History of British football: TV coverage & punditry -The Sky Revolution
ITV’s exclusive TV football league contract finished at the end of the 1992 season. Since the mid 1980s, talk of a super league of elite English clubs had been frequently mentioned by various footballing bodies. As the 1990’s approached it became more of a reality. The English clubs were now invited back into European competitions which would help revenues. Around this time the Football League itself had fallen behind foreign leagues such as Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga in attendances and revenues. This caused several top English players to move to clubs abroad. Namely Gary Linekar to Barcelona. Des Walker & David Platt to Sampdoria. And Paul Gascoigne to Lazio.
Further British Stadiums were crumbling, supporters endured poor facilities. Hooliganism was rife. English clubs had been banned from European competition for five years following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. After the Hillsborough tragedy in April 1989 where 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives. The government commissioned the Taylor report. Its contents recommended all football teams grounds should be all-seater. This was later revised to the top two divisions. The clubs were faced with a massive bill.
Video: ‘Match of the Day’ as broadcast on evening Saturday 15th April 1989 (Hillsborough Disaster)
One member one vote
In the 70’s & early 80’s all the television revenue was shared equally between all 92 member clubs of the Football League. For example, a team like Halifax Town or Colchester Utd in lower divisions would receive the same as Manchester Utd and Arsenal. Even though those sides were hardly on our TV screens. This frustrated the bigger clubs. It was one member one vote so the, larger clubs found this difficult to change.
In the late 1980s. Major English clubs had begun to transform into business ventures. Applying commercial principles to club administration to maximise revenue. Martin Edwards of Manchester United, Irving Scholar of Tottenham Hotspur, and David Dein of Arsenal were among the leaders in this transformation. It gave the top clubs more power. By threatening to break away, clubs in Division One managed to increase their voting power. They took a 50% share of all television and sponsorship income in 1986. Revenue from television also became more important: the Football League received £6.3 million for a two-year agreement in 1986, but by 1988, in a deal agreed with ITV, the price rose to £44 million over four years with the leading clubs taking 75% of the cash.
According to Scholar who was involved in the negotiations of television deals. Each of the First Division clubs received only around £25,000 per year from television rights before 1986. This increased to around £50,000 in the 1986 negotiation. Then to £600,000 in 1988. The 1988 negotiations were conducted under the threat of ten clubs leaving to form a ‘super league.’ But they were eventually persuaded to stay with the top clubs taking the lion share of the deal. As stadiums improved and match attendance and revenues slowly rose. The country’s top teams again considered leaving the Football League in order to capitalise on the influx of money into the sport.
The foundation of the Premier League
The foundation of the Premier League in English football occurred in the early 1990s. The first major step to its formation occurred in October 1990. When the managing director of London Weekend Television (LWT) Greg Dyke met with the representatives of the “big five” clubs. David Dein of Arsenal, Philip Carter of Everton, Noel White of Liverpool, Martin Edwards of Manchester United and Irving Scholar of Tottenham Hotspur. This secret meeting was to pave the way for a breakaway from the Football League.
Dyke believed that it would be more lucrative for ITV. If only the larger clubs were featured on national television. He wanted to establish whether the clubs would be interested in a larger share of television rights money. The fundamental difference between the old Football League and the breakaway league (what became the Premier League) is the money in the breakaway league would only be divided between the clubs active in that division. Whilst in the previous arrangement it was shared between all Football League clubs across all divisions. The plan was drawn up for a Premier League of 18 clubs to be created in time for the 1992–93 season.
The five major clubs decided the plan was a good idea and decided to press ahead with it. However the league would have no credibility without the backing of The Football Association. So David Dein of Arsenal F.C. held talks to see whether the FA were receptive to the idea. The FA did not enjoy an amicable relationship with the Football League at the time. The new proposed league could weaken the Football League’s position. The FA gave it their blessing but were not interested in running the new structured football division.
This new league also needed to get on side the Professional footballers association (PFA). Who were the trade union for professional footballers. Normally they would take 10% of any TV money. This was ploughed back into the long-term welfare of professional footballers from whatever division. Martin Edwards (Manchester Utd) was sent to negotiate with Gordon Taylor of the PFA. These talks proved tough. But after threats of strikes ‘down balls lads everybody off the pitch’ a deal was finally agreed.
