It has been jaw-dropping to watch how easily Gary Lineker has run rings around the management at the BBC over the past week. And he has done it in much the same fashion as he played football – effortlessly and barely breaking a sweat.
What we’ve witnessed over the past few days has been a textbook example of how not to do it. BBC bosses sorely misjudged their own position and badly played their hand after Lineker tweeted criticism of the Tory government’s new immigration policy. They suspended the Match of the Day host but the end result, after several own goals, is a victory for the former England striker.
I spent 17 years reporting and presenting at Sky News and Sky Sports in London and around the world. The difference between Sky and BBC is vast. Sky is on a different level, actually a different planet, in absolutely everything it does, and the reason the company is so successful is because every person working there knows what is expected of them.
When it became clear that social media was turning into a big hungry monster, our bosses decided to update and refine their policy for staff
We would regularly be out filming around the UK and the days would often be long. By lunchtime, the BBC crew would rotate, a new camera operator would arrive and by close of play there would be another reporter on the same story. We would cover major court cases at the Old Bailey with a team of three people, while the BBC might have up to a dozen.
Sky News routinely battered the BBC because we played like a team and we were hungry for victory.
Think of a bicycle chain — every cog links together and works hard. That’s the Sky way of doing things. Everyone sings from the same song sheet.
When it became clear that social media was turning into a big hungry monster, our bosses decided to update and refine their policy for staff.
Social media spelt danger and Sky management were sharp enough to see this years ago. Nobody likes danger, least of all something that can turn nasty very quickly.
What they decided couldn’t have been clearer or more effective. We were candidly told we would have to change our Twitter usernames to include the word “Sky”. So I went from @endabrady to @SkyEnda (good luck to the mortgage adviser in Sligo who swooped in the same day and picked off my old user name!). Our Twitter feeds were now effectively company accounts.
We were told that if we wouldn’t say something live on TV, we shouldn’t be writing about it on any social media platform. Every person on air knew what was expected of them. Yes, there was some grumbling but everyone got the message because it was clear, simple and came from the top.
What he failed to grasp from the outset was that Lineker doesn’t need this job
We were encouraged not to engage with trolls. and political opinions were a no-no. I worked with Sky’s political editor Adam Boulton for years and can still remember him telling me one day that he never votes in general elections. That’s how fair-minded and straight he is. Like everyone else, he followed the new rules obediently.
The changes were implemented quickly and everyone complied. I say everyone, but there was one notable exception — a prominent presenter chose not to change her Twitter name. Management didn’t push the issue.
Controlling your staff is one thing, but Lineker is effectively a freelance broadcaster and his tweets didn’t mention the BBC. But it all comes down to this: clear communication and rules that need to be followed. If you’re on the team, or in the team occasionally, you have to know what’s expected of you.
Contrast Sky’s leadership with that of BBC director-general Tim Davie, who spent last week in the US. He is a marathon runner and it’s clear from all this that he should spend some time away from solo sports and watch how effective teams play. There’s a strategy and there’s leadership and everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing.
Davie flew back to London on Sunday and within hours news was leaking that a “fudge” would be created so Lineker could return and the other talent would fall in behind him.
What he failed to grasp from the outset was that Lineker doesn’t need this job. He was a millionaire in 1986 when a million was worth vastly more than it is now. Davie also failed to appreciate how well respected the former England striker is and how intelligent and influential his friend Ian Wright is. “Wrighty” is a wonderful human being, and once he expressed his support for “Team Gary” there was no way the BBC could win this match.
The funny thing is that 500,000 more viewers tuned in to watch Match of the Day on Saturday night, but that’s what I call the “gawker effect”, people tuning in out of curiosity.
Lineker will be back presenting on Saturday night and he will do so knowing he can keep going for as long as he wants because he will outlast the director general. Poor communication has seen to that.