BBC sport staff snub Salford; Stubbs off to ESPN

Almost half of BBC Sport’s middle managers have refused to move to the Corporation’s new Media City in Salford, it is being reported.

And Ray Stubbs, the BBC football and darts presenter who has worked for BBC Sport for 25 years, will not be among the staff who have agreed to the move, as it was announced today that he has been signed up by ESPN to present the US-owned cable channel’s Premier League football coverage.

A string of senior production staff and journalists working on the BBC’s sport output have already turned down the generous relocation terms on offer.

Among the Salford refuseniks are Sports Editor Mihir Bose, James Porter, the head of sports news, and Gordon Turnbull, the head of radio sport. Dave Gordon, the popular head of major sports outside broadcasts, is also to stay in London, where he will work on coverage of the 2012 Olympics in a department run by Roger Mosey, the former director of sport, who is also not moving north.

Now, it is understood that less than 65 of BBC Sport’s 114 middle managers have agreed to re-locate, following a deadline on Tuesday. Of the senior executives previously asked, 15 out of 32 agreed to move, while 42 per cent of middle managers outside sport said they would go.

The move of BBC Sport, BBC Radio 5 Live and three other departments is due to take place in 2011, just a year before the London Olympics, the biggest sports operation in the Corporation’s history.

Those who have decided not to go to Salford now face being redeployed within other departments or made redundant. Only the global economic downturn, and BBC employees’ realistic concerns about finding alternative jobs, is thought to have persuaded as many to accept the move. The re-location of the departments had been forced on the BBC by central government, in an effort to spread the Corporation around the country.

More than 1,600 staff are affected by the move, plus 800 being transferred from the BBC’s existing Manchester offices.

The controversially generous relocation package includes the BBC guaranteeing to pay 85 per cent of the value of the employees’ current homes, paying up to £3,000 for “carpets and curtains” in new houses, as well as the payment of professional fees.

A month out from ESPN’s first broadcast of English Premier League football – they will debut by showing Everton v Arsenal on August 15, with a 5.30pm kick-off – the Disney-owned channel announced that he had hired Stubbs, the BBC’s Final Score presenter.

Stubbs’s career with BBC Sport, which included fronting Grandstand and a range of other sports events, began after he had presented On The Line, the BBC2 sports documentary strand, produced by BBC Manchester.

ESPN grabbed the rights to 46 live Premier League matches following the collapse of Setanta last month.

“Having been associated with the BBC for over 25 years this was always going to be a difficult decision,” Stubbs said. “But the opportunity of joining one of the world’s leading sports broadcasters on day one of the new ESPN channel in the UK was just too good to turn down. I would like to thank all my BBC colleagues for their support and friendship over the years.”

Lynne Frank, the managing director for ESPN in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said that the hiring of Stubbs “signals our intent to secure top talent to present our growing sports portfolio in this country”.

The Scottish Premier League on Thursday agreed a £65 million joint deal with Sky and ESPN to screen 60 live Premier League games each season for the next three years across the UK and Ireland.

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