The first group stage matches of the season kick off this week, with Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal all in action. Lineker has already presented Champions League qualifiers for BT Sport, but the channel is promising much more to come in their first season as the tournament’s exclusive broadcasters.
Grant Best, BT Sport’s executive director of programming and creative, doesn’t want his star signing to play it safe. He wants to see the more opinionated side of him as well.
“What we want form Gary Lineker is to do both roles. We don’t want just what he does on Match of the Day,” says Best. “Yes he’s presenting, he’s a fantastic name to have on our channel, but we also want him to get into debate with Rio Ferdinand, with Paul Scholes.
“He’s one of the greatest England strikers of all time – why should he ask a defender how someone scored a goal when he can tell me himself? He does that very well on Twitter, he gives very good opinions on Twitter, but he doesn’t do that on Match of the Day. Fingers crossed we can change that style.”
Best believes that Lineker’s role on Match of the Day doesn’t allow him to be as outspoken as he is on the social networking site.
He hopes the longer live broadcasts on BT Sport, even factoring in ad breaks, will mean Lineker has more air time to speak his mind.
“Match of the Day doesn’t allow for that,” Best says. “It’s a show that gives you highlights and a bit of analysis. Gary’s going to have a much longer period of time on the TV screen to tell us what he thinks of football, and present what we think is the top product in football broadcasting.”
Lineker is one of a number of BT Sport presenters and pundits who split their time between the subscription service and the BBC. Clare Balding’s interview show for example is made by BT Sport and repeated on the BBC a day later, while Robbie Savage and Darren Fletcher divide their time between BBC radio and BT Sport television.
Best, though, isn’t worried about sharing his talent.
“I don’t think people are concerned about, ‘That’s a BBC man. That’s a BT Sport man,’” he says. “I think they can deal with that. We have two or three who do ITV and four or five that do BBC. I don’t think it’s an issue at all.
“But if they do some work for other people, it should enhance us as well as them. Robbie Savage and Darren Fletcher for example are still doing Radio 5 Live, and it’s not an issue. I want them to be speaking to football fans. That’s what they’re doing. If Darren and Robbie were being asked to do Homes Under the Hammer, I’d have a slight issue with that.”
As long as they don’t appear on rivals Sky Sports, Best is happy.
“Of course they’re not going to work for Sky because they’re our main competitor, but BBC and ITV, Channel 5 is fine. Some of them will go and do the World Cup, the Euros, it doesn’t affect us. It means they’re at these key events that we’re not at, but when they come back and work for us, we benefit.”