Tuesday 18 March ~
There is so much football on TV now that it's impossible to keep up with which channel has the rights to which matches. Presenters and pundits also flit about. Les Ferdinand is just one of the battalion of ex-pros who has recently been given the opportunity to state the obvious in an inconsequential way across several networks. Among presenters, lesser lights go from fronting ITV's Football League highlights package to Monday night live matches on Setanta, while big names move between the two main terrestrial channels, in much the same way that famous comedians once did. In 1999, Des Lynam emulated Bruce Forsyth, Morecambe & Wise and Benny Hill in being lured to ITV. Now the commercial channel – which recently failed in a perplexing bid to lure the smarmy Jamie Redknapp from Sky – is set on snapping up the media's second-best known West Brom fan, after Frank Skinner.
The latest transfer rumour is that Adrian Chiles will take up an offer of £750,000 a year to become the main face of ITV's football coverage. ITV recently won the rights to the FA Cup and England home internationals, but their bid to lure Chiles seems to hinge around the channel getting rights to some Champions League matches for the next three-year contract beginning in 2009. Today it was announced that Sky had won the rights to four out of the five available packages, in the process increasing their quota of live matches from 103 to 130 per season. ITV have only one set of matches left to bid for, which is the first choice Wednesday matches from the final qualifying round up to the final, which will be shared with Sky. Plus the Super Cup in Monte Carlo. Let's not forget that.
While Adrian Chiles is a popular broadcaster, he is also a surprising target for ITV Sport. He has been able to develop his laconic style on the BBC because there is plenty of airtime to fill. But on ITV there is far less opportunity to chat between commercial breaks, so their anchormen are often reduced to being glib hucksters, something that led Des Lynam to admit that he had made a mistake in leaving the BBC. Sky are said to be determined to acquire a clean sweep of Champions League packages having recently been outbid for some Premier League coverage (plus the satellite deal for FA Cup and England games) by rivals Setanta. But UEFA president Michel Platini wants the premium CL matches to go to a free-to-air channel, so the BBC and ITV are expected to fight it out. While maintaining a large sports department and several famous presenters on lucrative contracts, the BBC has steadily lost the rights to live coverage of various high profile sporting events in recent years. And from next year they will no longer have any Premier League coverage. Which makes it surprising that they have just launched a football magazine aimed at eight to 14-year-olds.
The BBC will have to pay a premium price to defeat ITV – as much as £70 million a year – but should they even be trying? The tawdry, bloated Champions League, which has enabled the richest clubs to further extend their financial dominance over their domestic rivals, seems to be a perfect fit for commercial television. If the BBC gets a stake in it, then the competing English clubs – and we already know who they will be – will become state television's flagship football teams, used to promote the product they have spent so much money on. If Adrian Chiles decides to stay on, he may never get another chance to mention West Brom.