As you may or may not know, as of last weekend this website is no longer under the Sky banner, ending eight years under the ownership of British sport’s most ubiquitous corporation. Therefore, we are now free to lift the lid on being part of such a behemoth, to tell you about being indirectly employed by Rupert Murdoch and for a time technically colleagues of Richard Keys and Tim Lovejoy, and to spill the beans on exactly what life under the yoke of this corporate giant was like.
It wasn’t too bad, actually.
After Sky bought 365 Media Group in 2007, they largely left Football365 alone (aside from when some irresponsible writer got them sued a couple of times…), which obviously had its up sides and down sides; on the one hand we were last in the queue for things like technical upgrades and site designing, but on the other we could basically say what we wanted. Aside from a couple of ill-advised and not terribly nice comments about some Sky Sports News presenters (again, by some irresponsible writer…wonder why they didn’t fire that guy…) and generally being discouraged from bigging up the competition too much, we weren’t really placed under the sort of editorial restrictions that you might expect from a company like Sky.
Geography probably played a part, as the F365 HQ is in Leeds and head office is a sprawling complex in Osterley, near Heathrow, but even when the hicks from the northern sticks travelled down to London, it was fine. The canteen is excellent (a canteen in which, as an aside, Lovejoy once apparently pushed to the front of the queue requesting that those waiting should ‘make way for the talent’), there are loads of comfy chairs and you occasionally see Jeff Stelling wandering the halls. He is, as many famous people are in the flesh, shorter than you think.
For a while we would be included on the emails announcing the day’s schedule for Sky Sports News, which for some reason always spelled out exactly how guests were arriving at the studio. Sometimes a car would be required to collect them. Alan Curbishley invariably drove himself.
There were plenty of bad points too, of course, not least the distinct whiff of ‘Soccer AM’ about the place and for a while there was a bloke in some position of authority called David Cameron, which made it a bit tricky to take him seriously even/especially when he was dishing out a bollocking, but it would seem a tad indelicate to bang on about the negatives too much, a week after leaving the joint.
And a few days ago, it looked like Football365 wouldn’t be the only thing to leave the Sky stable this week. Word on the street was that BT had nabbed the rights to Spanish football, bringing up the prospect of no more Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on Sky, an uncertain future for Terry Gibson and that they might have to bin that weird branch of La Tasca they seem to have been presenting the Liga coverage from in the last couple of years. Sky Sports 5, dubbed last year as the ‘home of European football’, would now merely be the home of FC Twente v Roda at 11am on Sundays.
As it turned out, Sky scotched those rumours by announcing a new three-year deal to keep La Liga, but it nonetheless raised an interesting idea. What if Sky did lose Spanish football, and what if that was the start of their decline? Could we conceive of a world without Sky Sports in football?
Already gone are the Champions League and one lot of Premier League games, the initial consequence of which was to make Sky wildly overpay for their allocation, but did also raise the possibility that BT might, one day, take the lot. Or as close to the lot as they’re legally allowed to have.
All of which makes one wonder – could Sky actually lose football? Because they really might, you know, and of course without the Premier League then Sky Sports would be f*cked. F.U.C.K.E.D. BT have the resources, chutzpah and it seems the intent to blow them away, the previously untouchable giant of sports broadcasting breezily knocked off their perch.
For many, Sky disappearing would be a cause for celebration, but really it would just be replacing one heinously wealthy media corporation with another; that the Scrooge McDuck levels of cash coming into the Premier League would be from BT rather than Sky won’t make much difference to those that believe football lost its soul some years ago. And as those bloody awful adverts with Jake Humphreys and Rio Ferdinand looning it up show, BT are just as adept at operating the hype machine as Sky.
For better or worse, Sky are an intrinsic part of football in England, from the blanket coverage started in 1992 when the game began to smooth its edges off, to the Sky Strikers (ask your older brother), to the whizz-bang graphics that depict middle-aged managers as ferocious warriors, to Gary Neville and his Monday night tactical sermons. Whether you think they have damaged the game or enhanced it, Sky are part of the furniture. They’ve become so much a part of the culture that it’s just incredibly strange to imagine the game without them.
Where would we be without that shiny, whooshing bullshit three or four times a weekend? Without the outline of Jamie Redknapp’s glans clearly visible through his sprayed-on trousers? Without Niall Quinn basically ripping off his shirt and twirling it around his head whenever he commentates on a Sunderland game?
And indeed the good things too – Neville and Jamie Carragher’s do they/don’t they actually hate each other schtick in among the astute observations about the weekend’s action. Graeme Souness’s barely-contained contempt for everyone around him. Martin Tyler’s endearing duffer/school-nerd-done-well nature. The simple, accessible slickness of the whole business.
Good or bad, Sky are woven into the culture of football so tightly that it’s almost unthinkable that they might not be at some point in the near future. Perhaps BT will grow bored, or row back, or perhaps Sky will come up with something else to cast aside this latest competitor like they did with ITV Digital and Setanta and ESPN, but the prospect of them no longer being around is a real one.
Whatever you may think of Sky, you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Maybe we’ll look back on the day F365 left as the day it all started to go south…