Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Free Televised Sport For All Bill

Here’s a good dinner party question. Imagine you are an MP. You put your name into the ballot to introduce a private member’s bill and, joy of joys, you have won! You get first shot at introducing a bill on a subject of your choice, and plenty of time to do it. This is a chance for you to make a difference! Even if your bill does not make it into law, it is still a chance to bring an important issue to public attention. What would you do?
This year’s ballot was won by James Wharton MP and he has decided to introduce a bill … on a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU! This is something which has been discussed ad infinitum, has been voted on, has been promised by the Prime Minister, and, frankly, an in-out referendum one day is inevitable. This strikes me as a waste of an opportunity. Many would argue it is an attempt to commit David Cameron so he can’t get out of it at a later date, but if Conservative MPs can’t trust their own leader, it does make it hard for others to do so. And surely there is a specific issue which is close to Mr Wharton's heart.
But I digress, the point of this entry is to imagine that I am in the Commons and I have won the ballot. This gives me the chance to introduce a bill on a topic which particularly annoys me – The Free Televised Sport For All Bill.
In this country we love our sport – we are keen followers of football, cricket, rugby, even darts and snooker. Our Olympics was a massive success.
But televised sport is dominated by the paid TV market, especially Sky, and you could find yourself having to fork out beyond £50 a month just to watch sport on TV.
For example, I learnt the rules of cricket by watching the test series between England and West Indies in 1976 on the BBC. But now a generation of children are growing up and, unless they have Sky, they will have no idea what cricket is - such is the dominance of Sky's hold on the game. By 2025, our test team will consist entirely of people who had Sky in their youth.
Let’s look at the facts. What do we have on free-to-view TV?
-No live Premiership football
-No live Football League or League Cup football
-Some (not all) England internationals, very few from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
-No domestic cricket, not even highlights
-Only highlights of England home cricket matches, nothing at all from overseas
-No boxing
-Only half of the Formula One Grand Prix shown live – shared with Sky
-Half of one major darts tournament – shared with ESPN
-Only one major golf tournament – The Open – with occasional highlights of others
BT Sport are launching a new channel soon – and much has been made of the fact that it is free with BT Broadband – but not everyone has computers.
To its credit, ITV is the only channel seeking to provide free-to-view sport. It has some FA Cup, some Champions League and Europa League games, French Open tennis and other bits and pieces. BBC have no interest in major sports (Sports Personality of the Year is often dominated by people who are never on the channel) and Channels 4 and 5 are too small.
There are some sports which are protected – Wimbledon, the Boat Race, the Grand National, the World Cup, the Olympics, the Six Nations – but can we really trust our politicians and TV companies not to hive these off at some future date?
So my Bill would not only protect our televised sport, but would expand it so that we can enjoy and support our top sportsmen and everyone can watch for free!
The rights for the following will only be sold to someone who commits to putting them on a free-to-view channel:
-At least one Premiership football package (presently 26 games live)
-Live coverage of all competitive matches by the Home Nations
-Live coverage of all England home cricket test matches
-Live coverage of domestic cricket one day finals
-Live coverage of all rugby internationals involving British teams (including the Lions)
-All world boxing title fights involving a British boxer
-The Ryder Cup
-Live coverage of all Formula One races
-Both the PDC and BDO World Darts Championships
That would be a start and would be under constant review.
These are the sort of things that were on when we only had three or four channels – in the era of multi-channel TV there would be plenty of room for all these. My Bill would not stop Sky, BT or anyone else bidding for these rights – but if they did so, they would have to make the event available on a free-to-air channel.
Of course, this Bill would have no chance of becoming law. Not by accident is Rupert Murdoch the most powerful man in British politics. The vested interests of Sky and others have huge influence over our MPs and they will be queuing up for favours to talk the Bill out. But it would bring to the surface the issue of British sport which is becoming more and more denied to the eyes of our people, unless they have deep pockets in tough times.
And the more people see sport, the more they will get behind our sports people, the more we will see encouragement and development of our younger sportsmen, and we will see the result in hopefully future British sporting success.


  1. I"m not sure this was ever the case. Certainly liver coverage of top division football matches was very rare in the 70s

    Live cricket coverage was frequently interupted for clashes with racing or Wimbledon. Most famously the BBC cut away from Graham Gooch on 299* to show the parade around the paddock before the 4:15 from Newmarket or whatever.

    I can't recall overseas Rugby internationals or Lions matches being shown live - and I'm fairly certain my rugby obsessive father would have had them on.

    Ryder Cup coverage was only partial - they often didn't show the morning Foursomes on the Fri/Sat for example.

    And lets not forget that the BBC dominance of sports coverage meant that there was no innovation of coverage. For years the BBC would only show live coverage from one end so half the time you could just see the batsmans arse!

    If I pay my sub to Sky I get a much bigger range of coverage (for example live County Championship, overseas and non England tests) and they have revolutionised the technical coverage of sports to the massive benefit of sports fans.

  2. Thank you for your comment. From 1984 to 1992 there were quite a few First Division games live on television - the most famous being the Liverpool-Arsenal title decider in 1989 where Arsenal had to win by two clear goals and did so in the last minute. This was far more exciting than Man City's last minute winner in 2012 because all we saw then was Garth Crooks jumping up and down on the sofa.

    Ad yes, I too remember missing Gooch's 300th run - I agree that BBC's coverage was far from perfect - but at least we saw the other 299. If an English batsmen scored 300 now, all we would get would be some Channel 5 coverage or, if it was an away test, a few seconds on the news.

    I agree with you that Sky have revolutionised sports coverage. My query was should Sky and the paid-TV market in general be allowed to dominate televised sport as much as it does, at the cost of depriving access to much of it to those on lower incomes?