There is more sport on TV than at any time in history, but for some armchair fans, this is not a golden era. They accuse broadcasters of overhyping mundane events, of empoying partisan commentators, or bemoan the fact that TV schedules dictate when and where matches are played, with scant consideration for the poor old fans.
But weighed against that, you can argue that the quality and depth of analysis of sport on television is unlike anything seen before. The following shows and personalities have moved the ball forward for broadcast sport in this country and should be celebrated for their contributions.
Monday Night Football
At its best when Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are augmented by a guest who is willing and able to provide a sense of what the pros are thinking. The strongest in a strong field recently has been Daniel Sturridge, who gave great inside-track insights about the relative merits of Erling Haaland and Harry Kane.
MNF is probably better now than it has ever been, with the focus shifting back more on to the pitch than it was in the Gary Neville Addresses The Nation of the Super League threat era. Dave Jones remains one of the absolute best at getting the most out of his guests: always self-effacing, always on-point. The show is at its weakest when constantly litigating Var decisions, which all seems to bleed into one argument eventually, but then that only reflects the footballing times in which we live.
Has the hugely difficult task of covering a minority sport on a mainstream channel, and for several hours a day on multiple days a week. And this puzzler is exacerbated by the fact that racing fandom is in itself such a loose coalition: country people who love animals, diehard horsey types, casual punters, poshos, fashionistas, pinstickers, hardcore gamblers. Matt Hancock.
Ed Chamberlin is a brilliant host and so good at corralling an eclectic mix of guests. Typically superb and heartfelt bit of broadcasting recently when getting Sir AP McCoy to discuss the awful case of stricken comrade Graham Lee; kudos to old rival Ruby Walsh for leaping in to help AP out when the Champ broke down and it all got too much.
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) November 18, 2023
Amazon Prime Video Tennis (RIP) now Sky
Tennis is now moving to Sky, which is no reason for tennis fans to despair, given the depth and breadth of coverage the broadcaster gives, for instance, to the comparable golf. But the Amazon tennis coverage had quietly made itself excellent value for tennis devotees, a few quid a month and well worth it if you had Amazon Prime for telly or delivery purposes.
Divestment should free up appetite and resources at Amazon – not that the company is exactly on its uppers – for expanded football and rugby union offerings. Still emerging as to what it will look like on Sky but there will be a home for Tim Henman and many of the on-screen faces will remain, alongside Gigi Salmon, the very fine presenter who was a radio mainstay for many years.
Ally McCoist on TNT
The signing of the season, the ever-cheerful Scot – and officially the nicest man ever to play for Glasgow Rangers – has been a welcome, shrewd addition to the TNT roster as it picks up where BT Sport left off. Ally had sort of faded from view for a few years, other than Question of Sport and his fun radio work with TalkSport, but became a cult favourite in harness with Jon Champion and Clive Tyldesley at recent international tournaments. Good to have him back on the reg.
Sky Sports Cricket
You only have to look at the brainless cheerleading of the ICC in-house broadcasts to realise what a fine job Sky does with the cricket. Analysts Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain compare favourably with anyone in any sport, and the producers have not been afraid to have the courage of their convictions when tackling the sport’s place in broader society.
The departures of Lord Botham, David Gower, David Lloyd, and Michael Holding have been absorbed and the coverage goes from strength to strength. Masterclass segments where genuine greats of the game get in the nets and show how its done are unmissable. Arguably in want of a few characters since the shedding of the aforementioned, the awful loss of Shane Warne and the ascension of Rob Key to ECB power.
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— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) August 22, 2020
NFL Red Zone on Sky
This is nothing less than an astonishing feat of logistics. The Sunday night NFL Network show takes you seamlessly from game to game, rarely if ever missing a key moment, keeping you up to date with every play and dramatic moment. It’s like Soccer Saturday, if you actually got to watch the action with brilliant commentary and camerawork, rather than listening to Clinton Morrison trying to explain something he’s watching on a monitor.
A light refresh of some of the host roster with Seema Jaswal has not upset the thriving snooker ecosystem, and she has one of the greatest working sports broadcasters to study in the shape of the mighty Hazel Irvine. The roster of ex-champs remains as strong as ever with Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor et al all legit national treasures. Enduringly surprising that Stephen Hendry is a funny and charismatic presence. Hopefully one day they will get Ronnie O’Sullivan in as a regular on the BBC; he’s been good on Eurosport.
Peter Drury on Super Sunday
Football commentary in the social media age is an impossible job. For many years, Drury was the aficionado’s choice, flying a little bit below the mainstream radar and doing reliable work on world feed comms, away from the wrath of @SmeggsyMCFC5871452 accusing him of bias. Now he is Sky’s main man, and where once the internet peanut gallery heaped scorn on Martin Tyler every Sunday, now it is the turn of the urbane, clever, passionate Drury. Much like abusing referees, you have to wonder if people are really labouring under the misapprehension that there are better, unused talents out there? Deluded if so. Tyler was a commentary giant but Drury has taken on the role with style.