Yesterday, BBC Sport announced that it had retained all of its live radio commentary rights to the Premier League for next three seasons. Holding onto its flagship commentaries would have been a priority for Radio 5 live, given that it has seen its stranglehold loosened in recent years by Talksport and Absolute Radio.
I have been critical of BBC Sports’ television strategy in recent years, especially with regards to its public service obligations, but the quality of its radio coverage is second to none in the UK. The Premier League does not need the exposure, but football fans deserve the quality programming that 5 live produces.
However equally important is the news that BBC Local Radio will broadcast every ball of every county cricket game played in England this season, with all commentaries available online and some transmitted nationally on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra.
Promoting local sport
With no domestic free-to-air television coverage, cricket needs local radio to promote the country game, keeping fans informed and encouraging them to come along to matches. Without this network, the fortunes of the counties would suffer and this would ultimately undermine county cricket’s ultimate goal of supporting a competitive English national team.
It is unlikely that a commercial broadcaster would have the resources or the motive to do what the BBC is doing with its local radio stations. The benefits are so obvious that it begs the question as to why the corporation was so keen to slash budgets last year, much to the concern of sports like cricket and rugby league.
The proposed cuts were universally unpopular among listeners and some were eventually scrapped, although there was still a reduction in sports programming and a knock-on effect on local sport. For example, the London Rugby League show was cancelled on BBC London 94.9 – something that will hamper the Rugby Football League’s attempts to spread the game in the capital.
Channel 6 the future?
The Non-League Football Show could have been another casualty, but was saved and is now broadcast nationally on BBC Radio 5 live – again, a perfect example of public service broadcasting.
Premier League football and Test Match Special are incredibly important programmes that the BBC should fight tooth and nail to keep, but its influence over local sport and less popular events should not be underestimated.
Hopefully Ofcom’s plans for a network of ‘channel 6’ stations on Freeview will eventually be able to provide a television outlet for local sports shows (although live sport is unlikely), but until then the BBC is a vital platform and its budget should be protected