ITV Football: Budget All Over

At least it wasn’t on Setanta…

So International Football returned to ITV last night, with the crown jewels of England home games joining its hat-trick of contracts which also includes the FA Cup and of course, the Champions League.

Unfortunately with all the talk of budget cuts at the network, it seemed the cost-cutting has already reached its footballing output.

It didn’t start well. After an over-long opening sequence featured horribly generic grey computer-generated British landmarks with brief flashes of red and white appearing between the architecture (which was already five minutes after the advertised time), it was never going to be a glorious new revolution. Unfortunately this was as good as it got.

Even drafting Steve Rider away from his usual Formula One duties couldn’t save the poor output. Next we were greeted by an instant on-screen England line-up. Brilliant you’d think, except this was displayed on the same dull-grey background that can’t help but be compared to those infamous shirts Manchester United wore a few years back.

It was worrying, only two minutes in and a distinct lack of modern design, or indeed anything remotely innovative anywhere. It is worth remembering at this point that The FA decided in their wisdom to give the England TV rights contract jointly to ITV and Setanta (another dismal story entirely) after many successful years with the dependable BBC and the always modernising Sky.

After brief chat to the usual sub-standard pundits – with a sole star in Sam Allardyce sandwiching the gormless Andy Townsend (whose team-sheet Andy Gray style run down was laughable) and the yawn-inducing BBC reject Graeme Le Saux – came the inevitable: The Borat reference (we were playing Kazakhstan after all). Except ITV seemed to have decided this was where it would blow its entire budget, feeling the need to play us a 30 second clip from the movie. Great.

Finally the game itself arrived, and the biggest shock, although by this point nothing really surprised us. As pictured above in all their glory, the in-game graphics and scorebox in particular left us with mouths wide open. Following the earlier grey-loving graphical intro and other bits and pieces, we should have seen it coming, but no-one was prepared for this.

Had they designed them on an Amiga 500? Had someone had a penchant for FIFA ‘95? Was grey the only colour they could afford? Did somebody just find the ‘emboss’ button in Photoshop?

ITV Football Digital On-Screen Graphic 2008
Copyright ITV Sport 2008

In-game graphics have long been a debated subject, not least when Sky decided at the start of last season to trail moving the info block to the bottom-left corner of the screen. This one blemish aside, Sky do them brilliantly. Clear, concise and always in keeping with modern tastes. The BBC have always lacked a little bit in terms of style, but like most of its output it does it in Auntie’s own very formal way.

ITV however, have excellent graphics for the Champions League games. But this, this was something different altogether, verging on uncharted territory since the infamous hexagons when ‘The Championship’ first launched. Awful, really awful.

After a dreary first-half on the pitch we were treated to the now regular vomit-inducing Andy Townsend touchscreen tactics discussion – so out-dated it hurts to watch it – and more bland punditry all round. Of course the second-half brought so much excitement and goals that the pathetic ITV output had all but been forgotten.

But you seriously have to question The FA’s decision to hand Setanta and ITV the rights to England games. On the one hand you have a channel who’s output is worse than Channel Five’s and is only watched by a tiny percentage of the English public, while on the other you have what can only be described as a network in rapid decline.

Add to that the fact neither broadcast in HD (yes, we know ITV do technically, but only on Freesat, which is such a small amount of people its hardly worth noting), or use any interactive red-button features, and you suddenly really just how good Sky and the BBC really were. Unfortunately all it has brought is a step backwards at a time when digital technology is at its most exciting.