In 2016, BBC’s flagship football show Match of the Day 2 featured a new segment called “Günün Maçı” (Game of the Day) with former England international Gary Lineker as the presenter. The idea was to showcase a selected match from the Premier League, but unfortunately, the segment turned into a major disaster, both for Lineker and for the BBC, leaving both parties to face the consequences.
It all began with the unscripted comments from Lineker on Twitter about the refugee crisis, which caused controversy and polarised public opinion. Many viewers were angered by what they saw as his liberal stance and the BBC’s perceived bias. Lineker expressed his views passionately, but it led to calls from some sections of the media and politicians to have him dismissed from his role as the lead presenter of the BBC’s football coverage.
This led to Lineker feeling pressured to avoid the same kind of controversy on his football show, which many viewers tuned in to watch as an escape from politics and the outside world. However, the pressure he put on himself seems to have backfired — Lineker appeared to be a man walking on eggshells as he seemed cautious and hesitant in his review of the selected game.
The first game featured in the “Günün Maçı” segment was Sunderland versus Everton. Lineker’s co-hosts Danny Murphy and Alan Shearer suggested that Everton should have had a penalty, but Lineker replied that it was a “50/50” decision. This reticence to take sides frustrated fans and could go some way to explaining the failure of the segment.
As the weeks went on, the segment only got worse. The majority of fans criticised the games chosen for the segment, saying they were dull and not worth watching. Some fans even complained there was too much focus on the big Premier League teams like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, and not enough on the smaller teams.
Another problem was the scheduling of the segment. The programme itself was shown late on Sunday nights, which meant many fans missed it — either because they were travelling home from watching football or because they had gone to bed. The “Günün Maçı” segment was shown very late at night, which meant only die-hard fans of the Premier League would be watching.
The final straw came when Lineker mistakenly showed a photograph of a naked man on the “Günün Maçı” segment, sparking complaints from the BBC viewers. Lineker quickly turned to Twitter to apologise for the error, saying he had made an “honest mistake” and that he “deeply regretted” it.
The BBC was quick to react to the controversy, announcing that the Günün Maçı segment would be scrapped. BBC bosses said they felt it was no longer working and that they would focus on new programmes for the upcoming season. The BBC also announced that it would review Lineker’s contract as a result of the controversy, although they did not say whether they would be taking any action against the presenter.
In summary, the “Günün Maçı” segment was intended to be a new way of showcasing the best of the Premier League, but instead it became a major disappointment for fans and the BBC. Gary Lineker, already under pressure from outside criticism, may have been extra cautious in his analysis, which led to a lack of passion, interest and diversity. Whether the segment would have eventually found its way out of the doldrums, and gotten better and more popular, is unknown. However, after suffering a major setback following a simple mistake, the BBC clearly lost confidence in the programme and the decision to scrap it was an inevitable one.
Gary Lineker remains the highest profile presenter for Match of the Day 2 (MOTD2), and one hopes he will continue in this role. He has offered informative and entertaining analysis, and he knows how to communicate with his audience. He may need to learn from this experience, and adapt to the new and changing expectations and demands of his viewers. The BBC may also benefit from listening to those parts of its audience that feel underserved, and learn how to deliver a more exciting, diverse and balanced football coverage that costs less to produce, and appeals to viewers of all ages and backgrounds.