Yesterday was one of the big days for English sports television. Not necessarily a big day for sport but for sport as TV, yesterday was important. Transfer-deadline day is the day when all the English football teams that haven’t bought the players they want can make one final splurge and wave around a zeroes-heavy cheque at the latest great hope from somewhere where the chairman of the club may very well not be able to name the capital city of. No offence, Montevideo.
Transfer-deadline day is a big day for the Sky Sports channel in particular. The Daddy of British sports broadcasters dispatches its own premier league of suited-and-booted reporters to stadia and training grounds around the country to see what’s happening on the ground at the ground. Nothing is ever happening. Welcome back to the journalism of loitering, the reporting of anti-news, the investigation of nothingness, last seen when the international press amassed outside a central London hospital to await the arrival of Prince George – for what seemed an eternity – like the stage direction for Beckett’s tramps in Waiting for Godot; they do not move.
It’s not as if this spectacle of waiting for Mario (or Luca or Flavio) is wasting valuable time on a major rolling-news network but it still seems sad somehow. A shame that man-hours are being wasted in an almost existentially boring pursuit: waiting to see what man might leave a building and if that man was the one they thought it was going to be or, in fact, a different man. It would be the slowest and most boring drinking game ever: “transfer day shots”. You’d be guaranteed to fall asleep hours before your first Jägermeister.
This exercise is nothing more than waiting for the news to happen. It’s symptomatic of how large portions of rolling-news channels fill their endless hours. In the business it might well be called “proactive” news gathering, as in throwing a rock at a wasps’ nest and then reporting that they sting. In terms of transfer-deadline day of course there’s no such danger; it’s not real news.
Instead, the danger exists in dealing with the public, that feared and unknown quantity in all outside broadcasts. Yesterday, our man monitoring the exits of Everton’s ground Goodison Park, while reporting that he has no-updates-as-yet, had to style-out the good-natured horseplay of the locals which included dancing about behind him, singing some Everton terrace chants – oh, and sticking a large blue dildo in his ear live on the television. You’ll next see him riding out a mortar bombardment somewhere serious. But next time, can we wait for the news to happen and then report it? It makes for a much more “family” show.
Robert Bound is culture editor for Monocle.