There has surely never been a better time to watch sport on television!
On a typical weekend you can watch at least four offerings from the Premier League, plus a couple from the Championship and Scottish Premier League – not to mention Spanish, German, Italian, French and Dutch live games. And that is only football! With around 20 channels of live TV it is a far cry from my youth when the Cup Final and a couple of England games were the only live football on TV.
Sorted caught up with Sky Sports presenter, John-Paul Davies, to find out what it is like to be part of Sky’s presentation of sport, and what the future holds for us. Davies is currently a Sky presenter – on Good Morning Sports Fans or Sky Sports News at Ten – but he has had a variety of other roles including working on Sky News, presenting Welsh International Football, Rugby Union and the Rugby League World Cup.
His first career on graduating was with the police, but there was always a journalist inside trying to get out! He admits that “as a young boy I used a record myself pretending to present my own radio programme, or as a commentator. That was always in me and I don’t know why, as we don’t have a journalistic background in the family”.
After leaving the police he went back to college to do a National Diploma in Broadcast Journalism in Cardiff. On completing the course he applied for jobs, but in his own words at first “not a lot was happening”. Then he was offered a job with The Wave, a local radio station based in Swansea as a presenter Monday to Friday. This was soon accompanied by regular work preparing football reports on Saturdays and Sundays for ITV. At that stage, he felt he had to say “Yes” to everything to see if he could make the career change work.
ITV offered him full-time work which included working on the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. In late 2007, after two years at ITV, he sent a speculative show reel off to Sky Sports and was invited in to do a screen test. This led to a job as a Sky Sports presenter, which he started on 1 January 2008.
Watching sport to a new level
As a Sky subscriber for 25 years (since the start of the Premier League), I feel that I have made a significant contribution to the development of Sky Sports – financially at least! But I wondered how an insider assessed Sky’s contribution. Davies said: “I think Sky has taken watching sport as an event in your own lounge to a new level. Sky has always embraced technology and I think been ahead of the game when it comes to HD, 3D or ultra HD etc. There is always something going on and very bright people looking at how to embrace new technology. The production values have always been very high. Sky is a company which refuses to stand still, but is always looking to do things in a better way, so when it comes to production values, the slogan ‘believe in better’ is a truism because Sky is always looking to move forward.”
For years Sky did not have a serious competitor in sports broadcasting. Setanta came and went. ESPN took Premier League games for a couple of seasons but then gave up. That all changed when BT launched BT Sport which has quickly added some Premier League football, all Champions’ League and Europa League football, Aviva Rugby Union and some European Rugby to its portfolio. In addition, they broke Sky’s ten-year stranglehold on live cricket coverage in the UK when they won the rights to screen the next Ashes series in 2017-18.
BT, which, as a large and powerful company – and a communications company at that – comes armed with the ability to produce sport and do it to a mass audience, is clearly a serious competitor to Sky. So far BT has used its sports channels not to make money directly but to develop their core business, recognising that sport sells.
As well as offering a high-quality product to customers, Sky has arguably been responsible for raising standards of TV sports broadcasting across the board. The Premier League was, of course, not created by Sky, but Sky’s contribution has been immense. Davies suggests: “Of course Sky did not literally create the Premier League, but it has been very influential in the Premier League becoming the brand that it now is and also in it having such wide global appeal. A lot of that is down to the production values and expertise, behind the scenes as well as on-screen. Sky has taken the game to a different level and the product, with its technical analysis and incisive punditry, has moved on beyond recognition in what is a relatively short space of time.
“Multiple games throughout the weekend have been a great success. The idea is that you are trying to reach the man at home who’s had a hard week at work. So you fill every possible slot where there may be an audience. Friday night, Saturday and Sunday are obvious go-tos when people may be at home relaxing”.
I had to ask him about football transfer deadline day, which Sky has transformed into cult viewing. He told me: “It’s a great thing to work on, it’s a lot of fun and there’s always a big buzz in the office. It’s a big operation. Before Sky got hold of transfer deadline day, it used to be something that would come and go and you generally had to read about it in the paper afterwards. I remember 2008 being compelling viewing with a couple of big deals that went to the wire – Berbatov to Manchester United and Robinho from Madrid to Manchester City – and in many ways that got the ball rolling in terms of realising there was an appetite among many fans for watching the drama of late deals unfolding. We are in an age where there is an immediacy of news and people expect, for better or worse, to get information here and now. Jim White has become synonymous with deadline day and his gold tie could really be described as iconic, so much so that the National Football Museum now displays one alongside John Motson’s coat, I believe!”
A few years ago we used to have the six o’clock and the ten o’clock news and the newspaper. Now news is coming at us all the time. The Premier League is approaching its 25th anniversary. The generation that has grown up with it finds it hard to conceive of the dark ages with hardly any live TV sport – and all of that with a few fixed cameras! When Sky announced that it was launching a dedicated sports channel, people wondered how they could possibly fill a day’s schedule; no one asks that now!
What does the future of sports broadcasting look like through the eyes of those within the industry? I asked John-Paul: “The way that people are watching television is changing, and at breakneck speed. So I think the challenge that lies ahead for Sky is greater than anything there’s been before. At the moment generally customers are offered bundles of channels, some of which they rarely, if ever, watch. Looking ahead, the consumer is going to be in a stronger position than they’ve ever been in, where they will be able to decide which events and which sports they watch. On-demand viewing, with platforms like those provided by Amazon and Netflix, [is] becoming the norm. My generation may want to watch sport on a big-screen TV, but the younger generation will quite happily watch sport on devices. That generation is consuming their content in a very different way. So when you talk about exploiting new technology, it’s also tapping into the way the younger generation watches sport. Sky remains well-placed because it does big event sport very well. And sport is different from other TV programmes. A documentary or film, you’re happy to watch at your leisure, but people like to watch sport live; it’s never quite the same ‘as live’.”
John-Paul Davies is a follower of Jesus Christ. How does his faith play out in the cut and thrust of sports broadcasting? “I think the challenge that I face as a Christian is just being consistent, trying to show the love of Christ to people day in, day out, living a life where you are putting others before yourself sacrificially, where you’re being kind to people, where you always treat people the way you want to be treated, I think that is something which is always on my mind.
“In terms of what we do, you always want to report fairly and be balanced. You don’t want to create a sense of drama in the story when it doesn’t merit it, but also you want to do justice to the people in the story. Sometimes when you are presenting – and I am speaking from experience – it is easy to forget that there are real human beings involved in every life story. You are in the privileged position of being able to inform and influence people, and news can take on a slant by the way you tell the story, by the tone of your voice and intonation.
“I think within you there has to be a real sense of wanting to honour the person in the story, even if that person has done something deemed unprofessional or they’ve been criticised for their behaviour. It may be something of a cliché, but in my case it certainly rings true … ‘but for the grace of God go I’. I’m mindful that whatever they have done or whatever has happened, they are still people with feelings and families and that none of us is above making mistakes.”
Sports broadcasting is thriving at the moment and that will only increase. Having people with strong Christian principles like John-Paul Davies involved can only be a good thing.