When you work in an office environment (like I do) then you end up watching a lot of sport on your second monitor during the summer. This is doubly true during years where the Olympics or World Cup are held in appropriate time zones. My Masters degree coincided with the 2012 Olympics, and frankly I’m as surprised as you are that I have a Masters degree.
These days, though, it’s all about the cycling for me. Which, when it comes to the BBC, means coverage provided by a BBC sports journalist somewhere in an office with a microphone watching the feed from Eurosports (or occasionally ITV) because the BBC can’t afford the broadcast rights for the events. The exact same thing happens with the main events of most sports, with the exceptions of the rare occasions when the BBC decides it’s worth whatever cost for them to show it. That would be the Olympics, and football. Of course these rights are sold through the IOC, FIFA or the like – and therefore are at an astronomical price to the British tax payer. [As an aside, what is it with large sports organisations and corruption? Is it just an inevitable case of power corrupts?].
Not being privy to the internal budgets of the British Broadcasting Corporation I can’t speculate on how much of their budget is spent on these large events – but I guarantee you it’s a small fortune if the premier league is anything to go by. In fact the BBC is rapidly being priced out of large sporting events.
So, what would be different if I was in charge?
Forget the lot of them.
Any conversation about the BBC and its purpose inevitably boils down to this: Lord Reith’s declared purpose of “inform, educate, entertain” and the inevitable debate over what it means to be a public service, and whether that precludes pushing commercial interests. Personally, I have no problem with the BBC making a bit of money by producing commercially viable entertainments and selling them to overseas markets. America gets its Doctor Who and Top Gear, and we get a bigger budget to spend on other things. That’s fine. But when it comes to commercial sport the BBC is never going to manage to compete with a commercial enterprise which can sell adverts during big events. Every additional viewer of a large sporting event means that commercial providers like BT and Sky can bid even more for it – because they’ll make even more money back on ad revenues. The BBC can’t compete with that for the big events, so as far as I’m concerned they shouldn’t even try. The public get to see their large events anyway – because they’re going to watch them on the ad-supported channels anyway – and on the off chance that they don’t have access to those channels the BBC can continue its excellent radio and text coverage online.
Now that I’ve saved the BBC millions on their budget, what shall I spend it on?
I have a vision for what BBC sport could be. I can’t claim total credit, because I actually got the idea from the unlikeliest of possible places – the BBC itself. One of the best regular BBC shows is one that you’ve never heard of. It’s beautifully shot, well commentated, focuses on (largely) very British locations and promotes some more obscure events and regions. It’s called The Adventure Show, and the reason you’ve never seen it is that it’s barely promoted and is shown exclusively on BBC Two Scotland at dinner time for 10 nights out of the year. I highly recommend checking out the show yourself, but in a nutshell it consists of a presenter and a camera crew filming episodes around adventure sports. They go to small, interesting UK sporting competitions and film the stories behind them and show some of the highlights. Sometimes they even compete themselves. A good example of this is their Strathpuffer episode where they document a midwinter 24-hour mountain bike race in the north of Scotland (and if you watch very, very carefully you may spot my friend Cat competing in). The show is fantastic, and it doesn’t cost very much because all it requires is a presenter and a camera crew. Half the time the events probably don’t even charge the BBC to film them, because they’re glad of the publicity.
The BBC has national studios spread across the country. They have presenters, they have camera crews and they have the resources to broadcast on both television and online. What’s stopping them from relaunching a new BBC Sport channel showing amateur British sports across the country? And isn’t that what the BBC is for? We can inform and educate the public about sporting events they don’t know about, whilst entertaining them with fun stories and sporting competition. All the while performing a public service by giving exposure to events which might otherwise fly under the radar because there’s not a large enough existing audience for commercial viability. Football doesn’t need any help, but I’m sure British Archery would love to show their larger events to the public. I’m sure the national ice hockey or roller derby leagues would love to have their games on national television. Women’s sporting events can finally be shown in full, I’d like to see a bit more than just the barest highlights of the women’s six nations. There was supposed to be an olympic sporting legacy where people discovered new sports and got out there to try them – maybe a new BBC Sport channel can be the reminder and the gateway which lets them find local, exciting sports which might interest them.