More Sherlock, Less Rooney Has To Be The BBC's Future?

You've got to love Tony Hall, and I don't mean that in a condescending tone. The BBC is a national treasure, and the Director General is a trusted custodian who is putting a very brave face on a simple fact -- large audience sport has all but been and gone, as far as the BBC is concerned.

Today's article in The Guardian talks about the corporation wanting to usher in a new era of free-to-air sport, allowing armchair fans to get their fill of action without needing to sign up to a Sky or a BT TV subscription. His pledge is to show an extra 1,000 hours of sport on the corporation's channels, web site and apps each year. It's an admirable goal, and it comes with a list of things one can still see on the BBC.

To paraphrase, the current lineup includes Premier League highlights, of course, and some FA Cup football, including the final (shared with BT Sports) plus live coverage of the Lionesses, England Women's football team. There is, of course, Wimbledon, which legally has to free-to-air (alongside the FA Cup Final and the World Cup Final). There is some very encouraging talk about discussion with tennis, swimming and basketball authorities to add to the list. 

The problem is that the big sport on the BBC that will get the big audiences is mainly there because, as mentioned, it has to be. There is a list of "designated events" which Ofcom insists are broadcast free-to -air. I've just mentioned a couple, The Derby is another, so too are the Summer and Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Remember, this is free-to-air, not just BBC. Hence, The Derby and Paralympics are now on Channel 4 and the Rugby World Cup final is on ITV, while the football World Cup next year and in 2022 will be on the BBC, as well as ITV.

When you move away from sporting events that legally have to be free-to-air, you hit a snag. The big events are just about all on Sky or BT Sports. In fact, I interviewed BT Sports the other day and they will be making the point very strongly that theirs are the only channels where you can watch every UK major football tournament as well as The Ashes. For those who are not in the know, The Ashes is a huge UK and Australian cricket series, and BT Sport securing coverage from Sky Sports was a big deal.

Basically, sporting associations want to get a good pay deal and so the top football, rugby, tennis, golf and motor sport action is usually on subscription tv ,which pays so much money to show the action that even the team that comes bottom in the Premier League will earn nearly GBP100m just for showing up each weekend. 

If Tony Hall's move does come off and the BBC does get 1,000 hours of new sporting action that people want to see, it will be a great achievement. 

My fear is, as any realist can tell the BBC, that popular sport has long gone. The only big audiences the BBC will get for sporting events are there because the law requires them to be. 

I'm no expert, but I'd imagine there's more money to be had in shooting dramas where the corporation not only shows the programme but ends up sitting on highly lucrative rights it can sell around the world. In other words, Sherlock's a better bet than Wayne Rooney.

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