Even Bolt fails to spark broadcast interest

Thirty years ago, it was athletics, rather than tennis, which saw the BBC interrupt its evening news in mid-summer. But tomorrow, the Bislett Games in Oslo may not have any live television coverage in Britain.

Not even Usain Bolt can spark excitement among broadcasters.

The prestigious Golden League meetings, with their season’s-ending $1 million jackpot prize, have not attracted any broadcaster prepared to screen them, following the collapse last month of satellite broadcaster Setanta, the rights-holders in the UK.

Since the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s, and the record-breaking exploits of Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram – now the BBC’s lead athletics commentator – the annual Oslo meeting has been a highlight of the athletics season.

Just as this week, when the BBC delayed its 10 O’Clock News for Andy Murray’s late-running match at Wimbledon, Oslo often presented the sort of sporting spectacle that dominated the schedules. No more.

The Golden League is a collective run by individual European meeting directors. Their TV rights have been negotiated collectively by sports agency IMG.

Setanta was in the second year of athletics coverage, having bought the rights in Britain after Sky did not pursue its option due to disappointing audiences. Coverage of the opening leg of the 2009 Golden League, from Berlin, was among Setanta’s last live events.

IMG’s options for the strategically important UK market appear very limited. The BBC appears to have turned down the possibility this week, with Oslo clashing in the schedules with Andy Murray’s men’s singles semi-final at Wimbledon. “At the moment we are looking at possible coverage options but we have not made any decisions,” a BBC spokeswoman told the Guardian.

Track fans in Britain may be forced to use various online streaming options to watch the Oslo meeting tomorrow, perhaps hoping that by the time of next Friday’s Golden Gala from Rome, IMG may have managed to negotiate coverage with a TV station.

Click here for more recent articles on journalism, sport and sports journalism

SJA MEMBERS: Make sure your profile details are up to date in the 2010 SJA Yearbook by clicking here