Protecting Sport’s Crown Jewels

Posted on: 26 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The list of sporting events reserved for free-to-air television is to be reviewed, according to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham.

Burnham told the Royal Television Society conference in London it was time to look at whether the right events were protected to serve the public interest, following Setanta Sports’ refusal to sell highlights of the England football team’s fixture in Croatia earlier this month.

The list of so-called sporting “crown jewels” was last reviewed 10 years ago when Test match cricket was controversially removed from the coveted list.

Mr Burnham says it was vital the list “moves with the times and people’s tastes” and that sports broadcasting was “one of the most powerful areas where that sense of community through television is most profoundly felt.”

A List Events

Olympic Games

Fifa World Cup Finals (final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations)

European Football Championships (final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations)

FA Cup Final

Scottish FA Cup Final

Wimbledon (finals weekend)

The Grand National

The Derby

Rugby League Challenge Cup Final

Rugby World Cup Final

“It is because I believe in television’s social role – its power to include and involve – that I continue to believe resolutely in the principle of a protected list of sporting events set by the government,” says Burnham.

“But it is also important that this list moves with the times and people’s tastes, ensuring that TV continues to bring the nation together and build community.”

In 1998, the government added certain events to the list of crown jewels or A list events – those deemed too important to be restricted to people with satellite or cable television.

They included the European Football Championship Finals which Spain won in convincing fashion this summer, the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final and the Rugby Union World Cup Final.

Already on the list were events including the Olympic Games, the Wimbledon Tennis Championship and the Grand National. Domestic cricket was relegated to the B list, allowing subscription broadcasters to bid for the right to screen matches, provided there were satisfactory arrangements in place for secondary coverage by a television broadcaster.

Burnham says the independent review would “weigh the public interest with the demands and discipline of the market and the implications for the funding and development of individual sports.”

Recently, a row broke out over the screening of football World Cup qualifiers, particularly England’s away game in Croatia. Paid-for channel Setanta, which owned the rights to the match, failed to agree a deal to sell its highlights package to the BBC or ITV.

That meant just 290,000 people saw highlights, compared with audiences of up to 2.5million in the past. After heavy criticism Setanta agreed to screen the highlights programme “free” on their subscription channel but many fans were angered at being unable to see the 4-1 victory – England’s best performance for some time.

The head of the Football Supporters’ Federation, Michael Brunskill says he’s pleased the review is finally taking place after 10 years of sport on satellite television.

B List Events

Cricket Test matches played in England

Non-finals at Wimbledon

Six Nations Rugby matches (involving home nations)

All other Rugby World Cup matches

Commonwealth Games

World Athletics Championship

Cricket World Cup (finals, semi-finals and matches involving home nations)

The Open Golf Championship

The Ryder Cup

“Football is our national sport and any fan will tell you he wants to see the national team play,” says Brunskill.

“All competitive games involving home nations should be free to air in that country, it makes sense doesn’t it?”

“I’m sure fans in France, Spain, Brazil and Argentina are all free to watch their country play so why aren’t we, it just seems like madness to me.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown also added his backing to the review and admitted he sympathised with supporters’ concerns.

“It is perhaps a little unfortunate that large numbers of people were not able to see the match live,” he said.

The culture secretary also said the government would speed up the ongoing review of public service broadcasting.

Mr Burnham said more details about the review would be announced shortly and the results would be expected some time next year.

Ofcom is currently running a consultation, but Mr Burnham said that rather than wait for its recommendations in the New Year, the government would press ahead now with discussions about possible changes to policy.

Among the proposals is a plan to share the BBC's licence fee revenue with other commercial broadcasters like ITV and Channel 4.

“All options are open at the moment, but it is important that we are all prepared to accept we have to make trade-offs,” Burnham added.

Ofcom has warned that without changes to funding, the BBC could become the only provider of regional and children's programming - something which would be detrimental to broadcasting as a whole.

But Burnham finished by saying "Public service broadcasting is not fatally damaged. Ofcom's report is a prescription, not the last rites.”

Do you agree that free-to-air sport needs to be reviewed? What sporting events would you protect? Should all England football internationals be free-to-air? Did you miss out on the England-Croatia match?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatively, share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

Share with friends


You need to be signed in to rate.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned!