After investing over £1 billion to tackle Sky, something that Setanta, ITV Digital and sister channel ESPN never managed to achieve, BT Sport seem like a worthy competitor in the sports broadcasting arena after they happily marked three months on air last Friday.
BT have secured the rights to air 38 Premier League matches per season along with top notch fixtures from the Serie A, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga. The next target is to bring over the Champions League whilst Tottenham Hotspur, Wigan and Swansea feature every Thursday night along with other Europa League matches.
BT Sport invited Football Fan Cast to go behind the scenes last week at their state-of-the-art studios in Stratford to watch Des Kelly’s newest show Life’s a Pitch whilst also having a look at the SPFL Review show.
This was not my first visit at the Olympic Park’s football Disneyland. It is a place where former Real Madrid player Steve McManaman is sitting one one place and then all of a sudden you get the chance to interview former England goalkeeper David James whilst the legendary Michael Owen is standing on the other corner. Everywhere you look you see one of the greatest football personalities that have now hung their boots and put on their suits.
I entered their CGI-looking studios which are swarmed by high technology discovered by BT Sport’s Chief Operating Officer Jamie Hindaugh. BT have three studios together, where they all form the biggest TV studio in the UK, which two of them feature sports shows and the other one is the LED pitch where the veterans lace their boots for a few minutes to recreate some key moments of a match.
It was now time to meet the executive producer of Life’s a Pitch Mark Aldridge who acts as Des Kelly’s eye in the sky. He has been on the TV business for 18 years but this is the first ever brand new company he has joined.
“It’s a pretty exciting place to be. There’s a buzz here which feels unlike anything I’ve ever worked in before,” said Mr Aldridge who described the show as a combination of journalism with an extra dose of humour. He also admitted that his favourite part is when the former Daily Mail columnist gets under the guests’ skin.
“A journalist being funny is much easier to sell than a comic trying to be a journalist. By the time I met Des he was very very excited. He was hungry to do it.”
Darrell Currie met me at a conference room after wrapping up the SPFL Review Show, which also featured the former Liverpool midfielder Gary McAllister who is now a pundit. A very energetic young man that loves the Scottish Premier League outlined his thoughts about the SPFL and also talked to me about his “absolutely brilliant” time at BT Sport.
“I’m lucky enough to have been right at the very start of this channel. I’ve never seen a studio space like that, and I’ve been to many studios around the world. It’s absolutely fantastic. You will hear people say that this is a legacy of the London Olympics. We’re trying to give so much exposure to so many different people.”
He believes that Celtic are “the shining light of Scottish football” but one of the big stories now is Rangers’ journey back to the League and that the club is greatly missed by the SPFL as well as their derby against the Scottish champions, which will be “absolutely explosive” next time it comes around.
Mr Currie praised the “absolutely stunning” support from Hearts fans to the club but admitted that relegation seems very likely and survival would be a miracle. However, if The Famous drop down they will definitely return because “they’re too big of a team”.
It is now time for the SPFL Review Show’s presenter to go home and for me to meet the presenter of Life’s a Pitch. The former Daily Mirror Editor meets me with a giant smile fixed on his face and a very warm handshake. He is wearing a blue suit with white stripes, looks a little like Jay Leno, and is absolutely lively and energetic for a man that anchors a late show four times a week from Monday to Thursday.
He does get a bit tired sometimes but that is just natural as he enjoys doing the show. The first couple of weeks were a little more difficult for the Fonz but now all the pieces have come together. However, he jokingly disclosed his worry that his guest Brian Moore, former rugby player, might be “a right grumpy git”.
“BT Sport is good. Very supportive. They let us do things that would probably cause more sleepless nights than most programs if you were a worried boss because we joke about things,” said the award-winning journalist.
“Humour is always risky. I’ve been around long enough to know where to draw the line. I like doing this because it’s what I wanted to do.”
That was the 47th show for Life’s a Pitch and the presenter seems to have completely adapted after he humorously described the show as him interviewing the former Arsenal and Everton striker “smiling” Kevin Campbell and the Daily Telegraph’s “Pit Bull” Brian Moore.
The show is solely concentrated on football and is consisted of press reviews, where the panel will read today’s and tomorrow’s back pages, straight live reactions, consisted of a discussion regarding major football events, and of course humour, which features funny videos, tweets and of course Des’s tricks.
The first ever show had former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp sitting on a car-door chair whereas another episode featured former England manager Graham Taylor accidentally getting hit with a newspaper in the head as part of the show’s scenario of delivering the papers by bike.
The former BBC man also warned us that the Halloween episode would include a crowd wearing Martin Keown masks in front of the Arsenal veteran himself. “We want the tone to be jokey because we don’t want to just sit there and say ‘I thought the left back’s performance was particularly good tonight.’ We want to say: ‘What was he doing there?!’
“It is a very subjective show and I try to make it that way so we are not bland, you might not agree with everything in it but at least it might have something that will make you laugh.”
That night’s show featured an extensive conversation about the Capital One Cup results, especially those regarding Chelsea’s win and Fulham’s elimination. There were also a few funny videos as well as an interesting remark about Emmanuel Frimpong’s “daft” tweet.
The panel was consisted of Campbell, Moore and journalist Sheridan Bird which brought some freshness in contrast to the mainstream shows dominated by pundits.
“That is an institution, we’re not. We are a new show and I would just be bored if I was applying that institution all the time. Ian Stone was in last night and he is a nice comedian.
“If something serious though happens we will do it properly as a proper news story with proper journalism. We’ve had ex footballers in here and we found one or two of them a little difficult but most people engage in it and everyone that’s been on the show has enjoyed being on it.”
The moment I finished the interview, the Fruit Machine stands up and tosses me a brick. It took me a couple of seconds to realise that it was a dummy brick but I immediately understood that I just fell victim to a Des Kelly trick.
Kevin Campbell though was not intimidated as I had a little chat with him while his former team was playing Chelsea in the background. He was indeed very confident as even when Juan Mata made it two for the Blues he just laughed it out, while Brian Moore started to dance.
“I am not nervous but I am definitely excited. I’ve never been on BT Sport before. I love doing TV work and it’s a good show. Listen, I can work with that (Des’s unpredictability). I don’t worry about that because funny things happen on TV anyways so you’ve got to be flexible and that’s what I think I am.”
It was now time for the show to begin. The presenter and his guests take their seats while an audience of 20 stands on the right. My interview fixer takes me to the gallery where the executive producer commences the countdown, the set gets completely silent, everything is in place and it is lights on. Showtime.