The Spurs struggle financially
Although Irving Scholar of Tottenham Hotspur had in many ways the right vision through commercialisation. Including re-development of the ground at White Hart Lane. It had put Spurs into serious financial trouble. In June 1991 Alan Sugar of Amstrad bought his controlling interest. Putting vital funds into the club. Sugar worked alongside fellow Director & Spurs manager Terry Venables. The partnership was not to last. Alan Sugar now became entrenched in the subsequent media battle which was about to unfold as the new owner of Tottenham Hotspur. One where he was in a good position to influence.
Video: Alan Sugar buys Spurs
In the late 80’s satellite TV was beginning to rise it’s broadcasting head as another way of viewing screen content. Sky was then, one channel of general entertainment. Boasting they have the Real Madrid v Barcelona match on – a week after it had been played. Also, to view these channels you needed a very large dish. Normally placed in the gardens by home satellite ‘hams’. On 11 December 1988 Luxembourg launched Astra 1A. The first satellite to provide medium power satellite coverage to Western Europe. Transmitting signals to be picked up on smaller dishes (90 cm). Rupert Murdoch (Sky) announced his company would be taking up four transponders. Providing among other channels (News, Entertainment, Films) a specialist sports channel.
Video: (1995) Satellite Wars: Pioneers and Pirates – The Story of BSB & Sky Satellite TV in the UK
Murdoch & Sugar
Murdoch commissioned Amstrad (owned by Alan Sugar & now Chairman of Spurs) to build the dishes to get into the shops. Thus allowing more people to purchase and enjoy the content. However, the programming was very bland and full of past 60’s & 70’s repeats. It was nothing compared to what BBC & ITV were putting out. Sales of dishes were sluggish and Murdoch was investing fortunes or losing millions, depending on your point of view. What he needed was something consumers desperately wanted and would pay a premium for. He identified Sport. In particular football as a product-consumers were very brand loyal towards. Football fans would probably pay more just to see their team. He therefore became more than interested in the new TV rights which were becoming available for the start of the 1992-93 season.
British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB)
The launch of Astra came before the winner of the UK’s state Direct Broadcast Satellite licence holder, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), was able to launch. This was a potential rival to Sky, whose signal came from a high powered satellite meaning an even smaller dish could be simply placed in the lounge. BSB & the BBC had discussed bidding for football rights together. However, BSB were set with problems including technical faults. It became clear, there was only going to be room for one satellite broadcaster at the time. So, in November 1990, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Television merged with satellite competitor BSB. They form a new company – BSkyB. Both companies were losing money. BSB estimated loses £14 million per week. Cost-cutting measures were imposed, plus the interest in sporting football rights to boost income.
The Premier League intended to sell its own television rights, with the proceeds split between the 22 member clubs. There now occurred a very aggressive dutch auction between the bidding TV companies. ITV offered £205 million for the exclusive coverage and later increased their offer to £262 million but were outbid by Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB channel who saw it as an opportunity to lure new customers to their loss-making satellite service Sky Television plc. Who had allegedly been advised by Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Alan Sugar (whose Amstrad company was supplying Sky with satellite-dishes).
In the fierce battle and business maneuvering to try and swing the deal for one’s own company – Trevor East of ITV heard Sugar on the telephone speaking to Murdoch at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London in May 1992 advising an increased bid for the television rights. Sugar is alleged to have told Murdoch to “Blow them out of the water”.
Conflict of interest
Sugar at this final meeting of clubs to vote on which TV deal they accepted, declared to the group a potential conflict of interest. His Amstrad company being a supplier of dishes to BSkyB. He offered for Tottenham to abstain from the vote so to avoid any accusations of self interest. The clubs actually voted on this as a motion and it was decided Tottenham should be able to vote.
The big clubs in particular Martin Edwards (Manchester United) & David Dein (Arsenal) favoured ITV . Even though BSkyB were offering more. This may have been staying with the broadcaster you know rather than the one you don’t. BSkyB was new and untested. Their reluctance to accept Sky’s bid may further been due to it being a non-terrestrial television service and no pledge from BSkyB to feature their games more regularly was made. Further, it meant for the first time the public would need to pay a subscription fee to watch live football on television. This would be new and a complete culture shock to sport lovers.
