? Don’t terrestrial viewers of football deserve something different?
Previous critiques of MOTD have centred upon its stilted and reactionary punditry. When Ian Wright quit his role as a BBC football pundit in 2008 he questioned how long a young audience in particular would keep watching the ‘same old jacket, shirt and tie format’ and suggested that viewers wanted something different. Maybe he was on to something as MOTD2 under the chummy stewardship of Adrian Chiles achieved much popularity by inviting current players and managers on as guests and taking a sideways view of the weekend’s action. This however, is not the biggest problem facing the programme as all highlights packages have similarities and the extent to which clothing and appearance is central to viewers’ observations of these shows is questionable.
The main issue facing MOTD is the inherent injustice for the viewer supporting a team outside of the top four/five. During the final third of last season when the title race was wide open, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal consistently topped the schedules. However good punditry will almost certainly involve telling the viewer something new or offer opinions that will spark some debate. This is immeasurably harder when reflecting on a bore draw instead of another thrilling twist in the title race.
Devoted football fans though would surely want in-depth coverage of their team’s game even if it ended goalless. It is surely not beyond the means of the BBC to provide the viewer with more options through use of the red button and its website. By using such media the viewer could be treated to longer highlights of their chosen game accompanied by more comprehensive post-match interviews and analysis from the commentary team who actually sat through the entire game. The BBC is clearly not averse to technological change when it comes to sporting output. The Football League Show is available online and its coverage of the World Cup showed innovation by making highlights available on all platforms, giving viewers more ownership over what they wanted to watch and when. With any such changes come issues concerning rights and contractual agreements with the Premier League but if left unaltered this most famous football show will risk losing a significant portion of its audience to innumerable websites which now offer highlights of any match on demand.