Recently I heard an interview with Bill Rasmussen, the founder of ESPN. Formed in 1978 and broadcasting from 1979, the American network initially covered sports the networks didn’t pick up. With the expansion of cable in the USA in the mid-80’s ESPN took off and across the world we now have multi-channel 24 hour sports channels with roles reversed and the terrestrial networks are left to pick up the crumbs.
As a boxing fan, reading in the early 80’s about the changes to TV sport across the pond I found the chat fascinating but the relevant part of the interview with regards to Celtic and Scottish football came towards the end. Rasmussen and the interviewer had been discussing the evolution of 24 sports channels and all the benefits it brought to the armchair fan when the interviewer asked if there were any downsides to the explosion in coverage. Rasmussen was adamant that there were.
He was very critical of overpaying for sports rights and although he was specifically referring to American Football, I couldn’t stop thinking of Sky, the EPL and the knock on impact on Scottish football. His point – when paying such vast sums the sport in effect becomes the networks own product and subsequently it becomes above criticism. No-one can dare say that any game is anything other than wonderful and the narrative of any negative must be turned into a positive. Even if players are caught taking drugs it shows how good the game is at catching them.
By over spending, the network therefore has to do anything it can to protect its product and keep the overhyped and over priced league as the pre-eminent game. This attitude also means that the networks hoover up broadcast rights of lesser leagues and variants of the sport to prevent competitors getting a foothold and to keep these lesser leagues in “their place” to help re-enforce that anything other than the premium product is a lesser version.
All of this had me thinking of SKY and the EPL. Look at SKY’s coverage of the closure of the transfer window. Next week we will see the ultimate SKY SPORTS/EPL infomercial when Jim Whyte dons is golden/yellow tie. Translate Rasmussen’s comments across and we can also contrast coverage between SPFL and EPL and the reasons for SKY buying the rights to a game they seem not to care for become clear – it is all about reaffirming the EPL as the pre-eminent version of the game and keeping ours as a low grade product. The Setanta model was on course when they only did Scottish Football and although their leap to EPL coverage was the death of them, their training in Scotland allowed for that leap. You can see therefore why acquiring lesser products that you have no interest in may be a useful insurance policy.
SKY’s coverage of Scottish Football is woeful. Poor production compounded by poor pundits and a presenter who has give up hiding his love of the New Club/Company (© UEFA) are just some of the issues. If ever you wanted an idea of their disdain for our game, Celtic’s first game against NC/C is expected to be the most watched domestic game in 4 years yet SKY has put it up against the first Manchester Guardiola vs Mourinho fixture.
Today (20th August) BT Sport will cover the St Johnstone v Celtic game and their coverage will be far superior to anything SKY have produced in Scotland for years, but then SKY aren’t interested in Scottish football apart from diminishing our product. The Scottish game has no partnership with SKY and the sooner we are shot of them the better.