Alan Sugar angry
However Sugar was annoyed by their allegiance to ITV. He said ‘I went into bat big time for BSkyB.’ When the vote was eventually taken. BSkyB won by one vote. Murdoch’s (BSkyB) winning bid was £304 million; £35 million for 60 live games per season over 5 years. The influence of Alan Sugar on the club bosses was paramount, in accepting Sky’s offer.
Live rights to top-flight football was moreover unaffordable for the BBC, whose priority was restoring ‘Match of the Day’ to its traditional spot on Saturday evenings. The BBC supported Sky’s bid in an attempt to get the highlights package.
Video: (2017) A brief history of 25 years of the Premier league
Deal goes public
When the deal was first announced there was outrage. Many inside and outside the game were not happy. Martin Edwards (Manchester United) said ‘I think the majority of fans were unsure of quite what to expect from it.’ Satellite TV was still a very new concept which few were fully informed about. And there were risks. Edwards recalled ‘Alex Ferguson (Manchester United manager) was enraged because the decision had been taken without consulting the managers or the players.’ Also, the scheduling of matches, some on a Sunday and Monday would do no favours for clubs competing in Europe. But this underlined the new trend, with so much revenue being put in TV companies will demand their influence on when games are played so to maximise their own advertising and commercial interests.
Video: How Sky made the Premier League
Premier League formed
On 27 May 1992, the Premier League was officially formed, and it was confirmed that the first season of the new league would begin in August that year, involving the 19th highest placed teams in that season’s First Division as well as the champions, runners-up and playoff winners from the Second Division. The old Second Division would be renamed Division One, the Third Division would become Division Two and the Fourth Division would become Division Three. The three-up, three-down system of promotion and relegation, established in 1974 (although there had since been exceptions to the system on occasions when the league was being reorganised) would continue in the future. David Dein (Arsenal) was constantly asked what is the difference between the Premier league and the old first division? ‘Nothing, except there’s more money swishing around.’
Video: How the Premier League was founded
Distribution of funds
Martin Edwards (Manchester United) explained later how the revenue to the new league was split up. He said ‘50 per cent of the total pot would be shared equally between all the clubs in the division; 25 per cent would be on appearance so, depending on how many games you appeared in, you got a share of that 25 per cent; and the remaining 25 percent was based on league position – the champions got the most, and then you worked your way down.’
BBC & Sky
It was important that some free to air coverage of the new Premier League was available to those that couldn’t afford the cost of a dish and satellite TV regular payments. Thus, keeping the game in everyone’s eye. The BBC came in with Sky to earn the highlights package which would show the best of the action of all Premier League games in a revamped ‘Match of the Day.’ Where the time given to each game was cut dramatically but still carefully analysed by the pundits. Sky & BBC also gained the rights for the FA cup matches. ITV was left with little apart from the League Cup games run by the Football league, which continued to invite all Premier league clubs to compete.
The Football League whose influence on the game of football had been diminished, had to do its own deal elsewhere for its surviving divisions. There was concern that the decrease in TV revenue would force some smaller Football league clubs out of business. But somehow nearly all survived but the gap between the richest clubs and the poorest grew much larger. But the bigger clubs now had the revenues to compete for top European players and be a major threat to the Italian & Spanish leagues in gaining the best world class footballers.
Sky were now the leading company in the new satellite TV revolution. This in turn changed the face of football. For the first time a whole channel(s) could be dedicated to sport in particular football. The new exciting Premier League started, which Sky TV, with their massive rights payment had help fund.
Video: Sky TV advertisement for the new Premier League (1992)
Implementation of the Taylor report
The Sky TV money helped fund the requirements of the Taylor report. Meaning the first two football divisions had to provide all-seater stadiums. Most clubs in the Premiership decided these refurbishments would go well above the basic requirements. New stands were constructed. In some cases, new stadiums were built. Often involving the football club leaving for new premises. The improvements of facilities, catering, hospitality and seating brought back the families to the game. Over time hooliganism was eradicated. Football was enjoying a major resurgence from the dark days of the mid-eighties.
