Football Commentaries on Commercial Radio
Once upon a time you could be pretty sure that if you wanted to listen to your local football team, one station locally or another would be carrying a commentary.
In recent years the prices for rights have increased as local clubs, especially Premiership ones, have more competition, and stations battled to win the rights. But with radio revenues having flattened in recent years, rights became very expensive and many stations stopped broadcasting them. I suppose the equation works something like this: if your club is very big, with a large enough fanbase, and you charge the right price, you might be able to do better selling your commentaries direct to fans.
In London, Capital Gold (from yesterday, just "Gold") used to have the rights to several London clubs, including Arsenal. Indeed, the overspill of rights owned by what was then Capital Radio, meant that Xfm broadcast games on a Saturday afternoon too.
The first really big deal for Premiership rights was the one the then newly launched Century did with Manchester United in 1998. As well as getting rights to all their games, they also got advertising perimeter boards in Old Trafford which were surely very valuable in their own right. I'm told by people that know that this really cost an arm and a leg.
But there does seem to be an imbalance in which clubs sell their commentary rights, and those that don't or can't.
In London, unless you're one of the major Premiership clubs, you're unlikely to get a deal. So clubs like Crystal Palace have done deals in the past with BBC London, the local BBC radio station, to see that coverage is either carried via their website, or the DAB/Sky version of the signal.
As casual TV viewers might have noticed from the torrent of adverts at the moment, this season is the first under a new deal which sees Sky's exclusivity of live TV coverage of the Premiership ending after an EU ruling, with Setanta picking up some rights. But the same has also happened in radio. In the past, BBC Radio Five Live picked up national rights to all the available matches, including the option to broadcast an alternative 3pm Saturday match. One way or another, commercial radio was priced out of the national market.
But this season, under the same EU directive, Talksport has picked up one of the seven packages of matches. They have 32 games at 3pm on Saturdays, thus ending the Five Live Sports Xtra alternative - I imagine the Beeb will use this service to broadcast other sports. Five Live is left with 192 other games - hence their current radio trailers pointing out that they'll broadcasting more Premiership football than anyone else. By way of comparison, Setanta will broadcast 46 games, and Sky will broadcast 92. Incidentally, Talksport's package means that they get second pick of the 3pm Saturday games, although as we all know, the "glamour" ties tend to be those broadcast at any time except 3pm as they're the ones moved by TV companies. What's slightly curious about this arrangement is that the BBC still doesn't announce which tie it will broadcast at 3pm on a Saturday. Traditionally, this was so as not to dissuade people from going to the game rather than sitting at home and listening to it. But obviously games are chosen well in advance, with Talksport already advertising their fixture on air. Given that they get second pick, the BBC already knows what it's going to broadcast. Oh well.
Elsewhere around the country, on the south coast, Portsmouth has actually taken a stake in a couple of local stations to ensure broadcast commentaries are made available - perhaps hoping to grow its fanbase, even though it sells out every fixture already (there are always more football strips to sell). Meanwhile Town & Country Broadcasting has bought The Saint from Southampton FC, and is renaming it Radio Hampshire, again with full commentary rights included. In the north-east, were football is essentially a religion, Century NE has rights to Newcastle United and Sunderland games.
And Centuy's previous commentaries are now moving across to Xfm from this season. It seems likely that the rights were negotiated during the same of Century to GMG from GCap towards the end of last year, with the still GCap owned Xfm taking control from this season. Otherwise it'd be most peculiar given the Century deal still had another season to run. In the West Midlands, Beacon has both Wolves and West Brom deals.
With BBC local radio it's a bit more mixed. BBC London has Spurs rights this season and almost certainly others, and Leicester City is on BBC Leicester. Coventry is on its local BBC station. I believe that Man Utd's deal is exclusive, leaving BBC Manchester to cover Man City and Bolton, splitting the coverage across FM and DAB when necessary.
The whole thing is very piecemeal. But it'll be interesting to learn who gets Arsenal and Chelsea, unless they decide that selling commentaries direct to fans is more "cost effective."
Of course, this is all to do with league rights. FA Cup, League Cup, Champions' League, UEFA Cup, internationals and others are all separately negotiated, and often on a non-exclusive basis.