Media Matters: The Best Pundit?

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Roy Keane. John McEnroe. David Gower. What bonds them all? Apart from all being excellent sportsmen in their day, they have also enjoyed highly respected second careers.

And except briefly with Keane, this has not been in coaching. Instead, they have become noted pundits in their sports of expertise.

The phenomenon of the pundit is a curious one. I was recently watching an edition of ‘Match of the Day: Top 10′ discussing just the issue.

For those who haven’t seen it, it sees MOTD trio Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Micah Richards compose top 10 lists on various footballing matters.

Recently, they turned to the off-the-pitch issue of the pundit. It was an interesting insight into the mentality of the pundit and how the three understand their positions.

What they all agreed on was that the nature of the pundit has changed considerably through time. Perhaps in football’s case it is to do with the sheer excess of the sport that the role of pundits has been reformulated for new demands.

In order to cut through now, you need to say something unique. One way to do that is simply to say something louder than anyone else. I am thinking of Keane and John Mac here, masters of the sharp tongue technique.

Or some simply try to offer world-beating analysis, the sort of insight only an expert of the turf, green, oche, or wherever can offer. Put simply, whilst we writers try our best, sometimes you have to leave it to the experts.

Alan Hansen always did an exemplary job of this kind of punditry and you can see it with people like Michael Johnson in athletics too. You could call this tendency the case of the avuncular pundit, the sportsperson imparting unique wisdom from their journey to the top.

I think we can observe similar trends in darts. Take Bobby George, a much-loved character of the game. What Bobby offers as a pundit is totally different from what newer TV personalities in the game, like Wayne Mardle and Mark Webster, tend to do.

Bobby has often worked best riffing off presenters like Ray Stubbs and Colin Murray, who can play into his humour and wealth of experience, rather than playing the straight man focused on numbers. After all, no one quite tells an anecdote like Bob.

In football, the need to say something different has long been a necessity. Every pass, run or tactic is catered for in every medium going. In darts, this is something that has changed significantly.

and Group B will commence from 10pm BST.

In my first column, looking back on the World Championship, I praised Sky’s improved coverage. As well as the introduction of the ‘Love the Darts’ podcast, it points to an increased appreciation from the broadcaster that its audience is watching more darts than it ever has.

Whilst five or ten years ago, the last thing a Sky viewer probably saw was the previous round of the channel’s darts coverage, now they may well have been watching the European Tour, Pro Tour or perhaps MODUS darts.

Sky and ITV’s presentation has naturally responded to this change and it is something that their leading pundits, Wayne Mardle and Chris Mason respectively, do particularly well. They have a good balance of anecdote and analysis, insight and humour. 

I have already lauded Wayne’s excellent broadcasting in a previous column, but as a pundit he has become Sky’s go-to for a reason.

He is a deeply engaged student of the game who also shares the effervescent passion of the biggest fan. 

As for Mason, he is one of the punditry’s most perceptive voices. I can count a number of times where he has made me sit up and think about something new.

One wonders what the future direction of punditry in the sport is. Football punditry nowadays sometimes has the feel of zoo radio. In the same way, radio hosts like Chris Moyles sought to revolutionise the airwaves by making their broadcasts feel like a gathering of mates, football broadcasts can often feel the same. 

Darts perhaps still remains a bit closer to the ‘Jimmy Hill’ than the ‘Micah Richards’ end of the scale. A bit more of the tight-lipped authoritative punditry than the corpsing and ‘banter’. Either way, it is a trend to be closely observed.


Images: Darts World Magazine

Piece originally published in Darts World Extra 9

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