Video: (1994) Improvements in Football Grounds – From Newcastle to Wembley
At the beginning 1992. The challenge for Sky was to how to fill this unwarranted amount of time before and after games. There was little back catalogue of matches to show as BBC & ITV held most of these. And, at that time they were not going to give them up. At first their coverage looked stayed and boring. Copying the tried and tested methods from previous broadcasters. It needed a push for further innovation. This came with the help of technology. Plus the redeveloping of football punditry and analysis.
Video: Reflection on Sky’s initial coverage of the Premier League
Soccer Saturday (1992-present)
This new Saturday afternoon show helped move TV coverage of matches on. ‘Soccer Saturday’ is a six-hour football programme based around four ex-pro’s staring at TV monitors and reporting on games through the presenter to what’s happening. The viewers are not being able to see the match. On the face of it the format looked distinctly boring. But the excitement generated by the players, the constant news of goals and incidents coming in from other matches rises the temperature of anticipation for home viewers. Plus the important ingredient of humour. This often occurs through mistakes of the pundits, with such a high pace of information exchange.
The programme was first called ‘Sports Saturday.’ This started in 1992 with Paul Dempsey as the presenter. It further developed when Jeff Stelling joined, who has been the sole presenter since 1994. It’s Stelling’s exciting approach as the main presenter that has often been sited, as the reason the programme is so popular with fans. When the matches kick-off Stelling will link to other reporters at games. Constantly coming back to others with continuous updates. ‘Soccer Saturday’ starts mid-day with a preview of the fixtures. Then the description of the games as they’re played. Followed by the analysis of the matches when finished.
Alan Mullery: memories of being a pundit
Former Soccer Saturday guest pundit Alan Mullery said. ‘Jeff is like a skilled conductor working with a volatile orchestra.’ As all the ex-players had different personalities and demand their say. Mullery’s favourite ‘Soccer Saturday’ line up was Frank McLintock, George Best, Rodney Marsh and Mullers himself. Those players have moved on. The current team of pundits now includes Matt Le Tessier, Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas and Paul Merson. However, the argument, analysis, debate and humour remain.
Jeff Stelling, heroic support and championing of Hartlepool United, the team he has supported since a child, often brings mirth from the panel. Yet if he was waving the flag for one of the top six Premier league teams – it wouldn’t go down as well. Like nearly all sports shows, getting the chemistry right between presenters and pundits, bouncing off each other, makes the programme.
The format has been copied by other broadcasters (BBC & BT Sports). Such has been its impact on sports broadcasting, Each trying to differentiate from the other.
Video: Soccer Saturday
Andy Gray & Richard Keyes (1992-2011)
Almost from its inception in 1992. Ex-footballer Andy Gray and ex-Breakfast TV presenter Richard Keyes became stalwarts of Sky’s football coverage. Bringing in new state of the art technology to analyse games. The two formed a double act on Sky’s flagship ‘Super Sunday’ (live football) programme with commentator Martin Tyler. The pair also presented ‘Sky’s Monday Night’ Football a combination of forthright chat and analysis of games. This was supported by the increase in TV cameras and the new digital technology allowing the smallest of incidents to be properly scrutinised. In January 2011 both Keyes & Gray left Sky over off-air sexist comments aimed at a female line’s woman. There positions were filled by ex-Liverpool player Jamie Carragher and ex-Manchester United player Gary Neville who have continued as strong replacements building their own following.
Video: Monday Night Football programme – Example of technological analysis
BBC ‘Match of the Day’ (1992-present)
The BBC no longer had the public funds to compete alone for live football. The cost had grown outrageously high throughout the nineties and early noughties. They were happy maintaining the top highlights package for license payers. At the start of the Premier League ‘Match of the Day’ had an overhaul.
Video: Clip of first ‘Match of the Day’ start of the new Premier League (August 1992)
The news slot was dropped from the programme (MOTD), as more time was given showing short highlights to every game played on the Saturday. Along with player/manager interviews and expert analysis from Gary Linekar & Alan Hansen (1992-2014). The pair became regular studio pundits working with popular presenter Des Lynam. In their analysis of matches, they always tried to show something the football loving public at home would not have necessarily picked up themselves while watching the game.
