Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Look At What You Could Have Won

Talk about a fall from grace. The blog of the BBC Sport Editor Roger Mosey has got very excited this evening about the new Football League television contract. Having lost the rights to England matches and the FA Cup earlier this year (wiping out their live domestic football at a stroke) they have at least managed the small consolation of securing some access to the Football League and the League Cup. You don't have to be an expert on such matters to be able to appreciate that such deals are a fall from grace for BBC Sport, no matter which way they try to spin it.

The details of the new BBC contract are as follows:

- Ten exclusively live first-choice Championship matches per season, the first time The Championship has been live on BBC television.
- The League Cup final live from Wembley - simulcast with Sky.
- Two legs of the Carling Cup semi-finals exclusively live.
- Football League highlights all season.
- Carling Cup highlights all season.

The bulk of the contract has, you'll be unsurprised to hear, remained with Sky Sports, who have picked up the bulk of the £88m bill. There is no question that the BBC are the junior partners here, in much the same way that they are over the Premier League package. But is this a good deal for the BBC and, more importantly, is this a good deal for the Football League? Well, on the one hand, it is a good deal for the League. The money is up
yet again (either these TV companies are impossibly bad negotiators in such matters or Brian Mawhinney has got some very compromising photographs indeed of Mark Lawrenson) and, more importantly still, the League will be back on live terrestrial television for the first time in over a decade. The League needs such publicity - the enduring cache of being broadcast on the BBC may well have a positive knock on effect for it, and may provide more interest in football outside of the Premier League (the beginning of the up-turn in the FA Cup's fortunes coincides quite neatly with when it returned from the BBC from ITV).

Having said all of that, though, I would criticise the League for not going far enough. With the cost of Premier League football continuing to spiral ever higher, the Football League should have been braver, and frozen Sky out altogether. On the surface of it, £88m looks like a lot of money, but it isn't, really. It's a fraction of the money that even the Premier League's overseas television contract brings in. The Football League could have gone out on a limb, and put the whole thing over to free-to-air television. The BBC has the capability to offer a first-rate digital service, and could have worked a deal with the League to promote the Football League as "football for the masses". As it turns out, the vast majority will continue to be watched by pitiful audiences on Sky Sports.

I'm minded to think that all concerned have missed a trick, there.

Ballhype: hype it up!


Chris O said...

I thought this was an interesting story yesterday. It seems strange that the BBC should be wanting to show matches from the Championship downwards (despite the quality from these leagues being higher than ever).

That said, I think they'll raise the profile of them even more as people will associate the Beeb with Match of the Day and so on. I just hope they don't stick a rudimentary programme on of a Sunday morning when many of us aren't even awake like ITV do.

Duffman said...

This ticks a number of boxes all round.

The BBC get lots of lovely online content for their regional news websites. This fits in nicely with their commitment to the regions and the BBC Trust will be happy.

10 live matches means live football once a month which is a start given that they will be losing their existing live matches at the end of this season. The ratings for these matches won't be that good and I very much doubt that the Beeb were interested in much more than ten live games. However, the Carling Cup Final will be shown live on terrestrial TV which is very good news for football fans.

Also, the deal strengthens the partnership between Sky and the BBC and lays the path for a possible Champion's League bid. There has been some speculation in the press that the Beeb have resolved any sponsorship issues with UEFA and that Sky are considering ditching ITV and hooking up with the BBC.

For Sky? Well as poor as the ratings are for League football, Sky's primary source of revenue comes from subscriptions rather than advertising sales. This allows them to bid aggressively for American TV shows like Lost and Prison Break because their economics are different to say Channel Four or Five. The Football League may be of limited interest only but, like Spanish football, it will have a loyal following plus it will add value to a Sky Sports subscription package and help people to decide to subscribe or stay subscribed to their channels.

They also keep the Championship Play-off final which is a game which could be marketed internationally.

For the League? Well, the added prestige with being associated with the Beeb may help them raise extra revenue. And it is a decent increase. However, their fingers were burnt badly by the ITV digital collapse. They accepted a £315 million pound bid without making sure that all or part of that figure was guaranteed should the broadcaster fold which they did. The League are probably inclined to adopt a more conservative approach rather than take risks, even if it means losing out slightly. Maybe Mawhinney feels that they are improving the foundations of the League and the real bonanza is yet to come.

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