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In defence of our 'defensive throw-ins'

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Ben Gallop Ben Gallop | 09:54 UK time, Wednesday, 3 May 2006

The essence of sports coverage is live action. Along with breaking news, it's the area where broadcasters like BBC Sport build their reputation. With that in mind, I was intrigued by a comment on the blog from David B:

Regarding "Live" football coverage online, I have to say this really is appalling. Listing every foul and throw in, but no sense of what is actually going on at all, I have no idea who thinks this is a good format. Compare with the ball-by-ball cricket updates which are fantastic, they really give you a feeling of what is going on. Why can't the football be more like this?

OK, let's deal with the good bit first... I'm delighted you enjoy our live cricket reports, David. Our cricket specialists put a huge amount of time and effort into these over-by-over reports and they are one of the most popular areas of the whole website. They aim to provide both a snapshot of the latest action as well as a flavour of the atmosphere and "colour" at the Test match - and while we're always looking to improve every aspect of our coverage, I think they do the job extremely well.

But now to the football...

It's never particularly pleasant to hear your service described as "appalling", but there are some mitigating factors I'd like to call on here.

Obviously football is our number one sport - and there are a variety of different ways in which we cover live action. The most comprehensive service we offer, which is the one David highlights, are the live text commentaries we run on every game in England (down to Conference level) as well as the Scottish Premier League.

This means that on an average Saturday afternoon we will be running up to 50 different commentary pages. The sheer scale of this service means it's impossible for BBC Sport to have a journalist writing each individual report, reflecting the atmosphere and context of the game in the way we do for England cricket matches.

So instead we have automatically updating pages, which may read like hand-crafted reports, but are in fact driven by a data feed from an external supplier. That's why these text commentaries have a formulaic feel. Basically every incident is a series of actions - all of which are factual statements rather than comments from a BBC journalist.

This means if the game is a particularly dull midfield tussle, you'll sometimes see a plethora of "defensive throw-ins" and precious little else - because the action hasn't resulted in incidents of any note. These text commentaries might not be perfect, but we reckon they're a great way to showcase matches involving every club in the country.

And I must stress that this is just our bottom-line football service, which we provide for routine league matches - where every team, from Arsenal to York City, is treated equally. For major football matches, in the Champions League, FA Cup and, of course, the World Cup, we do offer more comprehensive live reports, written by our own specialists - which are in fact comparable to the cricket reports which David B likes so much.

As I say, we are constantly reviewing our live services - and any bright ideas on how we can improve our coverage are always gratefully received. In the meantime, marvel at how your team perfects their attacking throw-in...

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