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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
BBC Sport: Reeling from the blows
Jimmy Hill presenting Match of the Day in 1981
Remember this? Jimmy Hill in 1981
It has been losing the sport for years, yet the BBC could always argue it still had the star names and the programmes that everyone loved.

But in the space of less than a year it lost one of its most popular names, Des Lynam, and has seen the heart wrenched out of the football programme loved and watched by millions, Match of the Day.

But with executives promising that new talent would fill his shoes, the loss of MotD - which also has an associated magazine published by the BBC's commercial arm - was the worst blow yet.

The irony of the timing in June 2000 was that the corporation had just won a crucial court case against TalkSport Radio.

The station, run by the former editor of the Sun Kelvin McKenzie, had been describing its match coverage as live commentary. The commentators had been sitting in front of a television in London.

Gentler times

Match of the Day was born 35 years ago in the gentler days of television coverage. For decades the BBC and ITV were the only two players.

But with the arrival of the Premier League in 1991 (later rebranded the Premiership) and a cash-rich television competitor in the shape of BSkyB, that all changed.

Gary Linekar, the presenter of Match of the Day
Lineker: Won audience amid Lynam crisis
Greg Dyke, the BBC's new director-general, has made returning prestige events to BBC Sport one of his priorities.

In recent years BBC Sport has had to put up with commercial raiders making off with many events it regarded as its crown jewels.

Grand Prix motor racing, followed by the Ryder Cup, England's home rugby union internationals, some horse racing Test cricket and the FA Cup final have one by one gone to rival broadcasters.

In 1998, TV had the sole rights to broadcast the FA Cup Final, ending 35 years of the traditional head-to-head between the two major terrestrial channels - and ending hours of pub debates over which commentator was better on the day, John Motson or Brian Moore.

BBC Sport losses:
Premiership (recorded)
Grand Prix motor racing
Ryder Cup
England home rugby union
England Test cricket
The massive impact of this loss on the BBC's traditional broadcasting schedules could be seen no more clearly than on 20 May this year.

The corporation cancelled Saturday's Grandstand, the flagship sports omnibus, because it did not have enough quality sport to show.

It was the first loss of the programme in 42 years, with the exception of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales and annual public holidays such as Christmas.

The BBC has now won back live FA Cup games, bringing hope that the fortunes of BBC Sport will be reversed.

Lynam leaves

In 1999, even with a deal cut with Sky to allow the corporation rights to recorded premiership games, the star frontman Des Lynam decided it was time to go.

Faced with the fact that the BBC had only two live matches to show during the whole of the 1999-2000 season - the European Super Cup Final and the Uefa Cup Final - Lynam opted for ITV with its rights to live FA Cup matches, the FA Cup Final and the Champions League.

In an interview with the Independent before he left the BBC last year, Des Lynam also made little secret of his anger at the way Match of the Day had been treated in recent years by channel schedulers.

"The moment it goes out after 22.30, I start fuming," he said.

BBC Sport holds:
FA Cup final
British Golf Open
Euro 2000
2002 World Cup
2000 Olympics
"There are always a thousand reasons. The schedulers have other problems, they say.

"At 22.50, it will suit people coming in from the pub. But I am not interested in the schedulers' other problems."

Where does all this leave the BBC? In pain, but it will be seeking to promote the successes it still has.

The BBC has already got five year's worth of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in the bag, the British Golf Open and shared coverage of Euro 2000 with ITV.

It also has rights to the 2002 World Cup and the Olympics in Sydney later this year and is promising what could turn out to be almost saturation coverage of the event.

Furthermore, the BBC has launched its 5m BBC Sport Online site.

With 70 staff in London and the ability to draw on correspondents around the UK and the world, the BBC says that it has the potential to be the best general online sports service available.

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See also:

14 Jun 00 | FA Carling Premiership
BBC loses Premier League rights
25 Jan 00 | The Economy
Broadcasters battle for football
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