BBC favourites v ITV hopefuls: pundits and presenters fight it out in World Cup screen contest

Going into this World Cup final, there is one clear favourite: their squad has depth and experience; the line-up has proven quality and leadership; and perhaps most importantly, they have performed on the biggest stages before and come out victorious. We are talking about the BBC, which once again will do head-to-head battle for the nation’s eyeballs with ITV as a subplot to the England-Spain match in Sydney.

The clash, historically, has not gone well for ITV. For the men’s World Cup final last December, nearly 20 million Britons tuned in, with three-quarters (15 million) favouring the BBC. Of course, the BBC has the selling point of no ad breaks and the prestige of being seen as a destination for nationally significant events. But ITV’s coverage so far in this World Cup has been slick and engaging, so can the upstart, packed with young, fresh talent, pull off a shock?


Is there a safer pairs of hands – England keeper Mary Earps aside – than BBC anchor Gabby Logan? She radiates warmth and competence, and seamlessly links with the pundits in the studio and the reporters pitchside. She was once told by a boss that she wouldn’t work in his TV channel past the age of 28; now 50, she is unruffled whether presenting football or the Olympics or jumping into an icy lake on BBC One’s Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof.

That said, ITV’s 36-year-old Laura Woods seems just as unflappable and poised. She started out doing interviews for Sky’s darts coverage, has hosted TalkSport’s breakfast show and now this season becomes the lead presenter for the Champions League on TNT Sports (formerly BT Sport). It’s hard to separate them, but Logan has the edge in that she will be live inside Stadium Australia – cue lots of moaning on social media about where our licence fees go – rather than at the ITV studio in London.

Advantage: BBC

11 female and one male ITV commentators stand in front of a curved room with lights
ITV pundits include Karen Carney, Eni Aluko, Laura Woods, Jill Scott, Emma Hayes, Seb Hutchinson and Lucy Ward. Photograph: ITV


The question is: how can you compete with Mystic Fara? Fara Williams, the most-capped England player ever and now a BBC pundit, has shown an eerie knack of predicting results and scorelines in this World Cup: it started when she said Spain would beat Zambia 5-0, and in the semi-final she correctly called a 3-1 England victory. Williams will be standing round the underlit BBC kitchen island in Sydney alongside Alex Scott, Ellen White and Arsenal head coach Jonas Eidevall (who happened, pre-tournament, to predict an England-Spain final).

It’s a formidable, perhaps clairvoyant line-up that ITV are planning to counter with ex-players Eni Aluko and Karen Carney in the studio. Aluko’s analysis is usually bang on, and Carney has that passionate vibe where she looks like she’s still kicking every ball. “You feel nerves more than anyone else,” said Woods during ITV’s coverage of England’s quarter-final against Colombia.

Advantage: BBC

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If England do win the World Cup, who is going to be this generation’s Kenneth Wolstenholme? (For those whose memories do not stretch back 57 years, he’s the “Some people are on the pitch” guy.) The contenders are, for the BBC, Robyn Cowen and Rachel Brown-Finnis; and for ITV, Seb Hutchinson and Lucy Ward. Commentators are, as a general rule, doing their best work when you don’t really notice them, and both Cowen and Hutchinson are from the less-is-more school.

Pitchside, though, ITV looks like the team to beat, with England greats Jill Scott and Ian Wright and Chelsea manager Emma Hayes charged with building the buzz from inside the stadium – and in Wright’s case, probably losing his mind if the match goes England’s way.

Advantage: ITV