Sunday, 17 November 2013

An Open Letter to the BBC Trust and the Football League Show

By Andy Roberts,

I am writing in an optimistic attempt to right a baffling wrong. Four and a bit years ago, BBC One manfully took on the apparently thankless burden of broadcasting highlights of all those difficult fiddly bits of football beneath Her Majesty's Glorious Premier League.

ITV once had a go at it; with a stark honesty they named their show The Championship after the FA and Coca Cola's brave rebranding of The Best Second Tier Division In the World (tm). Their show contained extensive highlights from the Championship while giving just a cursory nod to the Football League's embarrassing undercarriage; briefly debuting the goal clips from Leagues One and Two.

In 2009, when Aunty took on the responsibility of the less glamorous divisions, encumbered as she is by a heavy public service remit, supporters of lower league clubs were buoyed by the notion that they might be afforded a less thrifty share of the airtime. This notion was reinforced by the exciting news that the BBC were giving the new programme the collective and inclusive title of The Football League Show.

This optimism was short-lived, as it became clear that 80 - 90 per cent of each programme would be given over to the Championship, with (most of) the goals from Leagues One and Two unceremoniously shoved to the back end.

So BBC Trust, we don't want you to worry too much about our usual share on the Football League Show, we got used to that pretty quickly. League Two footballers on Twitter can often be found joking about falling asleep before the goals they scored are broadcast. We also look forward to the rare appearance of the unfailing enthusiastic (or unapologetically patronising) Mark Clemmit at our grounds, as it guarantees a larger share of the Football League Show for our beloved side. It's part of the fun.

What we REALLY struggle with though, is the apparent total disregard we're shown in an international week when the Championship is not in play. We're not expecting an hour of extended highlights each... We're more aware of our standing in the world than that. But we do find it enormously difficult to understand why, just because the Championship isn't happening, the BBC thinks that the other two thirds of the Football League have suddenly become disinterested in seeing the goals from their teams' games on the Football League Show.

A simple 30 minute show, with straight-forward goal highlights from most games and a little snippet from Clem or somebody similar (or entirely different)... There must be room for that?

Thank you for listening.

A retired football commentator, aged 33 and a half.

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Thanks for contacting us regarding The Football League Show. We’re naturally sorry to learn of your disappointment that The Football League Show wasn’t broadcast this Saturday .

This is a contractual issue in that the current broadcast contract with the Football League, which began this season, stipulates that the BBC can only produce a Football League Show on Saturdays on which there is a Championship fixture list.

As this was an international weekend, there were no Championship fixtures and therefore there was no Football League Show.

However, the BBC reported in detail upon all the day’s football results across BBC Radio 5 Live, on the BBC Sport website’s Football pages, in the ‘Sportsday’ programme and news bulletins on the BBC News channel and elsewhere.

We hope this clarifies matters and please know that we registered your comments on our audience log. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints

The morning after dispatching my missive off to TBFUTH, I mooched about on the internet a bit, and found a number of unconfirmed posts, tweets and blogs suggesting that it might be a contractual issue. And that was that.

It raises a lot more questions than it answers for me though. There are probably bigger, more important issues in football that are more deserving of our time than this, but I'm still going to pose the question.

Why is it in the contract? Clauses like this are usually thrown in for somebody's benefit, but whose? Here are some possibilities:

The BBC: an enormously unlikely scenario is that the BBC herself asked for this to be in the contract, so they wouldn't have to put time, effort and money into shows that few people would watch.

Sky: they show L1 and L2 goals in an unhelpful, unstructured and haphazard manner on Sky Sports News, so it's not entirely out of the question that a clause was thrown in to appease Sky. Again, it seems unlikely, but I'd never put anything past Murdoch and his lawyers - they didn't get where they are by sharing.

Football League: they're the only other directly related party, but I'm struggling to come up with a reason that they would want it in the contract, apart from to protect their interests with other parties (like Sky, above). Maybe they want more money out of the Beeb, and this is their leverage - perhaps the rights to broadcast League's 1 and 2 independently only comes with the premium package and the BBC only paid for economy. If so,they're probably over-valuing the draw that our divisions have. Besides, the BBC is not currently in a place to splurge money on piffling special interest things like the lower reaches of the Football League.

Maybe it's not a contractual clause as such, but just lazy (or overly specific) wording in the contract that has had an accidental effect of preventing the BBC from broadcasting on non-Championship weeks. That being the case, you'd hope they'd iron that out when the contract is renewed.

Without speaking to somebody inside the BBC, I doubt we'd ever find out for sure the reasons for this frankly daft scenario that doesn't appear to have any clear winners. All we can do is hope the BBC are aware that sufficient numbers of people are unhappy with it that they would do whatever they can to solve it when next they negotiate their contracts.

A final note to give due credit to the BBC for responding, and doing so pretty swiftly. This was a fairly wayward internet post that was tweeted in the vague direction of the BBC Trust, so it's encouraging to see that they take this kind of feedback seriously.

Andy Roberts

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