Video: Alan Hansen retires from Match of the Day (2014)
Gary Lineker joined the BBC as a pundit after finishing as a footballer in 1992. He worked on several high-profile BBC football shows including ‘Football Focus’, ‘Sportsnight’ and ‘Match of the Day.’ He later successfully moved on to host ‘Football Focus’ (1996-1999) before taking over ‘The Match of the Day’ chair in 1999 from Des Lynam who moved to ITV.
Lineker had started his football career with his home side Leicester City. On 13 August 2016, Lineker presented the first ‘Match of the Day’ of the 2016–17 season wearing only boxer shorts. He had promised in a tweet from December 2015 that, if Leicester City won the Premier League, he would ‘present Match of the Day in just my undies’. He delivered.
Video: Gary Lineker Presents Match of the Day in his Underwear
BBC Match of the Day 2 (2004-present)
More games were being played on a Sunday, not only for Live Sky TV purposes but to accommodate those teams involved in European competition. Giving them a fair break between travelling to matches abroad. In 2004 to further cover the highlights of these, often important games, another ‘Match of the Day’ on BBC 2, went out in late Sunday evening in similar style to the Saturday programme. But with a team of different presenter(s) Mark Chapman (2013–present), Colin Murray (2010–2013), Adrian Chiles (2004–2010) and a selection of pundits Mark Lawrenson (who was a regular on ‘Football Focus’), Alan Shearer, Phil Neville among others. The programme proved just as popular moving to late evening on BBC One in 2012.
The show with a little more time and possibly trying to find some definition from the Saturday version contained more humour. It originally featured a “Top 5” countdown based around a current event or a guest analyst on the show, such as “Worst Haircuts”, “Shocking Refereeing Decisions”, or “Golden Oldies.” This was replaced by “2 Good, 2 Bad”, which offered a humorous look at the goings on of the football weekend in England, such as embarrassing gaffes, unusual celebrations, intimacy between players and managers, or supporters falling asleep.
After thirty years at the BBC, in August 1999 Des Lynam was financially lured from the BBC to present ITV’s football coverage. The centre piece was the midweek UEFA Champions League (Live matches) which the ITV network at the time had the rights for. Lynam had become a little frustrated at ‘Match of the Day’ being scheduled later and later on the Saturday night, where they would lose viewers. However, from the programme was re-run on early Sunday mornings for families. But Des simply loved Live football plus ITV’s large cheque and a new challenge.
Video: Desmond Lynam (Biography) (2006)
The UEFA Champions league
The Champions league, since it’s rebranding in 1992 had become a massive European competition. It had developed from the European cup. UEFA were in fear the larger Euro-clubs coming together to form a lucrative league competition amongst themselves. Similar to what the British clubs had developed with their domestic Premier league. So, they re-developed the old European cup into a league & knock out system. The format allowed more clubs to enter and a lot more financial incentive for the teams who qualified from their own top leagues. Such was the size and importance of tournament; TV companies were eager to add this exciting European competition to their live football coverage.
ITV ‘The Premiership’.
ITV later gained a deal to air Premier League highlights. In 2001, Des Lynam now presented ‘The Premiership’. Lynam was among a few that thought these highlights could be shown in early evening, with the hope of picking up a larger audience. Des said ‘That way the matches would seem almost live. More people might not actually know the results or might avoid them, making the product that much more exciting.’ This also would put much pressure on the editing team.
The programme was first aired on ITV at 7pm on 18 August 2001. Essentially it was ‘Match of The Day’ with adverts. But ITV put in one or two differentiating factors such as Andy Townsend (pundit) analysis video truck. An idea poached from channel four cricket coverage. However, it didn’t work. There were other aspects to the show the public didn’t take to, such as ‘Prozone’, a gimmicky way to show formations, figures which expert pundit Terry Venables found hard to use, while articulating his ideas.
