Memorandum submitted by the BBC
The BBC welcomes the Select Committee's current
inquiry into the Staging of International Sporting Events, and
the opportunity to contribute to it.
The Committee's inquiry is extremely timely.
While there is now more dedicated sports broadcasting available
than ever before, the delivery of sports events on a free-to-air
basis is becoming increasingly difficult. The key issues to which
we would like to draw the Committee's attention at this time are:
The BBC's ongoing commitment to UK
The BBC's work to build relationships
with UK Sport.
Maintaining universal access to UK
Almost three times as many people watched live
sport on the BBC last year as on any other terrestrial channel.
In 1999-2000 (the last year for which figures are available)
the BBC broadcast 2,463 hours of sports coverage on network radio,
1,438 hours of sport on BBC 1 and 2, and 457 hours on its regional
TV opt-outs. BARB figures suggest that, excluding digital output,
BBC sports programming reached 34 per cent of the population.
Leaving aside the 34 separate sports which made
up our Olympics coverage, over the last year the BBC's sports
coverage has included ice hockey, boxing, show jumping, badminton,
table tennis, curling and sheepdog trials. These events took
place across the country, and many were of interest to particular
regional audiences. Each year, we provide live televised coverage
of the major events in the UK sporting calendar, including the
Open Golf, Six Nations Rugby, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race,
the London Marathon, Darts, Snooker and Bowls World Championships,
Wimbledon, and, from 2002, the FA Cup Competition. In addition,
our extensive sports news across all our outlets, but particularly
on Radio 5-Live and our online sports pages, provided information
about an even wider range of UK based sports events.
As a publicly funded broadcaster, we make a
considerable investment in UK sport. We contribute financially
by acting as host broadcaster and by purchasing UK rights. We
work with sports' bodies in a range of ways actively to encourage
sport at the grass roots. We promote the full range of UK sport
through unique high quality coverage across our various broadcast
outlets which is available to all UK audiences without charge.
The BBC's coverage last summer of the Sydney
Olympics demonstrated our unique ability to cover international
sporting events. Through our comprehensive programming, across
our outlets, we gave people throughout the UK the opportunity
to share in national passion, excitement, pride, and despair,
at performances. We know from experience that landmark sports
programming of this kind attracts new audiences to sport, and
brings long-term social and sport benefits in terms of regenerating
sport at the grass roots and reinforcing the multi-cultural aspects
of contemporary Britain.
In particular, the BBC's commitment to coverage
of the Olympics meant that the whole of the UK was able to follow
the record-breaking success of the British team, in both the main
games, and the Paralympics. The BBC provided over 500 hours of
multimedia coverage between 15 September and 1 October, including
21 hours of analogue television programming each day, and also
produced a dedicated Olympics website.
77 per cent of the UK population saw at least
15 minutes of the BBC's Olympics coverage, and despite being shown
at half past midnight, just under 7 million people watched Steven
Redgrave win his fifth gold medal. A similar number of people
watched Denise Lewis's victory the following day. Those figures
do not include those listening on the radio, watching the highlights
later, or following events online. The BBC coverage uniquely
allowed a national sense of gold medal achievement.
Closer to home, we already have a team working
full time with the organising committee of the Manchester 2002
Commonwealth Games (M2002). As host broadcaster and UK rights
holder for the largest sporting event which the UK has hosted
since 1948, we have already invested heavily in international
broadcasting facilities for the championships.
During the 10 days of the competition, we will
provide at least 129 hours of coverage on BBC 1 and BBC 2, as
well as a dedicated website for the Games. We will showcase all
28 different disciplines which make up the games, as well as the
competitions for disabled athletes. We are harnessing the BBC's
extensive technical expertise to develop state of the art coverage
which will take viewers in all 72 Commonwealth countries closer
to the action than they have ever been before. We believe M2002
gives the UK a golden opportunity to demonstrate our ability to
host major sporting events, and we are delighted to be able to
play our part in what we hope will be a huge success story for
UK sport and the M2002 committee.
