Football focus 

2 January 2002

For those who are interested in the World Cup from the presentation side, the 2002 tournament was going to bring a number of interesting issues.

Along with the usual battle of BBC v ITV, there were some new ones. Most obvious to the general public were the kick off times, ranging from 6:30am to 12:30pm, but most normally 7:30am, 10am and 12:30pm, due to the eight hour time difference between the UK and the host nations of South Korea and Japan.

It wouldn’t be the prime time schedules that would be wiped out – it was to be the daytime ones. Also worth noting, although probably missed by many, is the fact that the pictures were to be provided not by a broadcaster in either of the host nations, but a Swiss company, appointed by FIFA to do the work – Host Broadcast Services (HBS).

It was a tournament beginning on the back of the collapse of ITV Digital and its refusal to pay the Football League what they claimed they were owed, for the commercial network it must have been hoped that the events in the Far East could restore some pride to the ITV name.

Bidding for rights

Yet before the tournament had begun there were worries for those wanting to watch the tournament on television in the UK. Previously the rights had been sold by FIFA to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) in each country would then buy the rights for their nation. In the case of the UK, this has traditionally meant the BBC and ITV sharing the rights, just as they have done with all the tournaments from 1966 onwards.

For the 1998 competition, the BBC and ITV were reported to have paid just £5m (the price had been set in 1992) for the whole tournament, a total of 64 matches. Contrast this to the £5.6m cost of a single Premiership game to BSkyB under the deal for 2001-2004 (£1.1 billion for 198 matches over 3 seasons). Yet this time FIFA had sold all the TV rights to the German Kirch group for a very large figure.

Leo Kirch was clearly very keen to get as much possible back on his investment. Rather than go it alone and risk that one of them would be blacked out, the BBC and ITV co-operated and decided to bid for the rights together. They offered £55m for the 2002 tournament. Kirch Group wanted £170m and was determined to do everything possible to start a bidding war between broadcasters to buy up the rights.

Their problem was that the World Cup is classed as a ‘listed event’ under the 1996 Broadcasting Act. There was some confusion as to whether this simply applied to matches involving the home nations and the final, or whether it covered the whole tournament. It was thought a possibility that BSkyB could bid for all the rights, and then auction off the matches involving the home nations to a terrestrial broadcaster.

There were threats of legal action by Kirch, claiming that the act making the rights a listed event was breaching European Competition laws.

The BBC and ITV, along with the UK Government, claimed that the EU had given the list the all clear. Ultimately there was no challenge from Kirch, or any sign of a bid from BSkyB, but neither was there a deal with the BBC and ITV. There were successful deals with South America, and Germany, but nothing for the UK – the tournament might have been nine months away, but fans were getting a little worried.

Rights issues

Having rumbled on for over a year, England’s qualification for the tournament gave all sides an extra push and a deal was agreed. The figure was never officially announced, but reports of £120-150m were said to be accurate. However the broadcasters hadn’t just got the 2002 tournament.

They’d secured the rights for the 2006 tournament, to be played in Germany, with live matches during primetime, making them particularly attractive to ITV due to the large audiences attracted by World Cup matches.

So the rights issue had been resolved, yet for ITV it would be another issue that would get it into trouble with the ITC. It all started once the draw for the tournament had been announced.

After the friendly nature of the bid for the rights, once they were safely in the BBC and ITV’s hands, normal service between the two was resumed. It took until April to agree who would show which matches.

The final agreement seemed to look particularly good for the BBC, but not quite as good for ITV. Although the commercial network had secured the rights to England’s opening group match against Sweden, which crucially for them would be the only group match to be played at a weekend with the others kicking off on weekday mornings, and two of Ireland’s three group games, along with the opening ceremony and match, the BBC had a lot more.

The exclusive rights to the biggest mach of the first round England v Argentina, England’s other group game against Nigeria, along with the rights for an early evening highlights show, had all gone the Corporation’s way.

For ITV the consolation prize was the first re-run rights for the two England games shown exclusively by the BBC, allowing them to have the claim of allowing all the people who were at work a chance to see the matches.

Once the knockout stages began, it was agreed that the channels would go head to head by both broadcasting any matches involving the home nations live, almost guaranteeing the BBC the vast majority of viewers.

Outside of this the BBC would have first pick in the second round, ITV would have first pick in the Quarter Finals. No details were released of who would get the pick of the Semi-Finals, but it appeared to be ITV, unless the broadcasters had drawn out of a hat or something similar.

