Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 16:08 UK

Brown worry on football coverage

Gordon Brown: It's 'unfortunate' fans could not watch match

Gordon Brown has said it was "unfortunate" more football fans could not watch many of this week's World Cup qualifiers amid a row over TV coverage.

Just 290,000 people saw highlights of England against Croatia on Setanta after the broadcaster could not agree a deal to sell rights to ITV or the BBC.

Live coverage on Setanta's pay-TV channel was seen by 1.55m people, well below figures for previous games.

Games featuring Scotland and Wales were also only available live on pay-TV.

Many fans were angry they were unable to watch highlights of the games on an analogue channel.

'Answers'

When England lost to Croatia last November, more than 11 million people watched live coverage on the BBC.

Mr Brown said 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.

Setanta always look to sell on highlights
Setanta spokesman

"And that is something that I think a lot of supporters will want to have answers to."

Viewing figures for the highlights package of England's game was below those for similar matches shown in the past on the BBC, which have attracted audiences of up to 2.5 million.

Setanta decided shortly before the matches to show the highlights on its free-to-air channel, as well as highlights of Scotland's game, when it could not reach a deal with any other broadcaster for the rights.

'Not viable'

Setanta, which paid 5m for the rights to show the England game, said other broadcasters were unwilling to pay a fair price and said the highlights were available to 21 million homes via a variety of platforms.

It stressed its live audience for the match was the largest ever for a game on its channels.

To me it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what intentions have you got for the club you seek to take over
Andy Burnham
Culture Secretary

"Setanta always look to sell on highlights to enable fans to get what they want and from a business point of view as well," said a spokesman for the Irish broadcaster.

"But there was no offer they could accept that was financially viable."

The row over TV coverage has led to calls from some MPs for ministers to bring forward a review of so-called listed sporting events which are guaranteed free-to-air coverage of some sort.

But ministers have said there will be no review until watchdog Ofcom has completed its current analysis of public service broadcasting.

Meanwhile Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has warned the Football Association that the game risks losing touch with its core support if the ruling body does not make it harder for clubs to be taken over.

He has called on the FA to lead an in-depth look at how football finance is regulated.

He told the BBC: "Now I need to be clear that this is not an attack on foreign ownership of football clubs. To me it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what intentions have you got for the club you seek to take over, and more importantly what are your intentions for the wider health of English football."

Mr Brown congratulated all the home nations on their performances - giving special praise for 19-year-old Theo Walcott, who scored a hat-trick in England's 4-1 win against Croatia.




SEE ALSO
Concerns raised on club ownership
11 Sep 08 |  Football
ITV scores in FA Cup rights fight
30 Mar 07 |  Business
England defeat watched by 11.2m
22 Nov 07 |  Entertainment/Arts


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