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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Losing the FA contract
By Paul Armstrong
Match of the Day editor

Alan Shearer
Shearer and Lineker have always provided passionate punditry on England
Well, it's official. We and Sky have lost our rights to live coverage of the FA Cup and England home games from 2008 to a joint-bid from ITV and Setanta.

I'm not going to suggest it wasn't a blow for us, but I have to say the mood here is one of resigned sadness rather than shock or anger. This is partly because we suspected it was coming, but also because we understand the financial realities behind the announcement.

Unlike all the other broadcasters involved in this bidding process, the BBC is not a commercial organisation. We're funded from the licence fee, so our desire to broadcast national sporting events to the nation has to be balanced with the remit to broadcast not only other sports beyond football, but a huge variety of other BBC output across all platforms.

Much as we all lament the loss of something dear to our hearts, the sums simply couldn't be made to add up either for the BBC or Sky, with whom we bid jointly.

Had we tried to outbid our rivals, we in BBC Sport, as well as the wider corporation, would have been spending an indefensible percentage of our income on just one sporting contract. As a publicly-funded body, every decision made has to be accounted for on a value-for-money basis.

606: DEBATE
EU

ITV and Setanta, as commercial entities, must have calculated that the financial return from their new contractual venture will justify their outlay.

Any money we spend comes straight out of the licence fee and cannot be recouped through advertising or subscription. That's just a fact of life, and one which, for the most part, is outweighed by the benefits of editorial independence, no advertising breaks, and a name that is known across the world.

Again, I wasn't party to the negotiations, but it's probably no coincidence that the new chief executive of ITV is Michael Grade, who was our chairman here at the BBC until four months ago.

We know from his frequent visits to Match of the Day to watch Charlton away games that he's a big football fan, and capturing these rights has given him the splash he would have been looking for in his new job.

Meanwhile, Setanta, having made inroads into Sky's live Premiership territory, will be hoping to drive new subscriptions with the extra output they have bought.

One thing we believe, and sincerely hope to be true, is that we've done a good job with the FA Cup and England rights we've had since 2001. From Chasetown to Accrington, and Molineux to the Millennium, we've put our heart and soul into the FA Cup.

We and Sky have put cameras into every game up and down the country from the First Round onwards and covered an extraordinary array of live games. The excellent viewing figures we've enjoyed have, ironically, served to make the competition more attractive for other broadcasters.

And we've followed the soap opera that has been England from the highs of Munich and Beckham's free-kick to the more recent setbacks. And, despite accusations of cheerleading on the one hand, and being too negative on the other, our team have simply called it as they see it.

If anyone seriously thinks Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer want anything other than a successful England team, they should have been in our production office at half-time in last week's Andorra game. They rejoice when it goes well, and suffer when it doesn't, just like the rest of England.

Only with a lot of caps in a drawer somewhere at home, and the added insight and credibility that brings.

We will put our best efforts into the rest of the contract until it expires in the summer of 2008. And, much as we've loved working on the FA Cup and England live, we do have the comfort of the Premiership highlights contract until 2010 - and the World Cups in 2010 and 2014.

Losing that during Euro 2000 while simultaneously securing the FA Cup and England deal was the worst working day of most of our lives. At the time, I described it as "getting the icing but losing the cake."

This, while clearly a blow, is the opposite. Almost all of our week-to-week work on MOTD, MOTD2 (which didn't exist in 2000) Focus and Score is based around our Premiership contract. And the money which hasn't been spent on the FA contract will, we hope, be available to invest in other football and sports contracts as they come up.

Those of us who've been at BBC Sport through a number of these contractual upheavals know that nothing's ever as bad, or as good, as it first appears.

I have been known to quote Bob Dylan: "Money doesn't talk, it swears". Unfortunately, it does both, particularly in the modern world of sport, and indeed sports rights. But BBC Sport, and BBC Football, lives on!

SEE ALSO
ITV scores in FA Cup rights fight
30 Mar 07 |  Business


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