Scheduling errors

It wasn’t the biggest game of the tournament, even for the most dedicated fans of the World Cup it was a game that could be missed without worrying too much, particularly given a game that was being played after it. Yet the somewhat minor group game between South Africa and Paraguy managed to land ITV in some hot water. It was all to do with eight matches that clashed.

It goes like this. Each team has to play three games during the group stages. Due to a problem in the 1974 tournament (Germany and Austria knew that a 1-0 win for Germany would see them both through to the second round, Germany scored early in the match, and the rest of the game became a kick around, with both teams ensuring their progress) the final games in each group are played simultaneously, so that one team or another do not know for definite what they need to progress to the next stage.

To make sure that (other than when England or Ireland are playing) there is an alternative choice of viewing on BBC 1 or ITV, each company picked their group, and showed the most important match from it.

The other match was moved to BBCi, or ITV2. The ITC okayed this before the tournament. Channel 5 complained, and said that it should be allowed to buy these matches that were moved off to the other channels, but nothing came of this. ITV forgot, or didn’t ask, if they could move another game.

What the ITC ruled against was the moving of South Africa v Paraguy. On the day in question (a Sunday) there were four matches being played, rather than the usual two or three during the group stage.

The BBC had the rights to Argentina v Nigeria, which kicked off at 6:30am, and a later match at 12:30pm. ITV had the rights to South Africa v Paraguy, kicking off at 8:30am, and, most importantly, Sweden v England, kicking off at 10:30am, the only England match ITV would have exclusively live.

ITV decided to move the second half of the South Africa match to ITV2, so that they could do an hour of build up to the England match. Perhaps the worry by those at ITV would be that with injury time, the South Africa match might finish at around 10:20am, leaving little time for any build up, and little time for adverts before the England team emerged onto the pitch, which would have been somewhere close to 10:25am.

Given that this would be ITV’s biggest audience of the whole tournament, getting those adverts in was very important. So they moved the second half of the less important game, the ending of which was quite exciting, with South Africa getting a late equaliser to finish the match 2-2. It ended moments before England took to the field, so in terms of commercial thinking ITV made the right choice.

Ask the ITC

Of course they should have asked the ITC first, but if the ITC had said no, what would they have done then? Not the best of planning by FIFA – given that, in a lot of countries, the matches are shown on channels that have adverts to screen, and in the majority of those countries, just the one channel would be showing games, they perhaps could have scheduled the kick off times a little better, say 6am, 8:15am, 10:30am, 12:45pm.

Or perhaps they didn’t think of the television companies first – now that really would be a turn up for the books! That thought is cast in to doubt though through one example – England’s game against Sweden was originally scheduled for the 6:30am kick-off. It was switched with the Argentina v Nigeria match (which was in the same group), to give a more Europe friendly kick off time of 10:30am BST/ 11:30am CET.

So who was the tournament a success for? Well, apart from the Brazilian team (and others who did better than expected – the two host nations in particular), it would appear the BBC. Although the critics praised much of ITV’s coverage, the BBC wiped the floor with them whenever any direct comparison was made.

ITV’s lack of a quality big name commentator since the retirement of the late Brian Moore, along with their decision to select Gazza as a panellist appeared to backfire when viewers complained it was very difficult to work out what he was saying. Gary Neville didn’t help in that department either, nor did Terry Venables, or Ron Attkinson.

It’s unlikely that the phrase ‘What on earth are they on about?’ been uttered at the same time by so many viewers before. Ally Mcoist wasn’t exactly a shining addition, much better suited to joking about on ‘A Question of Sport’.

Add to this Des Lynam, an ex-BBC presenter who appears to have lost much of his charm since switching sides, and there wasn’t much hope in facing up to the BBC. In ITV’s favour were Gaby Logan, who did well hosting her first World Cup, and Jimmy Floyd-Hasslebank, whose amazingly strong dislike for the Germans was always amusing.

Special mention too for Bob Wilson, who has played second or third fiddle since Des’s arrival. Bob’s recent announcement of his retirement, although not unexpected, is a loss for broadcasting.

Since Des’s defection, Gary Lineker has, slowly but surely, become a confident, knowledgeable, perhaps even witty, anchor for football on the BBC (and now even for the golf as well). When joined by the well-worn regulars of Alan Hansen and the sometimes over dour Mark Lawrenson, there are the makings of a strong team.

