Not our fault, squire 

1 February 2001

It isn’t often that my interests in American football and television meet and cross. Yet they did on 24 October 2000. What follows is a tale of intrigue, blame and counter-blame.

Normally Channel 5 show tape-delayed coverage of the Monday night National Football League (NFL) game on Tuesday, or more accurately early Wednesday morning. However, World Series baseball meant that they opted to show it live on this occasion. This was trailed for weeks beforehand with the promise of full coverage and special guests. They couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic game – from being 30-7 down against the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets tied the game at 37-37 with less than 15 minutes to go. Overtime beckoned.

Only one thing. Channel 5 chopped the coverage off in favour of the scheduled news at 6am.

Coverage of live sport has always caused schedulers difficulties and, whether the decision is taken to stay or leave the coverage, complaints will arise. Generally the policy, through experience, has been to stay with the sport as long as possible. In this case the audience would have stayed up all night to watch a four-hour long programme only to have been denied the conclusion. However, this choice is perfectly within the powers of the company. Or so I would have thought.

I wrote to Channel 5 to question their decision and ask whether they intended to show the missing coverage at any time. Their reply surprised me – apparently this was entirely the fault of the big bad nasty old ITC. Channel 5 claimed that they had to show a set amount of news throughout the week as part of their licence agreement and they had no discretion in this case. They had “no plans” to air the missing portion.

This fobbing off may have worked for most of their complainants. In my case I went to the ITC website to try and locate the Channel 5 licence to check this claim. One problem – it isn’t there – you have to fork out ten pounds to get it on pieces of paper. Undeterred, I spoke to the ITC themselves and they undertook to verify the claim. Or so I thought.

I’ll admit it probably isn’t the kind of question they are used to, but it took three attempts to get the ITC to understand the question despite it being plainly stated. Firstly they thought I was asking whether the decision taken to cut the football coverage broke the ITC Programme Code. Obviously, I wasn’t and it doesn’t.

Secondly they thought I was asking whether this decision broke the licence terms of Channel 5. Obviously, I wasn’t and it doesn’t.

Finally they confirmed that continuing showing live sport coverage in these circumstances would not break the licence terms. For live sport the news can be delayed as an exceptional event if any channel considers it to be so – in other words it is entirely their decision. As it should be.

So what does this show? Charitably, I can bite my tongue and say it was a misunderstanding by Channel 5 of its own licence terms and they weren’t trying to shift blame. They did, in the end, repeat the missed coverage several times in the following week. Let’s see what happens in a similar situation next time and whether their commitment to American sports really is anything beyond overnight elastic-length filler material.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Ed Burek 6 April 2017 at 8:46 pm

Ah yes, the infamous Jets-Fins Monday Night fiasco. A frequent poster on the NFL UK Forum (of which I also happen to be a member) has produced a blog documenting the history of American Football on British television, and this episode is a particular highlight of said incident. It’s one of the more remarkable episodes in televisual history on both sides of the Atlantic, but for very differing reasons. In America the game is regarded as one of the very best remembered Monday Night Football broadcasts in its entire history, but here it is famous only for its notoriety, on the back of Channel Five’s frivolous attitude regarding the treatment of live sport on that channel. Perhaps this may be a reason why Channel Five has never been highly regarded in the field of sports broadcasting, even at the best of times – although the rotating-door policy of ownership may also be a contributory factor.
After all, they have bit of previous – one year previously, in June 1999, they had to pull out of showing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres, which had gone into double overtime, to go to the news desk. All of which meant that British NHL fans and other insomniacs missed out on seeing one of the most controversial incidents in NHL history, namely Brett Hull’s infamous “no-goal” that won the game, and therefore the Cup for Dallas. Instead, there was a hasty apology from the ashen-faced presenters Richard Orford and Todd Macklin, then it was immediately on to the news bulletin as scheduled. Irony of ironies, Dallas would reach the Stanley Cup Finals the very next season, that series would once again take six games, and once again Game 6 would go into double-overtime. The difference was that Channel Five showed the game in its entirety, right down to the trophy awarding ceremony.
And Dallas lost the game.

Jeremy Rogers 6 April 2017 at 10:48 pm

Of course overnight sport is long gone from Channel 5, replaced by a completely elastic filler: roulette

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