Use of Multiple Distribution Channels
Our unique range of outletsfrom BBC 1
and BBC 2, through our local, national and international radio
channels, to our online sitesallows us to provide in-depth
coverage for the full range of national sports. Our proposals
for an additional dedicated digital radio service (5-Live Sports
Plus) which are currently under consideration by the Secretary
of State aim to enhance our ability to offer live commentary on
national sporting events to which we hold the rights.
The dedicated sport section of our online site
was launched in July 2000 with the aim of expanding the range
of our sports services. The site currently has eight sections
dedicated to news of particular mainstream sports' but on a sample
day also included details of ice hockey, NBA, American football,
baseball, badminton, rowing, sailing, horseracing, snooker, boxing,
winter sports, and cycling. Page impressions are now approaching
40 million a month.
We also use our regional and local outlets,
in particular local radio, to heighten awareness of the full range
of sports events across the UK. As the City of Glasgow notes in
its submission, regional and local outlets will frequently take
on coverage of events staged in their area, or of particular interest
to local audiences. They will also as a matter of routine follow
the performances of sportsmen and women who come from their region.
We believe such coverage plays an integral role in promoting interest
in sport within the UK. We would draw the Committee's attention
in particular to the extensive commitments by BBC Scotland to
the Scottish Premier League, golf, snooker, rugby union, shinty
and hockey; by BBC South to sailing; and by BBC Northern Ireland
to Gaelic Football.
WITH UK SPORT
Over the period that has elapsed since the Committee's
last inquiry on this subject, we have concentrated on building
partnerships with UK sports' bodies to enable us to work together
for the long term benefits of the sports and events they represent.
UK SPORTS AND
Working with motor racing and cricket bodies,
we have developed radio magazine programmes to highlight topical
issues in these sports. A segment within summer editions of Grandstand
is dedicated to athletics around the UK, from schools' competitions
to professional meetings. Our Passion for Sport campaign, which
recognises grass roots sporting involvement, is now into its fifth
year. Last year, the multimedia campaign Get Your Kit On, which
aimed to stimulate teenagers' active participation in sport, worked
as a highly successful collaboration between the BBC and Sport
England, the Football Association, the Lawn Tennis Association,
the Golf Foundation, and UK Athletics.
We have also worked extensively with a number
of UK sports bodies to assist them in developing their online
presence, and in generating interest in the events that they run.
Our aim has been to use our expertise to assist sports bodies
in stimulating interest more widely.
We are in the process of exploring digital television's
potential for enhancing the coverage of UK sports events. Last
year, our Wimbledon coverage on digital terrestrial television
included a supporting interactive text service. This year we hope
to be able to offer digital viewers a choice of simultaneous action
on six different courts, which will allow us to show more British
outer court action, including the Junior Championships. We are
also developing similar enhancements to accompany coverage of
the Open Golf, which will enable viewers to select the action
they wish to follow from tee to green at the final holes.
The return of the FA Cup to the BBC was in a
large part a response to concerns that the tournament had lost
its profile and its impact. Here as in all our sport coverage,
we aim to create a broadcasting relationship which truly develops
interest in events, and which goes far beyond live match commentary.
As host broadcaster for M2002 we have taken
on responsibility for providing live coverage of the competition
for worldwide distribution, and for making world class broadcasting
facilities available to up to 72 Commonwealth broadcasters. The
pictures that we will supply will make use of the BBC's considerable
ongoing investment in research and development of broadcasting
technology. The BBC's work in this area has already advanced sports
coverage internationally, including the use of bunker cameras,
cricket stump cameras, developments in underwater photography,
and the use of lightweight cameras on vehicles, attached to headgear,
and inside boats.
We have also already undertaken to act as host
broadcaster for the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham
in 2003, and for the World Outdoor Athletics Championships in
London in 2005. We are also heavily involved in the World Amateur
Boxing Championships which are taking place in Belfast later this
year. This is in addition to annual commitments such as Wimbledon
and the London Marathon.
The role of host broadcaster is not one that
we undertake lightly. The investment required is extensive, and
rarely brings commercial benefits. We have a duty to our licence
fee payers to look carefully at each event presented to us, to
assess the level of international interest that it will generate,
and to balance our responsibilities to develop the UK as a venue
for international sporting events with our duties to those who
fund us. For this reason, we are not able automatically to act
as host broadcaster for every international sports event staged
in the UK. Equally, our obligations to our audiences as a whole
mean that we cannot respond positively to every request for coverage
which we receive.
