by Daisy Cutter
It is impossible to know for sure just how many Manchester City supporters have cancelled their subscription with BT Sport in the past six months but even a conservative estimate would settle on a number in the thousands. It has been little short of a mass exodus with Blues – sickened by the television network’s antagonistic Champions League coverage of their club last season- disproving the myth that supporters are powerless in the modern game and deserting in their droves. Many have encountered wearied pleas from operatives as they phoned to explain why. “Just turn the volume off and watch the game,” one begged.
Losing a portion of your customer base and forever poisoning the trust and good-tidings of a key demographic is hardly a sound business model and especially so in BT Sport’s case. Their much-heralded securement of the Champions League has come at a heavy cost, both financially and in reputation, with viewing figures so low in 2015/16 it emerged last February that UEFA were reportedly regretting their decision to grant them exclusive coverage. Haemorrhaging viewers then who supported the only British side to reach the semi-finals last year and is expected to go far again this season under the box-office charge of Pep Guardiola is a consequence that can only be described as calamitous.
So how did it come to this? How did such a wide chasm open up between a huge media company and a Premier League fanbase to the point where anger turned to protest and prompted widespread ill-feeling so profound it goes far, far beyond a bunch of fans taking exception to a co-commentator being snippy about a player. Every fan has a legitimate grievance there. This is division. This is war. Blues will fight them on the breaches and fight them in the streams because they will do anything other than give BT Sport a single penny of their hard-earned.
For those not familiar with Manchester City fans’ loathing of BT Sport a recap is perhaps necessary and should you have the time and inclination the initial eruption of discontent at their skewed coverage was reported on here. A follow up article in the Cutter was published on May 21st this year and for a further example of the Blues’ fall-out with the company that has exclusive rights to show their games here is a thread from a leading Manchester City forum.
These are all lengthy reads so to summarise with a hypothesis as to what happened last season BT Sport’s actions can be perceived thus –
Desperate to boost their viewing figures and acutely aware that the last remaining British club in the competition had a fanbase significantly smaller than that of Liverpool or Manchester United – and furthermore was a club quite unpopular with the mainstream following recent success viewed by some to be ‘bought’ rather than earned – BT Sport decided to break with decades of broadcasting tradition and not only dispense with impartiality but maliciously go against the English side competing in Europe. Presumably viewing City fans as collateral damage and in an astonishing example of chasing numbers over integrity they employed two United legends as pundits to snipe and throw brickbats and sulk after victories. One even declared prior to City’s quarter-final clash against PSG that he hoped City lost. They then allowed a co-commentator to temporarily forego his duties of actually co-commentating on the game and instead unleash a diatribe of lies about the club’s support. Finally they distributed a nationwide promotion of their Champions League coverage boasting of the presence of European giants who had already exited the competition and pettily omitting the only English side still relevant (see pic below).
The above was scandalous but nothing in comparison to the overall feel of each broadcast. To watching City fans – who had spent years enduring their club lurch from comedy to disaster only to find their most far-fetched dream realised- it felt very much like viewing their team on MUTV. So negative was the coverage that it perplexed even neutrals and when you yearn for the ‘golden days’ of Tyldesley and ITV then you know the deck is stacked.
City supporters were understandably a little miffed.
Last month I contacted Simon Green, Head of BT Sport, requesting an interview. I made it clear who I was and my hand in the articles that are linked above. I also made clear that I sought an interview with no agenda other than to clear the air; an olive branch if you like and more so to offer an opportunity to BT Sport to explain their bizarre coverage of City’s 2015/16 Champions League campaign. Ultimately Blues don’t want to make an enemy of a major broadcasting company. They just want the same fair coverage that other teams are afforded.
The interview was swiftly agreed to and at this point I also made clear that this would not be an interview by me per se. Instead I would be polling questions from a number of City supporters before passing them on. In essence then BT Sport had an open goal to win back a large number of viewers they had alienated. There would be no further need for their telephone operatives to plead to aggrieved individuals. Here was a direct line of communication between the boss man and the collective that his company had slighted.
After receiving the questions I was informed by Mr Green’s PA that he would be ‘very happy’ to do this. You will find the questions beneath this article. I believe they are uncompromising but reasonable. I also believe the collective term for City supporters is a ‘Paxman’.
