Gabby Logan seems to quite like the idea of a Grandstand revival. The more I think about it, the more I like it too.
The legendary BBC sports show was a staple for generations, rattling through sport after sport after sport and providing the background noise for Saturday afternoon snoozers from York to Yeovil and beyond.
By the time it left the airwaves in 2007 it was past its sell-by date. There’s no denying that, nor that it was a sad day for lovers of British sport. With the end of Grandstand came the end of my interest in crown green bowls, in snooker, in the British Touring Car Championship.
Grandstand wasn’t killed off entirely. Its football book-ends remain. Final Score suffers by comparison with Gillette Soccer Saturday. Football Focus just feels like its out there on its own of a lunchtime, flotsam, valuable material in need of rescue.
It’s fine, really. But without Grandstand it just doesn’t sit as comfortably as it might. Sports fans younger than me might not feel the same way but if Football Focus isn’t immediately followed by the first race from Uttoxeter, is it really Football Focus at all?
There was little call for Grandstand to continue ten years ago and there’s been even less apparent demand for it to return. But Logan’s tweet and the Rob Smyth article to which she linked gave pause for thought.
Fans who are old enough will remember that the broadcast rights that made Grandstand a fixture gradually evaporated. Of course they did. It might have been loved but in the age of Sky and the early days of YouTube’s obvious potential it was a relic.
Grandstand might not be dead. It’s certainly had a rest. Ten years on there might just be a case for something to replace it properly at last, something to support British sport and bring a variety of its riches back into our homes on Saturdays.
I might be just one fan but the idea of reviving Grandstand in one form or another has piqued my curiosity. Could it work? Do we want it to? What would it even look like?
A Grandstand for 2017 would have a lot to take into account. As a thirtysomething sports fan who’d probably fall within its target audience, I’m going to indulge myself. Here are five suggestions off the top of my head.
Don’t bank on live rights
Rule number one: don’t fall into the same trap twice. A Grandstand that ignores the reality of the sports rights landscape is a Grandstand that really is dead.
There’s virtue in expanded horizons. Help us explore. Live isn’t a prerequisite for that; what makes a rebooted Grandstand work is storytelling, and highlights do the job if the story is the star. Just ask the fans of Trans World Sport.
Make Football Focus the end, not the beginning
When I was growing up Football Focus was the beginning of Grandstand. Then it was just before Grandstand. And then there was no Grandstand. And the truth is I wouldn’t watch anything after Football Focus because I go out to a football match every Saturday afternoon.
But you’d better believe I’d watch a Saturday Kitchen-length sports magazine show that ended at 1pm. So show it at a time when I’d watch it. People who support sport in person probably make up the potential Grandstand audience, and should have some shared values. BBC2 beckons, but needs must.
Celebrate sporting participation
More than anything, Grandstand would need a role. A purpose. Something to believe in, as Jon Bon Jovi and a million other singers have belted out over the years. To me, that role is an unapologetic and indiscriminate celebration of sport, essentially an extension of BBC Sport’s current position.
A show that included regular features about participation in the grassroots would deliver a 360-degree view of sport and give the BBC something it could be incredibly proud of. Much of the positioning already exists in the old girl.
Invest in on-screen talent
To be clear, Grandstand shouldn’t be yet another vehicle for the likes of Robbie Savage. The old version had some of the best presenters around, and the only way it could stand on its own two feet in 2017 is to have the best in the business on camera again. Professional trolls need not apply.
An extended sports show creates the need for presenters, commentators, reporters and pundits. Grandstand could be a hot-house for television talent. It doesn’t need to be decadent or exaggerated, just a steady flow of good people into the industry.
Explore the world of football
It might be bias on my part but I’d give football a big part to play, not least because it’s the one sport that could possibly pull in the numbers. And let’s be clear: the numbers don’t add up. It’s content with value and substance over basic reach. That’s precisely why the BBC should do it.
What we as a football community don’t need is another Soccer AM. Rekindle our sense of adventure. Tell us about league football in Japan and Argentina and Italy. Take us to meet the 19-year-old top goalscorer in Sweden. There’s a place for great storytelling in mass football media, I’m convinced of it. And it could be the key.
And one for luck…
Keep the theme music
Does British sport need a leg up? It probably depends how you look at it. The investment in Olympic sports such as rowing and cycling has produced results, after all. But that’s a conveyer belt. Grandstand was a celebration of something altogether more organic. More fractured and nuanced. More imperfect.