Sponsorship policy


In February 2009, the BBC Trust launched a public consultation on the BBC’s revised sponsorship policy. The Trust requested changes to the policy and relevant guidance following its editorial and fair trading appeal findings on the BBC’s broadcast of Sports Personality of the Year in December 2007.

This document sets out the Trust’s response to the BBC’s revised policy and submissions made as part of the public consultation. This includes details on how the Trust has incorporated submissions to the public consultation into the final policy and, where applicable, the relevant detailed guidance.

Below is the link to the BBC Editorial Guidelines site, where the revised Sponsorship Policy and Guidance have been published separately by the BBC:

Guidance on sponsorship of BBC on-air events


The BBC’s Framework Agreement and the BBC’s use of sponsorship

Annually, the BBC mounts a number of events (for example concerts and award ceremonies) which are held at external venues and broadcast on-air and on-screen. While costly to stage, these ambitious cultural, music and performance events reach audiences around the country and help to fulfil the BBC’s public purposes.

The Framework Agreement between the BBC and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport gives limited permission for licence-fee funded BBC radio, television or online services to be partially funded by certain "alternative means of finance" in order to reduce costs to the licence payer. A copy of the Agreement can be found here:

Framework agreement, PDF (133KB)

An example is sponsorship funding from third parties used as part of the costs of staging BBC events. This is permitted subject to criteria set out in a Statement of Policy approved by the Trust and Secretary of State. A copy of the Trust’s policy can be found here:

The funds from the sponsor may only be used for the costs of mounting the event, not broadcast costs, and there must be a clear separation between event costs and broadcasting costs. No programme on a BBC publicly funded service may be sponsored.

Complaints about Sports Personality of the Year 2007

In December 2007, BBC One broadcast Sports Personality of the Year from the NEC in Birmingham. The event was sponsored by Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd as part of a two-year deal using the Robinsons brand. There was also coverage on Radio 5 Live and bbc.co.uk.

Shortly after the broadcast, ITV plc and the commercial radio body RadioCentre lodged complaints about Sports Personality of the Year 2007 on editorial and fair trading grounds. They also alleged breaches of the BBC’s Royal Charter and the Framework Agreement. The complaints were initially addressed by the BBC Executive and not upheld.

Decision by the Trust regarding Sports Personality of the Year 2007

In July 2008, the BBC Trust published its findings on appeals regarding Sports Personality of the Year 2007. The Trust upheld several of the specific appeal points made by ITV plc and RadioCentre on editorial grounds and found that the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines had been breached.

One of the Trust’s key decisions was that the Editorial and Fair Trading Guidelines should be revised to place tighter controls on on–air event sponsorship. The BBC Executive has consulted separately on the revised fair trading guidelines, which came into force in April 2009.

BBC Executive response to Sports Personality of the Year decision

When the Trust published its findings, the BBC announced that it would sign no new contracts for the sponsorship of BBC on-air events by commercial bodies. In addition, contracts for sponsorship of BBC on-air events by commercial bodies would not be renewed, and the BBC sponsorship website which described sponsorship opportunities would not re-open. Existing contracts with commercial bodies would be honoured for the duration of those contracts, provided that the arrangements for sponsorship and coverage of the event were in accordance with the Sponsorship Policy mentioned below.

The revised policy regarding sponsorship of BBC on-air events (the "Sponsorship Policy")

The BBC Executive presented a revised Sponsorship Policy for BBC on-air events to the Editorial Standards Committee (“ESC”) of the BBC Trust in October 2008. The policy made it clear that the BBC would sign no new contracts for the sponsorship of BBC on-air events by commercial bodies.

The ESC accepted the revised Sponsorship Policy subject to a public consultation. The ESC agreed that sponsorship of the Sports Personality of the Year Event for 2008 could proceed in accordance with the revised Sponsorship Policy. The contract for commercial sponsorship by Britvic of the Sports Personality of the Year Event only ran up until 2008 and will not be renewed.

