Barwick at centre of BBC row over TV deal

The BBC has suggested that it has been “punished” by the Football Association, who awarded the rights to England internationals and the FA Cup to ITV and Setanta in a £425 million deal, because its coverage of Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren’s England teams was “not as positive as it should be”.

According to a report by David Bond in today’s Daily Telegraph, the FA felt the BBC’s coverage of the national team was bordering on a “campaign”.

At the centre of the negotiations over the rights for England games and the FA Cup was the chief executive of the FA, Brian Barwick. Before moving to Soho Square, Barwick had been head of sport at ITV, after many years in senior positions at BBC Sport, where he recruited and helped to train “talent”, such as Lineker and Alan Hansen.

When working at Television Centre, Barwick was protective of the BBC’s former sports stars-turned-pundits. Under Barwick, attempts were made by BBC Sport executives to block investigations by Panorama into the investment interests of Hansen. When another sporting pundit was exposed by other media, Barwick defended him as “one of us”.

Barwick’s FA yesterday denied that the tone of the coverage of the England team was an issue in the contract discussions, although Bond’s report is certain to resurrect concerns about how effective and independent the BBC’s sports journalism can be when at the same time BBC Sport has to assuage the sensitivities of those sports organisations who award coverage rights.

Hansen told the Daily Telegraph last night:

“The idea of a campaign of negativity is piffle. I am broadcasting with guys who are desperate for England to win. It was Brian Barwick who told me when I joined the BBC in 1992 that I should tell it like it is. That is what we are renowned for doing.

“If a team is struggling we have to be honest and objective. There is no hidden agenda.”

There is no doubt that the switch – dubbed Snatch of the Day 2 – is a tremendous coup for the new head of ITV, Charlton-supporting Michael Grade, and for the Irish-based subscription sports channel, Setanta, headed by Trevor East.

Grade was persuaded to join the pitch, offering significantly more cash for the deal than the BBC-Sky bid, after the Tottenham-Chelsea FA Cup replay earlier this month blew apart ITV’s new drama, Mobile, in the ratings battle in a Monday night, primetime slot.

Under the new deal, ITV is to pay £275 million to show FA Cup and England home international games. Setanta’s £150 million investment is its latest attempt to take on Sky, having secured one-third of live Premiership games for its pay-TV service.

The four-year deal, which kicks in from next year, gives ITV England’s competitive home games, friendly away fixtures and first pick for FA Cup games. Setanta will show England home friendlies, under-21 internationals, the Community Shield and FA Trophy, as well as screening 17 out of the 31 FA Cup games televised each year. The broadcasters will show a semi-final each, and both will show the final live.

The deal far exceeds the current £300 million package shared by the BBC and Sky.

For those fans wanting to see all FA Cup and England games, as well as the Premiership, it will mean spending at least another £15 per month for access to Setanta on top of their monthly Sky package, which costs at least £35.

ITV will be hoping to bury memories of its Premiership highlights shows from 2001 to 2004, which were criticised for poor scheduling and presentation.

Barney Ronay’s commentary:

“You suspect the real loser in all this is the poor old FA Cup. Being bought by ITV is a bit like being signed by Middlesbrough; an admission that, just maybe, things might be winding down a bit. The magic may have long since begun to wane, but an FA Cup on ITV still feels wrong.
It’s like a supermarket own brand box of Frosties, or an incredibly cheap Korean car. It might look all right from a distance. It might remind you a bit of the real thing. But soon enough it’s all gone soggy in the bowl.”

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Post your views in the comment box below. Is the ITV-Setanta FA deal good or bad for football? Was the BBC unfairly critical of England team performances? Should TV analysis be “positive”?