On BT Sport this past week viewers have been able to watch half hour highlights of every single FA Cup final since the 1980s. Except one. Manchester City’s first meaningful final for thirty years and their first silverware for thirty-four years was absent from an otherwise comprehensive list which would have amounted to a glaring omission at the best of times. These however are anything but the best of times between BT Sport and Manchester City.
Even so instincts kick in to initially seek out a logical and innocent explanation. Perhaps for that particular year BTSport were unable to secure the rights to show it? It appears not. Though 2010/11 was the start of a four-year ESPN contract the other three have been available to view all along. The fact that City’s 1-0 win over Stoke has now belatedly been included also severely reduces the likelihood of a rights issue.
Perhaps then it was due to an oversight in their scheduling department? If so this would be an amateurish mistake involving such a degree of idiocy it would stretch plausibility. Furthermore it would be an astonishingly unfortunate coincidence for the company after also ‘forgetting’ to mention Manchester City in a recent promotional leaflet distributed nationwide and designed to whip up interest in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Name-checking three English clubs and Barcelona who had all exited the competition and had no further part to play was a bizarre marketing ploy as was failing to mention the only remaining English hope who were due to contest their first ever Champions league semi-final against the illustrious Real Madrid. Their bizarre ‘over-sight’ made the national press and forced an apology from the company’s head of sport Simon Green who blamed an external agency for the flyer’s content and intimated it was an entirely unintentional slight.
A brief digression here but if you believe for an instant that a multi-million pound business does not thoroughly check every word of flyers from a costly marketing campaign that are sent out by the multitude to their customer base before signing them off then you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. But back to the depressing theme of this protracted issue which appears to centre on unfortunate coincidences. Because their flyer fiasco couldn’t have happened at a worse time for BT coinciding as it did with a veritable shit-storm of flak the company were receiving from Blues, neutrals and media alike for their negative coverage of Manchester City in the Champions League.
By installing former Manchester United players in the pundit’s chairs – both of whom have made it perfectly clear in the past and present of their outright hatred for City – while facilitating Steve McManaman to spew an endless stream of anti-City clichés we were subjected to a unique decision undertaken by a British broadcasting channel to portray an English side in Europe as the villains of the narrative. This was BT Sport’s first all-in on Europe and with everything on the line they discarded tradition, sentiment and basic decency and instead played the numbers game pandering to the larger fanbases of United and Liverpool. Subtle it was not and as the season wore on and their strategy became ever-more pronounced City supporters began to complain en masse cancelling their subscriptions and seeking out streams of the games instead. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that BT Sport were acutely aware of City supporter’s substantial anger towards their coverage with one Blue being advised by a telephone operative “Stay with us but just tune in for the match and turn the volume off”. Such an admission of guilt – of which there have been many by other BT employees as their viewership tumbles – only illustrates how farcical the situation has become.
The club meanwhile were not best pleased themselves and reportedly complained directly to BT, a complaint that we’ve been led to believe has now resulted in Manchester City and BT Sport being somewhat at loggerheads.
The evidence then begins to stack up to something incontestably ugly but returning to the original example I would love – if only for balance – to state BT Sport’s response to their cup final scheduling omission. Unfortunately, despite hundreds of attempts by fans to seek out the basic courtesy of a reply, they have uniformly been met by a wall of silence. Erasing City’s solitary FA Cup triumph in the modern era, pathetically failing to mention the only English team left competing in the Champions League knock-outs in a flyer aimed to promote the Champions League knock-outs, and now point-blank ignoring a welter of supporters. They will be unfriending on Facebook next and the dumping and denial of all existence will be complete.
So if human error or contractual hindrances are in turn far-fetched and unlikely what does that leave us with? Factoring all of the above into the equation I am left with only one remaining probability: it was a purposeful and petty declaration of division.
It will be a battle never before witnessed between a club’s fanbase and a television network that far exceeds the usual subjective interpretations of bias. It will be a battle where it’s hard to see BT Sport ending up as anything other than the loser.
Why? Because the company’s Manchester United-supporting young Josh, James and Olivers in their Burton suits their mum bought them for their first day of internship may believe that football began in 1992 – and they may also have bought into the Emptyhad nonsense and media guff about the modern incarnation of Manchester City – but they’ve forgotten one key thing: City fans are hardened to the brickbats hurled at them from all quarters through years of struggle and sunshine. They have faced and overcome much, much worse.
Due to the company’s stubborn and disrespectful silent stance much of the above remains open to interpretation but two aspects can be nailed down beyond dispute: This could all have been so easily avoided and BT Sport have evidently gone to a great effort to pick a fight with the wrong fans. We hope they’re ready.