By Alan Baldwin
The BBC plans to cut 35 million pounds from its sports rights budget with some events likely to be dropped from free-to-air television in Britain, the corporation said on Wednesday.
The BBC is tasked with saving 150 million pounds to address a shortfall caused by a drop in TV ownership, fuelled by a loophole which allows viewers to watch BBC iPlayer without a licence.
The announcement did not name specific sports, but the BBC has already handed live coverage of golf’s Open Championship to Sky Sports.
“Meeting this savings target will be tough, particularly given the high levels of inflation in the market,” said the BBC in a statement.
“We therefore anticipate this will lead to the loss of some existing rights and events.
“We have already made some tough choices which have contributed to the savings, for instance around the Open golf.
“However, we have also recently secured a series of important rights – including Wimbledon, Premier League highlights, live coverage of Euro 2016 and 2020
football championships and Six Nations rugby shared with ITV.”
The BBC in 2011 agreed a new deal to 2018 that ended the corporation’s status as exclusive television broadcaster of Formula One in Britain, home to most of the teams and birthplace of reigning triple world champion Lewis Hamilton.
It now shows half the races live, with highlights of the rest. Pay-TV channel Sky broadcasts all the races on their designated F1 channel.
“I hope the BBC continue,” Ecclestone said last August. “We’re not interested in the money, we are interested in entertaining the public and doing a service. That’s what we are here for.”
Media reports have put the current BBC contract at 25 million pounds a year, compared to the 40 million they paid when they had the sole rights.
The Open, like the Wimbledon tennis championships, has long been regarded as one of the ‘crown jewels’ of British sport and the decision to remove it from the shrinking list of free-to-air events was a controversial one.
The original deal, announced by Open organisers the R&A in February, was for Sky to have exclusive live rights for the major championship from 2017-2021, with the BBC showing highlights and broadcasting radio coverage.
The BBC subsequently asked to be released from its contract a year early, meaning Sky will step in to cover the 2016 event live from Royal Troon.
“Wherever possible we’re targeting savings by creating a simpler, leaner BBC. But cuts to budgets for programmes and services are unavoidable,” said BBC director-general Tony Hall.