Weeks passed without word and soon the language changed from ‘very happy’ to ‘aiming to get back to you’. In the meantime BT Sport’s 2016/17 Champions League coverage got underway and it was evident that a sea-change had occurred. Scholes and Ferdinand had been replaced by Shay Given and Richard Dunne. The digs were replaced by fair punditry.
Maybe BT Sport assumed this would be enough and in all honestly I was personally prepared to let sleeping dogs lie. But that was before the queries began to flood in via social media and email from Blues asking where the promised interview was. Further discussion revealed that all were wholly unprepared to forgive BT Sport for their disgraceful coverage of City last term.
So I persisted, but now hit a brick wall. A week ago I drafted an email to Simon Green’s PA threatening to write what you are presently reading. I quickly deleted as I realised it was essentially a form of blackmail. Two points here: Firstly that is not in my nature but, more pertinently, if a respectful response to thousands of paying customers you’ve screwed over requires such a threat then the words wouldn’t be worth the screen they ultimately end up on.
BT Sport alienated the Manchester City fanbase last season and in doing so caused a rift that now appears to be beyond repair. And by agreeing to sit down for peace talks then refusing to turn up for those peace talks it can only be surmised that their shocking lack of respect for City fans is as prevalent as ever, improved coverage or not.
It leads me to directly ask (because I know at least someone high up at BT Sport will be reading this) – what on earth is your problem? Are you quite mad? Just ten minutes of your time Mr Green to potentially win back thousands of disgruntled customers. Ten minutes!
On early evidence Manchester City may be finally enjoying the same level of fair coverage afforded to Arsenal, Liverpool, United et al which is entirely welcomed. It’s just a shame that by allowing the ill-feeling to fester on there will be very few Blues paying to witness it.
Questions from Manchester City fans for Simon Green
1/ While it is obviously important to appeal to every football fan regardless of allegiance would it be fair to suggest that the key demographic for any live game are the people who pay to use your service in order to watch their club?
2/ You have previously stated the importance of having Champions League winners in the pundit’s chairs – and nobody can dispute the pedigree of these former players nor the experience that pedigree brings – but at what point does gravitas continue to outweigh an acceptable degree of competence in their role?
3/ With hundreds of millions of pounds invested in your Champions League coverage one can only imagine the number of meetings that took place prior to, and during, last season. At any stage did any individual at any level state a concern that it may be problematic to have two Manchester United legends analyse Manchester City matches?
4/ Did the subsequent outcry from City fans surprise you?
5/ Do you believe that Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand are capable of being objective in their punditry towards a club they quite openly – and understandably – dislike?
6/ When Rio Ferdinand publicly states that he wants Manchester City to lose prior to the game and when Jake Humphreys jokes – and it was very evidently a joke and nothing more – to Paul Scholes after a subsequent City win “We should quite rightly praise them…as hard as it is” these are surely candid acknowledgements that impartiality is difficult for the United legends in question? Which begs the query – what on earth are they doing there commenting on a huge night for Manchester City and their multitude of watching supporters?
7/ Many Manchester City supporters have compared BT Sport’s coverage of City’s Champions League games last season to watching their club on MUTV such was the persistent tone of negativity and outright petty digs on occasion. Knowing that these are paying customers to your company how does that personally make you feel?
8/ Why was there such a distinct difference in tone and narrative in your coverage of City in the Champions League and Liverpool in the Europa League last season? While the former was unrelentingly negative to the point of hostility – where even a win felt like a wake afterwards – the other was reverential, celebratory and always partisan. Do you indeed accept there was any difference?
9/ A large number of City supporters believe that this was a deliberate and considered strategy on your part: that BT Sport attempted to curry favour with the larger fanbases of Liverpool, United and Arsenal aware too that City are unpopular with the mainstream audience. How do you respond to this charge?
10/ Deliberate or otherwise BT Sport’s coverage of Manchester City’s Champions League campaign last season has led to Blues cancelling their subscription in droves. Do you believe the relationship between the fifth largest fanbase in the UK and a major broadcasting company has now become irreparable? Do you accept that though every club’s fanbase have grievances with the media we are now in unchartered waters as regards to the severity of this?
11/ What would you say to the City fans who have either cancelled their subscription or are considering doing so ahead of the new season?
12/ Can we expect to see fairer coverage of the club in the future and do you acknowledge the pertinent point that City fans do not want special treatment but only to see the same coverage afforded to their rivals?