Athletics looks to make up with BBC

From Paul Kelso, The Guardian

UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner has moved to patch up his relationship with the BBC, visiting the commentary team at the world championships in Osaka to explain comments last week in which he lambasted their coverage as stale, tired and “stuck in the past”.

Those remarks went down badly among BBC executives who believe the problem lies with the sport itself and point to the many empty seats in Osaka as evidence.

Aware of the bad feeling, Warner explained his thinking to the senior commentators Steve Cram, Brendan Foster and Jonathan Edwards, all still influential within the sport. He said that his comments were part of a critique of the sport as a whole and that governing bodies, promoters and broadcasters had to innovate to recapture interest.

UKA’s rights deal with the BBC expires at the end of next summer and negotiations will open under something of a cloud. The BBC will be loth to let another broadcaster take over the coverage, however, because it is promoting itself as “the Olympic broadcaster” in its world championships coverage.

The problem is that, though popular at the Olympics, track and field audiences are dwindling. The men’s 100m final on Sunday afternoon had only 1.2m viewers, a 13% audience share, despite featuring the first meeting this year between Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay. The figures may justify the BBC’s decision to cut costs by basing its presenters Sue Barker, Hazel Irvine, Michael Johnson and Colin Jackson in London.

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