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AFCON 2021 Coverage: Shoddy Sky Sports

At 15:50 today (11 January, 2022), Sky Sports Main Event were showing a show called One2Eleven, featuring Héctor Bellerín. Some people enjoy these shows. Whatever. They’re fine. If this was some run of the mill Tuesday afternoon in January then I could definitely see myself filling up a couple of minutes with this ‘entertainment’. It certainly feels preferable to Homes Under the Hammer, or Antiques Roadshow.

The problem, however, lies in the fact that this isn’t a run of the mill Tuesday afternoon in January. It is the 2021 (yes, I know we are in 2022) Africa Cup of Nations, and one of the biggest games in the group stages was 10 minutes from kick off.

A cursory glance at my Twitter certainly indicates that the coverage has been problematic, but I hadn’t quite appreciated how severe this coverage was. Due to work and some prior commitments, I was unable to see any of the opening two days’ action. I would see complaints of poor coverage on social media and assumed that it was largely hyperbolic because, you know, Twitter.

Today I was working from home, which brings about the luxury of working with the games on in the background. When I saw for myself what little coverage Sky have given this tournament, I was shocked. I was genuinely flabbergasted at the sheer lack of anything. There’s a parental line that if oft used, “I’m not angry, just disappointed”. Well, I’m disappointed, yes, but I am angry. Very angry.

I appreciate that the audience might not be there for Sudan vs Guinea-Bissau, for example, but this is an international tournament that, crucially, SKY LITERALLY PAID MONEY FOR. They bought the rights to show this entire tournament – all 52 games live. They purchased the privilege to broadcast these matches, yet they offer absolutely no incentive to the viewer to watch these games. The mind boggles.

The business model can be simplified to this. Sky pays money to show sport. Companies pay Sky money to advertise before, during and after the live sport. Customers buy products and services based on the adverts they watch during these intervals. The more money and online engagement they receive around these advert times, the more they’ll be willing to spend again on advertising through Sky. Sky receives more money, they invest in a better product. The cycle continues. The issue lies with Sky here.

By putting on such a dismal coverage package, they remove any incentive for the viewer to either a) watch for a period prior to kick off, or more concerningly, b) opt to skip the game. These viewing figures will make a lot of bigger advertisers decide against sponsoring or running ads, and the cycle stagnates. Everybody loses.

If the lack of the pre-game build up wasn’t bad enough, the in-game viewing is nothing short of atrocious. One commentator does his best to talk the viewer through the game, who, as I write this while viewing Nigeria play Egypt off the field, lets us know that Mo Salah is apparently quite well. Perhaps he would have more insightful chat had Sky thought it appropriate to give a co-commentator to provide conversational flow and perhaps some, dare I say, light banter, during some of the flatter moments.

I suppose the viewer can deal with just one somewhat unprepared commentator on his own. The vuvuzelas can drown him out and besides, with the exception of the occasional bit of John Motson genius, games are rarely remembered for their commentators, it is the game itself that is the focal point. Thankfully, for those of us watching during work hours, if any action is missed due to an ill-timed call then we have 15 minutes of analysis by the punditry team Sky have assem… oh wait, no. Nothing. It is nothing short of pathetic and a downright insult to the fans that want to educate themselves on African football, and more importantly, to the African people who have been thoroughly short-changed on this shoddy coverage.

When I saw the programme scheduling I tweeted (below). It garnered a few likes, which encouraged me that I wasn’t just being pedantic over this. I have sat down and enjoyed 90 minutes of Nigeria absolutely batter Egypt. I’ve seen some star names and some new faces light up this game. I’ve seen Sierra Leone hold out for an impressive draw against pre-tournament favourites Algeria prior to this.

AFCON hasn’t been a goal-fest thus far, eight games in, but that doesn’t matter. Every game could have finished 5-4 and Sky still would have shown PL Greatest – Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace from 2016, 20 minutes before kick off. You might think this is an odd example, and that’s because SKY ACTUALLY SHOWED PL GREATEST – SWANSEA 5-4 CRYSTAL PALACE from over five years ago, 20 minutes before a huge tournament match.

I’ve not seen the BBC coverage, but every source I’ve seen has made it clear that their programming has been streets ahead of this drivel Sky are dishing up. As I type, the Nigeria game finished at 17:56. They’re showing Sky Sports News at 6pm. To their credit, they showed the AFCON game on Sky Sports Main Event AND Sky Sport PL. You’d hope one channel may give a little bit more at least, but no. On SSPL the coverage ends at 6pm also, with PL Legends: Sheringham being the alternative.

In fairness, I’ve seen several sources criticise the BBC coverage (who only have coverage of ten AFCON games this year). They also have little to no analysis at half time. The assumption is that the BBC have won this by having a small amount of pre-game build up, most likely discussing the handful of English Premier League players strutting their stuff in Cameroon, as well as having two commentators. It’s not a good win, BBC, but doing the bare minimum seems to have won them the coverage battle.

It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.

This Africa Cup of Nations is an international tournament that demands a great deal more respect than it is receiving. Even the most unappealing World Cup or European Championship fixture gets a good chunk of coverage and analysis. The Copa America often gets hidden behind a PPV coverage such as Premier Sports, but at least this gives the viewer a dedicated broadcaster who cares about the package they are showing. Sky have picked up the rights to this tournament and have disgraced themselves with this horrifying lack of insight.

One can only hope that as the tournament progresses deeper and deeper that they invest a little more, by public demand. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. AFCON will return in 2023, hosted by Côte d’Ivoire, and one can only hope that a broadcasting company sees the backlash that Sky (will hopefully) receive, and give this historic tournament the coverage that it deserves.

Please remember, valued reader, that Sky won’t listen to one tweet, one complaint. We do live in a social media era, however. Metrics come into play. An angry tweet from myself will do nothing, but if one hundred people do it, or one thousand… It won’t change anything for this tournament, but with any luck it can help shape the future. Africa deserves a platform worthy of an international tournament, and we can all play our part.



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