Olympic rights, sport and the BBC

It's a big day for BBC Sport. The fact that we've won exclusive broadcast and digital rights to the next four Olympic Games - two winter and two summer games - means not just that Olympic action will be on the BBC into the 2020s, but that we have secured one of the last pieces in a portfolio of strategic sports rights which ensure that the BBC remains the UK's most popular sports broadcaster well beyond the present Royal Charter.

From Premier League highlights on television to Wimbledon to the Six Nations to the FIFA World Cup 2014 to Formula One to the Olympics - and that's by no means a complete list - we now have rights arrangements which stretch out for many years and which guarantee that sport will continue to be a central part of the diet of licence-payers across BBC Television, Radio and Online.

So much nonsense has been written about the modern BBC and sport that it's worth spending a moment setting the record straight.

First, we know that the public care passionately about sport on the BBC. Given the option, they overwhelmingly choose to watch sport on our services rather than on those of our rivals: the recent final of Euro 2012 in which the coverage on BBC1 gained six times more viewers than that on ITV1 is a good case in point. BBC Television currently shows just 2% of the hours of TV sport broadcast in the UK but that 2% represents over 40% of the hours actually consumed by the public. That's far more than any other broadcaster, including BSkyB. And when we have a sporting moment of national importance - think of England v Italy in the Euros, or Murray v Federer at Wimbledon - they turn to us in their tens of millions.

Second, we take our responsibility to meet that public expectation very seriously. People sometimes argue that sport is so widely available on British television that there is no longer an argument for the BBC using the licence fee to pay for sports rights. I couldn't disagree more. For decades, the public have valued the unique way the BBC covers sport: its technical professionalism, the quality of its commentary and analysis, the absence of interruptions for commercials. In recent years, we've backed up that traditional distinctiveness with a new burst of innovation both in linear coverage and via the BBC Sport website.

Like most other public organisations, we are having to live within a tight budget but those who claimed that Delivering Quality First meant that the BBC was turning its back on sport were very wide of the mark. Like virtually every other kind of output, sport has had to face some unpalatable choices. We have relinquished our remaining television commitments to horse-racing and successfully renegotiated our Formula One rights to create a sharing arrangement with Sky; although it is clearly not as attractive as retaining exclusive rights, this latter deal has kept half the races live on the BBC, broadly maintained the reach of our Formula One coverage and will save us more than £150 million over the lifetime of the contract - a significant contribution to our savings targets.

Of course, the BBC has always played a major role in broadcasting sport on the radio, and will continue to do so through long term deals covering all the major sports, including the iconic Test Match Special and the Ryder Cup.

Wherever possible, we've tried to keep the costs of renewal down: compare the recent near-flat renewal of Premier League highlights (now including BBC iPlayer rights) with the reported 70% increase in the live rights. But we always intended to protect the core of our rights portfolio and we set aside enough money to do so. To give you an idea of scale, our annual financial commitment to sport will remain broadly in line with our annual budget for domestic network news and current affairs.

What's gratifying about today's announcement is that it sees that strategy coming to fruition. Many people have been instrumental in securing our long-term position in sport, but I do want to pay special tribute to our Director of Sport, Barbara Slater, and our brilliant negotiator, Dominic Coles and his team.

Over the next few days, BBC Sport will begin coverage of the single most important sporting event in the history of the BBC. I know you'd like to join me in wishing the team every success in bringing the 2012 London Games alive for our audience. The great thing is that they - and all their colleagues in our brand new sports centre in BBC North - will head into the 2012 Games knowing that, notwithstanding the doom-mongers, that sport is here to stay on the BBC not for a year or two but for the long term.


More Posts