Match of the Day heads towards 50
Today marks a very proud moment for BBC Sport with the announcement by the FA Premier League that we have extended our TV highlights contract until the end of the 2015/16 season. This is one of BBC Sport's key contracts and our new deal will see 'Match of the Day' celebrate its 50th birthday. We know how much licence fee payers value the programme and it remains one of the BBC's best-loved and iconic brands. We've seen audiences for Match of the Day grow in recent years in conjunction with our extensive football coverage on 5 live, the market-leading BBC Sport website and via our regular sports news bulletins.
Over the last 12 months there has been plenty of discussion about BBC Sport's relocation from London to the north west of England but more recently the spotlight has fallen on sports rights and the question being asked by many of you - how can BBC Sport with its reduced budget hope to compete for the best sport rights? You may have seen the article in the Guardian which posed exactly this question.
Today's announcement is a timely and very clear response to that question. In a nutshell our strategy is to be the home of sporting moments that unite the nation and I hope we've demonstrated this through our other recent acquisitions. To add to our renewal of the Premier League TV highlights we have also secured:
• Wimbledon Championships to 2017: extending our partnership with the AELTC to the 90 year mark, the longest ever in the history of sports broadcasting. Our coverage of this iconic event is complemented by our broadcast of the AEGON Championships from The Queen's Club (to 2017) and the ATP Tour Finals.
• Six Nations Rugby Union Championship to 2017: a tournament that every year brings the nations of the UK together in a popular yet fiercely competitive way, quite unlike anything else the BBC does.
• Open Golf Championship to 2016: over 40 hours of HD coverage will be shown this year delivered by in excess of 60 BBC cameras located around the Royal Lytham & St Annes course. This contract sits alongside a three year agreement for coverage of the Masters and a four-tournament deal for the Ryder Cup through to 2018.
• Euro 2012 & Fifa World Cup 2014: the two biggest international football tournaments will both be broadcast live across the BBC's TV, radio and online services.
• Formula 1 to 2018: the new shared rights deal is bedding down with strong audiences for both the live races and extended highlights.
• London Olympics 2012 & Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014: two major international sporting events both on UK soil over the next two years.
• World Athletics Championships: a deal which includes the return in 2017 of the world's elite athletes to the magnificent Olympic stadium in Stratford.
• Test Match Special to 2019: a unique part of BBC Sport's output for over 50 years. Distinctive, innovative and full of wit and charm, completely at home in a digital age. This season we are also providing live commentary every week of county cricket matches on 5 live sports extra.
• Rugby League Challenge Cup to 2016: continuing a successful relationship with the sport that extends now for over half a century.
• London Marathon to 2018: one of the most important events in the athletics calendar and an integral part of BBC Sport's cross-platform strategy. We have also extended our rights to cover the Great North Run to 2018.
This is not a comprehensive list as there are many other sports that provide genuine breadth to BBC Sport's rights portfolio and are much loved by audiences - Football League highlights, snooker, darts and MotoGP are just a few such examples.
With a finite budget our aim is to secure the most iconic and treasured events for the longer term. We believe that the BBC has a compelling story to tell rights holders about what we can bring to their sport; and that goes beyond just paying a competitive rights fee. The exposure that the BBC offers a sport is unrivalled by any other broadcaster in the UK - the 13 million-plus unique browsers of our sport website every week, the 6 million-plus listeners of 5 live, our extensive sports news coverage and the buy-in from across the breadth and depth of the BBC's services.
I was shown some research recently that also brought home this point - in the digital world where 24-hour TV sports channels proliferate, the BBC may have accounted for only 2% of total sports broadcast hours last year but we delivered over 40% of total sports viewing hours.
So there is now huge choice for audiences and we know from our research that licence fee payers expect to see high quality sport on the BBC. But a reduced budget should not be seen as a weakened commitment to sport - the BBC will be spending more than £2 billion on sport over the next five years.
We are also very privileged to have received a significant investment recently in order to build our new production base in Salford. Match of the Day, Football Focus, Final Score, 5 live Sport, our sports news output, the BBC Sport website, the Red Button and connected TV services are all up and running. Even our big outside broadcasts - including the London Olympics and Euro 2012 - could not happen without the critical back engine in Salford.
BBC Sport's commitment to serious and robust sports journalism is an integral part of our future strategy. If you are reading an article on the BBC Sport website, watching a sports bulletin on the News Channel or listening to one on the World Service, the production will be taking place from the new flagship 'BBC Sport Centre'. The BBC Sport Centre has been configured to put the production facilities on show - as the on-screen backdrop and visitors to the site will testify. When you next catch a news bulletin, look at the screens behind the presenter to see all the live sports feeds coming in from every corner of the globe. The global weekly reach of the BBC Sport Centre is now well in excess of the 100 million mark - we hope you like the new look.
We have been treated to some fantastic football in recent weeks. With all the drama and tension of the final day of the Premier League, the Football League play offs and the Champions League final it might be easy to forget that another major football tournament, Euro 2012, kicks off in a little over two weeks time. BBC Sport will again be providing extensive coverage on BBC TV, radio and via the BBC Sport website.
There is a lot of sport to look forward to on the BBC in the coming months and of course the greatest show on earth comes to London in just 63 days' time. Why not find out more about the Torch Relay and the 2500 hours of sporting action we have on offer...
BARBARA SLATER IS THE DIRECTOR OF BBC SPORT