The revised Sponsorship Policy does not make any change to the pre-existing position on the following:

  • corporate support for BBC charitable initiatives such as Comic Relief or Children in Need;
  • BBC off-air activities and events: where appropriate, BBC off-air events may continue to be sponsored by commercial companies; and
  • on-air coverage of third party sponsored events, including sports events.

As part of its consideration of the revised Sponsorship Policy and the responses to the public consultation, the Trust confirmed with the BBC that it will come forward with detailed guidance on support for BBC initiatives such as Comic Relief and Children in Need. The BBC will publish this guidance shortly.

The consultation

The Trust’s consultation was an opportunity for the commercial sector to raise any questions or doubts about the revised Sponsorship Policy. Issues highlighted in the responses to the consultation were considered by the Trust and the Trust asked for additional changes it considered necessary to improve clarity and emphasis. Where appropriate, the BBC has also changed relevant sections of the Sponsorship Guidance to reflect the Trust’s recommendations.

The Trust has now approved the revised sponsorship policy and believes the new documents succeed in setting out both the spirit and the letter of the rules governing the BBC’s use of sponsorship funds to stage on-air events.

The Sponsorship Policy and Guidance now form a single document in two parts and the BBC is publishing this in its entirety. The key issues raised during the public consultation and the resulting changes to the Policy and Guidance are set out in section 5 below.

Responses to the consultation

Below is a summary of the main points the Trust took into account when asking the BBC to amend the policy after the consultation, and the actions we asked for as a result.

  • The scope, purpose and effect of the Sponsorship Policy - the Trust asked the BBC to make certain clarifications to the wording of the policy after this was highlighted as an issue in a submission to the consultation;
  • The guidance on fair mentions and/ or credits and whether these ought to be tightened - the Trust expects the BBC to follow not only the detail of the guidance governing the use of sponsorship for BBC events, but to ensure it follows the spirit of the guidance when mentioning or crediting sponsors. Any credits must make it clear that it is the event itself which has been sponsored and not give the audience reason to believe that a BBC programme or service has been sponsored;
  • Corporate sponsorship of charitable events and the rules on crediting or providing on-air coverage for such sponsors – the Trust asked the BBC to come forward with more detailed guidance on the use of corporate support for charitable events such as Comic Relief or Children in Need. The Trust has confirmed that the BBC will publish this shortly;
  • The distinction between programme and event costs - the Trust emphasised to the BBC that there must continue to be a presumption against converting any established programmes into events, and that event costs must never include costs related to the broadcast of the event. The Trust has asked the BBC to clarify its interpretation of this policy to reflect the view that event costs can only ever include costs which would be incurred even if the event were not broadcast;
  • Clarification of cost allocation rules - the Trust was broadly content with the BBC’s clarifications to the revised policy, however, it again emphasised the need to ensure clear separation;
  • Ensuring competitive impact is minimised (this was highlighted by issues raised concerning the BBC’s use of non-commercial sponsorship) - the Trust sought independent legal advice, and on the basis of this, we asked the Executive to clarify the wording of the policy and guidance in this respect to emphasise the importance of adhering to the Competitive Impact Principle when utilising alternative means of finance, including non-commercial sponsorship, and to ensure that any event funding should only ever amount to a proportion of the total event costs;
  • Connection and signposting between the Sponsorship Policy, the Trust’s Statement of Policy on Alternative Means of Finance, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines/ Guidance Notes for producers and programme makers and the BBC’s Fair Trading Guidelines - the Trust confirmed with the BBC that it is developing plans to improve access to the various sponsorship policy and guidance documents and to ensure these are freely available and linked to each other on the BBC’s website;
  • The rules on gifts and hospitality from sponsors - the Trust asked the BBC to review the guidance it provides to staff to ensure it is clear and fit for purpose with respect to the revised sponsorship policy and guidance.

The Trust does not normally publish responses from individuals. The Trust asked RadioCentre if it was happy for its submission to the consultation to be published and RadioCentre agreed. Their submission can be found below.