Entertainment Future of TV Media

Gary Neville on breaking the rules of sports media with The Overlap


By Cameron Clarke, Editor

March 28, 2024 | 9 min read

He’s going long-form in the supposed short-form age, giving star guests the option to approve edits and wasting no time on rehearsals. And once again, this former footballer is winning.

Gary Neville presenting Stick to Football

Gary Neville introducing Stick to Football / The Overlap

Gary Neville is not your typical YouTuber.

The platform is, after all, the favored haunt of the eager amateur. Not the natural habitat of an elite ex-pro blessed with two Champions League winners’ medals, a steady gig as Sky Sports’ lead football analyst and an investor’s seat on Dragons’ Den.

And yet the 49-year-old, who made 400 appearances for Manchester United and was capped 85 times by England during a storied 20-year football career, is finding himself at home among the influencers.

The Overlap, Neville’s YouTube channel of three years, where he hosts big-name interviews, a podcast and fan debates, has just hit 1 million subscribers. Growing in popularity with viewers and sports stars alike, it may just provide some clues as to where sports media is headed.

But first, how did Neville end up here?

“I’m not a host or a presenter, I’m not a producer or a director, but I wanted to own something. I wanted to own some sort of content that was mine,” he tells The Drum.

“I kept hearing people [say] everything’s got to be short-form, everything’s got to be 90 seconds, 30 seconds, to fit on Instagram, or reels or TikTok. And I kept thinking, Yeah, but if you have the right people having a conversation about a sport that people love, surely there’s still a place for that, still a place for detailed conversation, for stories to be told in a more long-form way.”

The stats would suggest Neville’s hunch was right. To date, The Overlap’s YouTube videos have racked up 260m views and the channel claims an average view time of more than 30 minutes. What’s more, it’s broken genuine news exclusives, the sorts of stories Neville believes sports stars would not have relayed to traditional media.

Harry Kane was the breakthrough. Over a disarming round of golf, Neville extracted the transfer scoop the tabloids had been baying for – that, yes, the England captain was indeed preparing to leave Spurs. Cue 2m views, syndication on Sky Sports News, and acres of backpage newsprint. But something even bigger – and altogether more serious – was to follow.

In July last year, The Overlap released ‘Now is the time to talk,’ a remarkably candid interview with the Everton midfielder Dele Alli. Over 45 minutes, the one-time prodigy, whose career had stalled, spoke movingly about addiction, rehab and childhood trauma, revealing that he was sexually abused at the age of six and was dealing drugs two years later. The video, viewed almost 6m times, prompted an outpouring of support from fans and the football community.

For Neville, the interview was raw in every sense. “I didn’t know what Dele Alli was going to say when I walked into that room. I [only] knew that that he was going to say some things to me that were going to be very personal. I genuinely was taken aback by what I was listening to, how mature he was, how courageous he was.”

Neville’s personal relationships – he worked with both Kane and Alli during his time coaching the England team – and his ability to relate to the goldfish bowl pressures of modern football undoubtedly help him secure stories journalists couldn’t. But he’s also willing to make a concession journalists wouldn’t: sign-off.

“I think we’ve created the safest, most secure, most compassionate environment in football for people to speak. Because the first thing that I say to people when I ask them to come on is, if there’s anything that you’re not comfortable with when you watch it back, it will not go out.

“Now, that’s a very anti-journalistic thing to say because you go and speak to any journalists for any major broadcaster or newspaper, and they’re not going to give you that level of control. But what I understand as an ex-footballer is that’s where the level of trust breaks down. I always say to them, go for it and say everything because you can always pull it out.”

While no self-respecting journalist would countenance waiving control, Neville argues it’s led to sports stars revealing more of themselves – not less – than they ordinarily would. It’s not journalism, but that hasn’t stopped The Overlap from making headlines.

“Sometimes when I see people on television, and in written interviews, I think they’ve only given half the story because they don’t want to feel that they may get let down, [that] the headline might destroy them.

“I don’t have any embarrassment [about letting guests see the edit] because I’ve never seen myself as a journalist; I don’t even see myself as a broadcaster, really. I see myself as an ex-football player who just basically speaks about the game of football. I want football players, boxers, sports people to come and feel that they can speak about the game we love without feeling that there is going to be a negative spin on it.”

The Overlap

Negativity is not something you’ll find on Stick to Football, a chummy weekly podcast that has become a staple of The Overlap’s output. Over coffees and croissants, Neville and fellow former footballers Jamie Carragher, Ian Wright, Jill Scott and Roy Keane banter about the modern game, usually with the help of a special guest. David Beckham, Rory McIlroy and Ronnie O’Sullivan are among those who have appeared so far. Neville wants Taylor Swift next.

“The difference in the characters of us, with someone like that, would be compellingly awkward.”

Despite being a regular fixture on Sky Sports for over a decade, Neville admits he has never totally shaken off his own awkwardness in front of the camera. Each episode of Stick to Football begins behind the scenes, rather than with a traditional intro. “The reason we start the program the way we do is because I can’t host, I can’t present. As soon as we get in there, we’re live, we’re recording. That it starts organically is actually to protect me because I can’t present properly.”

It’s an approach that Neville has taken from his high-profile gig at Sky Sports. When he joined the Super Sunday and Monday Night Football punditry teams in 2011, he was shocked at how little of the live output was scripted.

“We had a producer who wouldn’t let us rehearse or over plan. And that was really hard at the beginning for me because I was nervous, I was young, I was inexperienced. But after about three years, I got it. And we take that into The Overlap. We don’t over-prepare people when they come in because the best reactions are the ones that are instinctive and spontaneous.”

Neville “loves” his role with Sky and has warmed to the pressure of having to be “instinctively ready for conversation” to react to the big, unexpected moments in live football. But he believes the appeal of The Overlap is in part down to the fact that it can do things that TV can’t, giving more room for famous footballers to express their true selves.

“If you think about a live program, you might have four minutes at half-time for three of you to speak. You might have seven or eight minutes for interviews with players and managers. You’re always restricted by time.” The more leisurely Stick to Football, by contrast, is more “like a dressing room conversation,” unfolding over 90 minutes. For Neville and friends, that means showing viewers, “We’re not that person you saw on telly as a football player.”

Neville has big ambitions for where to take The Overlap from here, including to America, and into a variety of new long- and short-form formats across social platforms. As well as becoming a significant brand in its own right, it is fielding a growing number of advertiser approaches. Its main partner, Sky Bet, has been on board since launch and recently renewed its deal until 2026.

The channel’s name, a play on Neville’s role as an overlapping full-back, also speaks to its ambitions to branch into worlds beyond football. Along with the aforementioned Swift, Barack Obama, Tom Cruise and Conor McGregor rank among Neville’s dream list of guests.

For now, he can content himself with the story so far and the milestone of hitting a million YouTube subscribers. How did it feel to hit that mark? “Well, it wasn’t quite like winning the Champions League,” Neville says with a grin.

It’s a reminder that, while he may not be a natural journalist or broadcaster, when it comes to talking football, few are more qualified. And in a world of amateurs, that makes all the difference.

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