Written by Media, Sport, TV

Televised Sport Update

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that it wouldn’t award the EBU the rights to the 2014 winter Olympics and the 2016 summer games. In the past the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has collectively bought the rights to the Olympics for the past fifty years. All the public service broadcasters chip in and they get the rights between them.
But the IOC is something of a money grabbing beast, and they’ve decided that they can do much better if they individually negotiate with each of the countries in Europe rather than go with a single deal.
Reports talking about the BBC not getting the rights to the games are probably very wide of the mark. In the UK the Olympics are still a protected event, and as such, have to be made available free to air, to the whole country. So ITV could bid in theory, but that seems incredibly unlikely – they’ve just decided that even the relatively low costs of covering the boat race are too much and have pulled out after next year. They’d be hard pushed to garner enough advertising to cover the costs. The production costs alone are enormous, with thousands of hours coming from Beijing this year, and even more likely to come from London.
In theory, an operator like Sky could bid for the games, but it’d have to broadcast them free-to-air. That might mean using DTT (the only service it’d have full national coverage with) to broadcast to most people with more on satellite, but that’d probably cause an outcry. That said, I noticed that Trevor East, previously head of sports at Sky and now with Setanta, doesn’t see anything wrong with Sky going for the rights. He correctly points out that Sky Italia has the Olympics in Italy. However, Sky Italia is required to subcontract free-to-air rights, probably with RAI (the state broadcaster).
It seems a strange time for the vultures at the IOC to playing fast and loose with their games. We’re entering a global recession which means that everyone’s re-examining what they’re able to bid for, or to what extent they expect advertising to cover costs of future games. And with London getting the games in 2012, the 2016 summer games will almost certainly not be at a favourable time for Europe. We won’t know until next year who will be getting the games, but if most events take place in the middle of the night or during the day, that’s not going to make European broadcasters want to pay more.
Of course UEFA and FIFA have done the same thing recently.
And all of them would like to see the review of sporting “crown jewels” be reviewed with significantly fewer events on the schedule. David Davies just been appointed by culture secretary Andy Burnham, to review the list. Currently it looks like this:
Group A – must be covered live:

  • Olympic Games

  • FIFA World Cup finals tournament

  • European Football Championship finals tournament

  • FA Cup final

  • Scottish FA Cup final (in Scotland)

  • Grand National

  • Wimbledon tennis finals

  • Rugby League Challenge Cup final

  • Rugby World Cup final

Group B – highlights must be available free to air:

  • cricket test matches played in England

  • non-finals play in the Wimbledon tournament

  • all other matches in Rugby World Cup finals tournament

  • Six Nations Rugby Tournament matches involving home countries

  • Commonwealth Games

  • World Athletics Championships

  • Cricket World Cup

  • Ryder Cup

  • Open Golf Championship

FIFA and UEFA would like only the final, and perhaps semi-finals and other matches involving the home nations to be included on the list. They’d happily sell the rest of the tournaments to Sky or Setanta.
Meanwhile England tests don’t have to be broadcast live. Has interest in the national summer game lessened since it disappeared from free to air? I think it has.
The boat race isn’t on either list, and Premier League highlights aren’t guaranteed either. I’d be surprised if we saw much change. Ofcom recently published the equivalent list for the rest of Europe and they’re equally as comprehensive with some events specific to their nations – e.g. The Tour de France or Giro d’Italia, and even the Ialian Grand Prix in Italy (F1 is otherwise free to go where it likes).
What’s still clear is that if your event relies heavily on sponsors, you probably still want to stay free to air, as the coverage dwarfs anything that paid for television is able to give viewers. Indeed, if I was in charge of a sport, I’d perhaps be thinking more about how I can persuade the BBC or ITV to cover it rather than lusting after Sky’s millions and forshortening my sport’s future (Yes, cricket, I’m looking at you again).