The lowdown on BT Sport’s free weekend

As battles go, this was as one-sided as they come.

BT Sport certainly picked a good weekend to open up their channels to everyone in what they billed as their ‘free weekend’.

By comparison, their archrivals Sky Sports, the other protagonists in this war of the sport broadcasters, had a meek splattering of goods on offer for their customers – who at £60 per month are being stripped of £720 per year. That sum would be sufficient to buy a season ticket at most Premier League grounds.

Even so, for at least a decade Sky have held the throne as the Kings of all things sport in the UK, but this season the tide looks to be turning.

BT Sport have them worried, and why not?

They’re offering free viewing to all customers with BT Broadband and, for those without the broadband deal, a fee of just £12 per month to view 38 first-pick Premier League games, an array of top Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 matches, plus comprehensive coverage of the Aviva Premiership.

That’s just for starters. If you’re a self-confessed sport addict then BT Sport could prove to be the perfect place for you.

Allied to the sport mentioned above, there’s football action from the MLS, A-League and Brazilian top flight plus other bits and bobs such as tennis, UFC, Major League Baseball and a generous helping of some innovative, interactive and engaging panel shows – the best of which is fronted by Tim Lovejoy and Matt Dawson on a Saturday morning.

On Saturday, BT Sport trumped Sky with their coverage of Crystal Palace against Arsenal. They also delighted in showing Inter Milan’s entertaining 4-2 win over Verona, while there was also a very watchable 3-0 victory for Wolfsburg against Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

If Sky can’t match the variety of BT Sport, then they can certainly pack a big punch of their own with the most anticipated fixture in La Liga – El Clasico.

It was rather unfortunate for Sky then, that the match was under-par by El Clasico standards – a 2-1 win for Barcelona failed, judging by various social media outbursts, to get the pulse racing.

Gareth Bale was largely anonymous and Lionel Messi was overshadowed by Neymar. That said, the goals scored by Barcelona were of high quality, particularly Neymar’s opener in which he embarrassed two Real Madrid defenders before finding the net.

The fact that the match disappointed wasn’t Sky’s fault, but what is evident is that if you put all your eggs in one basket – as Sky have done with their lack of variety – then the occasional anti-climax will inevitably happen.

But Sky’s tonic to that frustration is their Formula One coverage, which this weekend encompassed Sebastian Vettel’s title-clinching victory in the Indian Grand Prix.

Sky also screened the fifth one day international between India vs. Australia – or would have done had play not been abandoned because of rain.

Aside from that, Sky had very little to offer last weekend. Various repeats were screened and events like the CIMB Classic golf tournament from Kuala Lumpur did little to wrestle the attention away from BT Sport.

Sunday was slightly better for Sky, with the Tyne and Wear derby preceding the clash between Chelsea and Manchester City – once again their ability to show the top football matches in the Premier League proved the main draw to their coverage.

The second NFL London game between the Jaguars and the 49ers was also available to Sky customers, but they lost out on millions of spectators as it was also on offer to terrestrial viewers over on Channel 4, who have maintained their growing grasp on the sport in this country.

It was, at this point on Sunday teatime, as if BT Sport had their opponents on the ropes. It wasn’t long before they delivered a final blow.

France’s two cash-rich clubs, Monaco and PSG, kicked off one after the other – enabling viewers to gorge themselves on Ligue 1 action that is quickly being elevated to a higher level thanks to players such as Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If that wasn’t enough, then a brilliant panel show featuring top football journalists from France, Italy and Germany, presented by the insuperable James Richardson, gave viewers a comprehensive and informative round-up of the best Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 action.

In critical terms, Sky’s service to sport fans has been bettered by BT Sport – and by some way.

The diehard Premier League fans will always flock to Sky, but BT Sport are slowly cranking up the pressure in that department as they bid to show more and more games per season.

Then there is the issue of costing. Would you pay £60 per month for Sky or £12 per month for BT Sport? True, Sky will have autumn international rugby Tests and the Ashes coming up soon, but when they’re all done and the viewers are sat down in February, what else is there to watch?

BT Sport will always be there with a good variety of sport, and it’s a strategy which is intrinsic to their quest to surpass Sky as the country’s leading sports broadcaster.

On the evidence of the last weekend at least, BT Sport have won the battle. Give them a few more years and they may well have won the broadcasting war.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Who are the best and worst football presenters?

The pundits and commentators have had their turn and now, in the last instalment of this three-part blog, the presenters are now in the spotlight.

Arguably the most important part of any live or recorded transmission of a football match, the presenters come under the most scrutiny, so it will be interesting to see whether you agree with my top five best and worst.