The right team

With the addition of (amongst others) David O’Leary, Martin O’Neil, Peter Reid and the enthusiastic Ian Wright, the opposition didn’t have a chance.

Hanson and Wright were at the opposite ends of the scale, one writing England off early in the tournament, the other saying that the country could win it. Their debates were fascinating, and at other times hilarious.

Reid and Hanson couldn’t stop debating a controversial decision in an Italy match. It was football punditry at its best.

Having Peter Schmicheal as a panellist was a coup, an excellent way to contrast the over enthusiasm before England’s game against his home nation of Denmark.

By half time in that match, well he wasn’t looking so pleased (England won 3-0, in case you didn’t know, all of the goals coming in the first half). Having the services of master commentator John Motson, with Barry Davies as a second (flown back to the UK during the final week of the tournament to work at Wimbledon) was even more salt in the commercial broadcaster’s wounds.

Ray Stubbs did very well as a host of some of the coverage, although Lineker even struggled through when he had almost lost his voice.

Of further interest were the graphics – HBS provided a generic set, with the broadcasters able to add their own in the same style, for putting up the names of the commentators on their channel, promoting other games they would be showing, things like that.

Unfortunately these graphics were large and cumbersome, particularly the score and time check one that stayed on the screen throughout the game.

The BBC designed their own, in a lovely gold and black colour scheme. The signals came through from HBS for a graphic to be displayed, and viewers watching the BBC got the same information, presented in a much cleaner way, including the more compact on-screen time and score check. It was reported that the BBC were the only broadcaster in the world to be using their own graphics – they certainly looked much nicer.

Travels with my camera

There was one final nail in ITV’s coffin. Before the tournament, both broadcasters had decided to base their studios in London. The commentators themselves were in the stadiums, but the host and pundits were in London. The reasons suggested were that there would not be enough facilities to provide high quality coverage.

For the 1998 tournament, the BBC had based Des, Alan, Jimmy and co on the roof of the Automobile Club in Paris (complete with a lovely background view of the Eiffel Tower), whilst ITV hosted some games from the stadiums and other matches were anchored from a less-scenic Paris studio by Bob Wilson.

This time, the matches were covered by both from home for the first few games. However, the BBC had always given warning that they might base themselves in the stadiums were England to progress further in the tournament, so it did not come as a complete surprise when the corporation flew its top team – Lineker, Hansen, Wright and O’Neil – out to Japan for England’s Quarter-Final against Brazil and hosted the game from the stadium.

Despite England’s defeat in the match and elimination from the tournament, they stayed on for the corporation’s coverage of one of the Semi-Finals, and were there for the final, managing to get one of the (I’m sure very valuable) TV presentation studios at each of the ground for the games they were at.

Another problem for ITV was the massive number of people who watched the England matches played during the day at work, or took time off to see them elsewhere. The re-run of England v Argentina gave them 4 million viewers, the regular 7pm BBC 1 highlights show scoring much higher.

It appears clear whom the nation likes to turn to during an important national event (the coverage of the Queen Mother’s funeral and the Jubilee Celebrations proved this). The oldest broadcaster in the land gave the country some excellent coverage and ITV must know they are ripe for a beating when they go head to head with the BBC.

So it proved again, with between 3 and 4 times as many viewers choosing the BBC over ITV when given the option.

Clearly a winning tournament for the BBC, and that’s without even mentioning the outstanding work done by Radio 5 Live, or the quick, screen-clutter free, easy to use BBCi service available through Digital Satellite.

ITV might have snatched Premiership highlights, as well as having live Champions League games, but the ITV Digital farce, the widespread criticism of ‘The Premiership’ (for the number of commercial breaks, the quality of the punditry and the lack of actual match action in the programme) and the moving of that show back to a late night slot after its failure at 7pm means that the BBC have, despite the commercial broadcaster’s claims, once again become the home of quality football coverage on terrestrial TV.

The World Cup only served to make this even clearer. The corporation has bounced back by securing live FA Cup matches, live England home competitive games (previously mostly seen only as highlights on terrestrial TV), some of the away ties (ensuring the whole nation could enjoy a famous night in Munich on 1 September 2001) and some UEFA Cup ties.

There has been talk that the BBC are favourites to regain the rights for Premiership highlights, but for now football fans everywhere (particularly those without subscriptions to Sky Sports) will look forward to the occasions when an old favourite returns – ‘Match of the Day Live’.

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