Having said that we believe that we have a strong
record in coverage of minority sports events, and where we feel
unable to act as host broadcaster, we may still make an investment
in the event by purchasing coverage. This was the position which
we took in relation to the 2000 World Cycling Championships in
When we are unable to offer the level of coverage
that is sought from us, we always make clear from the outset the
degree of involvement which we are able to give. We work with
sports bodies to suggest to them other sources of broadcast coverage,
such as BBC local radio, and to assist them in placing a realistic
value on the broadcasting of their event.
UK SPORTS BROADCASTING
Cost of Rights
As the Committee will be aware, we are in constant
negotiations to retain and to acquire rights for sporting events
in order to ensure that they continue to be available free of
charge to all UK licence payers. Where live coverage of events
is only available on pay-TV, we will seek to purchase highlights
in order to maintain limited free-to-air coverage of the event.
Competition rights across all platformsTV,
radio and onlineis driving up the value of sports rights
out of all proportion to inflation. We estimate that across the
range of sports, rights costs have risen 800 per cent over the
last four years.
While we welcome the fact that sport is now
generating more income from the sale of rights than ever before,
and that the opportunities for sports viewing and listening are
multiplying, we are concerned that those without subscription
television are becoming excluded from key sports events, and that
the restricted access and smaller audiences which accompany the
switch to pay-TV may work to the detriment of UK sport's development.
There are signs that a number of UK sporting
bodies are becoming aware of the benefits of ensuring that the
events which they run are available to the general public via
free-to-air broadcasters. During our most recent appearance before
the Committee (Thursday 8 February: CMS Select Committee Inquiry
into the Communications White Paper), we referred to indications
that rugby union clubs are realising the importance of being on
free-to-air television to promote the sport, increase the audiences
for matches, and attract international competition. It is too
early to know whether this trend will be repeated across the full
range of UK sports.
As part of our submission to the Committee on
the last occasion on which an inquiry of this kind was conducted,
we highlighted our concern about Kirch's acquisition of 2002 and
2006 World Cup rights and the potential for the competition to
be sold exclusively to pay-TV companies. As the Committee may
be aware from press reports, Kirch appears to dispute the applicability
of the listed events legislation to the World Cup. The BBC believes
it is extremely important that events which have been identified
as being of major national interest by the UK Government should
continue to be available within the UK on a free-to-air basis.
Further worrying developments concern the availability
of sports clips for news and online use. We believe that news
reporting of sport is critically important to building the profile,
particularly of minority sports, because of its ability to extend
beyond traditional audiences.
We would agree with ITN's contention that sport
clips should be freely available for use both in news bulletins
and in an online (news) context. Our view is that the Sports News
Access Code in its current form ensures that this happens as far
as UK footage is concerned, and we are satisfied that the issue
of rights owned by pay-per-view companies has now been resolved.
We share ITN's concern about the issues surrounding
the use of video clips online which emerged during the Sydney
2000 Olympics, when Internet rights were specifically withheld.
We believe that the best way to resolve such issues is through
international agreements which mirror for new media existing arrangements
for TV. We consistently work to achieve this as we negotiate rights
The climate is now such that we need actively
to safeguard the Olympic principle of "sport for all"
by working with Government and Parliament, sporting bodies and
other public service free-to-air broadcasters to ensure that key
sports events which play a critical part in national culture and
identity remain available to everyone in the UK without additional
For universal access to be meaningful, we believe
it is critical that viewers and listeners can access coverage
as part of the rich and varied prime time schedule which they
rightly expect from public service broadcasters. This means access
to highlights for events held outside our time zone, access to
clips within news bulletins, and access to full coverage online.
The BBC fully supports the Government's sport
strategy, as set out in A Sporting Future for All, to ensure
that a proportion of sports' broadcasting revenues is dedicated
to growing sport at the grass roots. As the Committee has duly
recognised, we believe that no consideration of the staging of
international sporting events is complete without taking into
account strategies for the wider development of UK sport. This
is a goal towards which, as a public service broadcaster, we are