Channel 4, better known for car crash reality TV than its football coverage (the glory days of James Richardson’s Football Italia excepted), could be about to land the rights to show live Champions League games.
If a deal can be reached, it would mean a return to terrestrial UK television for Europe’s premier football competition, which no longer airs live on ITV (although you can catch a highlights show in the wee hours, if painfully awkward banter between Lee Dixon and an increasingly irritable Roy Keane is your sort of thing). That’s the good news.
On the other hand, it’s kind of a step into the unknown. Channel 4 aren’t total novices when it comes to sports: their coverage of the Paralympics, for example, has managed to be both informative and entertaining – and, to be fair, they’ve also recently picked up Bake Off as well, so they’ve definitely upped their game.
Equally, we don’t know anything about who would play the role of host (Gary Lineker, the popular choice, is tied up with BBC and BT duty for the foreseeable future) neither which pundits will be invited on. Although this is a network with a reputation for pushing the envelope, it’s very easy to slip into the same old tired format of cynical ex-pros sitting around a desk moaning about diving and headphones.
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And that’s the problem with all of this never-ending football coverage: whilst it’s nice to be able to watch the very best in the world compete night after night from the comfort of your sofa, there really can be too much of a good thing. Few people are happy with the Premier League’s strict black-out policy which prohibits broadcasters from airing live footy at 3pm on a Saturday, but the logic behind it is sound: it ensures attendances at smaller, local teams doesn’t suffer.
Back in the seventies, Brian Clough, in his famous interview with John Motson (from which Motty has never quite recovered), warned us of the perils of showing too much football on television – and, more generally, playing too much football. Nearly forty years later, with the FA showing little appetite for scaling back the mammoth domestic season (what purpose does having two cup competitions serve, besides giving Wenger a chance to end his trophy drought?) it seems his advice has gone unheeded by the powers that be.
Football is the most popular sport in the UK by some distance, even if live viewing figures – thanks to premium rate TV deals – aren’t as high as network execs would like. The sport is in a comfortable position, but in the era of social media, when everyone and their mum has a football blog, there is a very real danger that we’re all going to start getting a little tired of all the endless, non-stop coverage.
Whilst everything remains hush hush for the time being, it’s difficult to say what impact Channel 4’s potential Champions League foray will have on the wider footballing world. One thing’s pretty certain though: Alan Carr will probably be involved somehow.
The money it costs the likes of Channel 4 to buy the Champions League coverage, means the Premier League’s top earners’ wages will rise even more!