Video: Prozone on ITV’s Premiership (2001)
After advertisers’ pressure with disappointing viewing figures; a decision was made to shift the programme from its original 7pm slot to a permanent later time of 10:30pm, from 17 November 2001. This ran until May 2004. ITV’s coverage of the Premier league was highly criticised. Des Lynam continued football coverage for ITV until 2004, when he retired after the Euro 2004 football championships.
The Premier League highlights package returning to the BBC under the ‘Match of the Day’ banner from the 2004-2005 football season, until present.
Sky & Match of The Day ratings
It is interesting to note, even today, on average a live game on Sky gets around 2 million people. Yet BBC’s highlights on ‘Match of the Day’ can pull in around 4 million. Subscription paid TV is still a barrier to the majority of viewers.
Sky Support programming
In 1999, Jimmy Hill moved from the BBC to Sky Sports. He featured on ‘Jimmy Hill’s Sunday Supplement’. This was a weekly Sunday discussion show. Between Hill and three football journalists conducted around a Sunday breakfast table. In 2007, he was replaced by his co presenter Brian Woolnough (b1948-d2012). The programme was renamed ‘Sunday Supplement.’ Leading football journalists discussed the issues in the game inspired by the mornings back page newspapers. When Woolnough sadly passed away, Neil Ashton took over the hosting role.
There have been other shows such as ‘Goals on Sunday’ which brought a different approach to football punditry. Mixing analysis of the Saturday games with ex-footballers as guests. Their past careers being often discussed, alongside looking at the weekends matches. A mixture of chat and action. For a short while Sky experimented with fan phone in shows which had worked very well on BBC Radio and Talksport. ‘You’re On Sky Sports’ was a topical football phone-in discussion television programme. It used experienced broadcasters such as Gary Newbon, Rob McCaffery with new presenters such as Paul Boardman. But the call-in format didn’t work as well as on radio.
Broadcasting Competition to Sky
Sky Sports coverage of football has been considered a success. Certainly, from the financial point of view by both parties. Sky and football. But with such success broadcasting competition from other major financial institution was not far away.
There major territorial broadcasters, still find the price far to high to enter into coverage of live league matches. Hence, top-flight live English football has remained off free-to-air television in Britain, with a few exceptions. It was not until 2006 that BSkyB’s monopoly on Premier League television rights was broken; this came after an investigation by the European Commission which concluded that exclusive rights should not be sold to one television company.
Setanta Sports was awarded two packages. But encountered financial difficulties by 2009 and went into administration. Their rights were sold to ESPN. Who showed a total of 46 matches that were available for the 2009–10 season and subsequently 23 from 2010–11 to 2012–13.
Video: Premier League at 25: Triumph? Or has it stolen football from the fans?
In June 2012, the Premier League awarded BT rights to 38 games over three seasons, starting from 2013–14. On 25 February 2013, BT agreed to acquire ESPN’s UK and Ireland TV channels business. This consisted of ESPN and ESPN America (ESPN Classic was not included). BT would continue to broadcast at least one ESPN branded channel since the deal’s completion date of 31 July, as part of its BT Sport package of services. The value of the deal was not disclosed. But BT was understood to be paying “low tens of millions”. BT’s introduction into the football broadcasting market has been considered a threat to BSkyB’s dominance. Particularly as the company was awarded exclusive rights to live UEFA Champions League football in 2013.
Where is the match on ?
The TV rights to football matches change far more frequently than they did in the early years of TV coverage. It is easier for one to forget who owns what rights ? And although you know the England game or the Manchester United match is on live. It can take a while to remember what channel it’s on. The cost of subscription channels will always be a barrier for those fans who can’t afford it.
After dinner speakers
Comicus provides several footballers, pundits & commentators such as Chris Kamara, Glen Hoodle, Sir Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking, Harry Redknapp, Alan Mullery, Lou Macari,Kevin Keegan, Sammy Mcllroy, Teddy Sheringham, Garry Richardson, Jim Rosenthal among many others for speaking engagements. All recall their playing careers, stories and the modern game. Contact the office for more details 0344 800 0058 or email email@example.com
Read more about the beginnings of TV coverage & football pundits in: The History of football: TV coverage & punditry
Video: 90 facts about the Premier league
References & material
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.