British society

“By most criteria the main significance of football in contemporary British society is as a television show.” Discuss Steve Wagg’s view of the relationship between football and TV in the period from c.1960 In order to address the question, key points of Steve Wagg’s statement must firstly be assessed. The meaning of ‘football as a television show’ is an ambiguous one to say the least, therefore it is important to define what criteria the sport of football must meet for it to be considered ‘a television show’.

This essay will begin by addressing the actual presentation of football on television, the techniques used in today’s programmes and the direct practical affects of televising the game. However it will move on to issues such as the effect of television on football’s place in society, the blurring of the lines between broadcasting companies and clubs, and football’s increasing reliance on television revenue as a means of survival.

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Even when the issue of football as a television show has been addressed, consideration must be paid to Wagg’s claim that this is not just one of football’s roles in British society, but the ‘main significance.’ This suggests that football now has more importance as a television programme than it does to countless other issues that include regional and national identity, escape from the reality of the rest of a football fan’s life, profit making business or simply as a form of leisure. Although to address football’s development into a television show consideration must be paid to underlying issues, the most obvious and direct issue raised by the question is that of the actual presentation of football on television.

The sheer volume of football, and in particular live matches, now shown on television dwarfs that of even a decade or two ago, with 66 live games a season now available on Sky alone. With this increase of televised football have come huge developments in the methods of presentation and analysis. 1964 saw the first broadcast of the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’ starting the long running tradition of the Saturday evening highlights show that has become a staple element of a fan’s access to football. Although there are now numerous programmes produced by different broadcasters, comparison of this pioneering show to today’s alternative, ITV’s ‘The Premiership’, presents definite evidence of football’s development as a television show.

Merely comparing the opening credits of the two shows highlights major differences, most notably the speed, drama and glamour with which the current programme presents football. Solely from a technical angle, ‘The Premiership’s choice of varying camera shots, fast editing techniques and upbeat music gives a much quicker and more exciting representation of the sport, with the focus very much on the players.

In contrast, the credits of 1964’s ‘Match of the Day’ focus on the crowd, using slower editing, a less exciting choice of pictures and more traditional music. A major point raised by the opening credits is the status of modern players in comparison to their 1960’s counterparts. They are presented as glamorous and heroic, and vitally, as holding a higher status than football fans. The players are portrayed as being the stars, in the same way that a television show has its star characters.

The content and structure of ‘The Premiership’ shows that a greater deal of consideration is now paid to how football as a whole should be presented to entertain the viewer. ‘Match of the Day’ focuses almost exclusively on the match itself, with Kenneth Wolstenholme acting as presenter, commentator and pundit from his pitch side position. A major development on ‘The Premiership’ is the studio setting and range of presenters, commentators and ‘pundits’ that act almost as filters to present, describe and analyse the footage before it is delivered to the audience. The studio gives an identity to the programme and a degree of comfort and familiarity for the viewer. These factors suggest that the programme is being delivered to not merely a football audience but to a television audience, and suggests that football is now worthy of techniques afforded to other television programmes such as news or any fictional show.

The actual coverage of the game remains fairly similar to that of ‘Match of the Day’, with one high angle camera shot used to cover the action. Developments are noticeable when consideration is given to the numerous camera angles and action replays used throughout the coverage, again with particular focus on specific players. The major developments are not in the ways the match itself is shown to the audience, but more how the sport as a whole is packaged for the television medium and delivered to its audience. Without doubt the slick production values of ‘The Premiership’ demonstrate a development in football’s presentation on television.

The real market leader, however, is undoubtedly Sky. Currently holding rights to televise football worth �1.11b, the television arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has dominated sports coverage in Britain over the last decade. The very concept of access to live top flight football being available only through subscription television strengthens the argument that the sport is significant as a television show, a point reinforced by the introduction of 40 pay-per-view games a season in 2000. The fact that not everyone has the access to televised football has been a criticism of Sky; however since the early nineties it has pioneered countless techniques in televised football and played a major part in changing the image and status of the game.


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