As always, I’ll begin with the best:

5. Gary Lineker, BBC

Lineker is perhaps the most prominent presenter on our screens as host of the long-running Match of the Day. He has an affable demeanour on screen and is one of just a handful of ex-players to have successfully made the transition from the pitch to the studio. Lineker rarely makes errors and delivers unbiased judgements on controversial topics – unlike some of his impulsive (and repulsive) colleagues.

4. Ray Stubbs, ESPN

A veteran of football broadcasting, ‘Stubbsy’ is well-known for his calm and engaging presenting style. His on-screen manner is such that he allows the pundits to do their work – rather than cut them off with barbed and empty opinions. Stubbs is almost flawless in his delivery and maintains a time-honoured professionalism throughout his broadcasts, making him a highly-respected football presenter.

3. Mark Pougatch, BBC 5live

It’s perhaps a shame that Pougatch is largely restricted to the airwaves (with an occasional appearance on MOTD2), because he is one of the finest presenters around. At home covering either live matches or phone-ins, Pougatch has a crisp and listenable style that has earned him plaudits from many 5live fans. The BBC would do well to promote him into the MOTD2 slot on a regular basis after Colin Murray’s departure.

2. Jeff Stelling, Sky Sports

Who doesn’t like Jeff? Animated, humorous and always worth a watch, he is the star presenter of Sky’s football coverage. He’s forged a reputation of almost legendary proportions on the hugely popular ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’, and is also responsible for presenting live league cup games. While it’s a little mysterious that he isn’t given Premier League games on Monday Night Football, he will continue to shine on a Saturday afternoon with Messrs Merson, Thompson and Kamara.

1. James Richardson, BBC & ESPN

Something of an enigma these days, Richardson can be found presenting BBC South’s Late Kick-Off show, with seamless class. Always interesting to watch and with a unique presenting style, Richardson carved his lofty status as presenter of Channel 4’s popular Gazzetta Football Italia where he often seen filming at an Italian cafe gazing at a Gazzetta Dello Sport with an ice cream sundae. These days, his presenting of Italian football extends only to ESPN’s Serie A coverage, but he would be more than capable of presenting on Match of the Day or at other high-profile jobs.

The bad:

5. Dan Walker, BBC

Like BBC commentator Steve Bower, Walker is being groomed for the top by the Beeb. Many viewers will wonder why, when Walker has barely earned praise for his plain and naive presenting style. Currently presenting Football Focus, Walker is also heard on 5live irritating listeners with an over-friendly and boyish approach. Has the potential to be a top presenter, but his sudden rise has raised a few eyebrows – perhaps he’s seen as a natural replacement for Jake Humphrey?

4. Colin Murray, BBC

Too chummy with fellow colleagues, possessor of an annoying voice and user of tumbleweed gags – just a few reasons why Colin Murray should take his rightful place on the list of bad presenters. It seems the BBC agrees, with Murray being demoted from the hot seat on Match of the Day 2 to his everyday radio commitments from the 2013/14 season onwards.

3. Matt Smith, ITV

Matt…Smith…has…a…very…distinct…style. If you hadn’t already guessed from my sarcasm, Smith has a strong and irritating fondness for the artistic pause. In fact, his pausing is so obvious you can pretty much predict what he’s going to say before he’s even said it. Despite this, his presenting is largely undramatic and mostly error-free, although many critics have pointed out that his knowledge of the game is lacking in some departments. If he were to iron out the pauses he wouldn’t be on this list.

2. Mark Chapman, BBC

There’s not much that Mark Chapman cannot do when it comes to annoying football fans. Blessed with a voice more akin to that of the Milkybar kid than a front-line football presenter, he is guilty of a series of uninspiring presenting displays. Some elements of Chapman’s presenting are fine – including his thorough knowledge of the game – but he lets himself down with some glaring errors and, like Murray, is often too chummy with pundits on-screen – notably Robbie Savage. With Chapman at the helm, it’s not difficult to see why Final Score looks amateurish in comparison to Soccer Saturday.

1. Adrian Chiles, ITV

Don’t get me wrong, I find Chiles’ sense of humour fairly inoffensive having been brought up by and spent time with several Midlanders in my life, but for the majority of football fans he infuriates rather than delights. Twitter is always a hazardous place for football presenters, but the horrific abuse Chiles gets from fans on the social networking site is sometimes unbelievable. That said, criticisms are not without justice, mainly due to his proneness to big gaffes and his dour, dead-pan style. His most recent error, and perhaps the most amusing, was when he left his backpack on the ITV sofa during the half-time break of the Brazil vs England game. When ITV came back on air, his backpack was in full view. While this is mainly his fault, the ITV producers should also be criticised for not noticing. ITV really could, and should, do better.