Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Lawn Tennis Association ("LTA")


  As the governing body for tennis in Great Britain, the LTA's aims are clear. We are determined to ensure that this country becomes a great tennis nation again. To do that we need a vibrant network of accessible, affordable clubs with juniors and performance at their heart, which is why everything that the LTA does now is focussed on three key areas—performance, kids and clubs.

  The LTA currently works with the BBC in relation to its rights holding for two major international events:

    —  Home and away Davis Cup ties

    —  The Hastings Direct International Championships held in Eastbourne each June.

  As joint arrangers of the Championships, Wimbledon, the LTA also has a relationship with the BBC through its shared rights ownership of the tournament. Similarly, as joint owners of the Stella Artois Championships the LTA has a further relationship with the BBC as the tournament's rights holders.

  Finally, the LTA works very closely with many BBC departments including Sport, News, CBBC and marketing in its work to raise awareness and drive participation of tennis throughout Great Britain.


1.  Should the BBC have a duty to bid for certain sports events?

  It is the LTA's belief that as a public service broadcaster, funded by the licence fee the BBC has a very limited responsibility to bid for sports events in general. In our opinion any duty should be limited to the summer and winter Olympics and Paralympics and the Football World Cup. While there are events that clearly capture the imagination of the British public such as the Wimbledon Championships and the Grand National, it is our belief that legally insisting the BBC bid for these events essentially removes these events ability to operate in a free market. The LTA acknowledges that the relationship with the BBC as the host broadcaster of the Wimbledon Championships is excellent and has been mutually beneficial both to the BBC and the Championships.

  In the case of the Olympics, it is our view that this event is an international celebration of sport. The Olympic ideal embraces nations and nation's ideals and as a movement the Olympics transcend sport itself. For the large majority of Olympic sports they represent the absolute pinnacle of sporting achievement. For this not to be available via the BBC would be to undermine the very ideals the Olympic movement is founded on. Finally, the Olympic Games have the ability to inspire children throughout the country to take up sport and this should be encouraged wherever possible.

  In the case of the football World Cup, it is simply our view that as the nation's favourite sport and indeed as our national sport, the tournament finals should be available for all to watch. This does not include the qualifying rounds.

  Other than these examples, we find it hard as a national governing body to reconcile the idea of the BBC being legally bound to bid for sporting events. It is our firm belief that sport and sporting rights should be negotiated and sold on the open market to ensure a fair price and therefore ensure maximum investment into our sports is achieved. It is difficult to see the current listing of events as anything other than "nationalisation without compensation". We believe that the rights holders who are also the governing bodies of the sport are in the best position to determine the distribution of any rights fees. The current argument about the showing of test cricket on terrestrial TV evidences the maxim that when we are successful, everyone wants to watch but when we lose it can be consigned to "pay per view". Governing Bodies of sport cannot work on this basis—they have long term business plans that require underwriting from their sources of income, of which TV revenues play the most significant part.

  TV might inspire children to take up a sport but it can't keep them there. First class clubs, facilities, coaching and competition are the key to continued participation and they require ongoing funding.

  The arrival of digital TV for all suggests that policy makers should review the situation as it will be in 2020, not now. The ubiquity of the mobile phone is testament to the impact of technology on everyday life. At the moment there are 350 various TV channels available in the UK, there is an ever increasing trend to more choice not less.

2.  Is the BBC too aggressive in the way it bids for sports rights?

  The LTA can only speak from its own experience of dealing with and negotiating with the BBC on sports rights. At no point has the LTA felt the BBC to be too aggressive in the way it bids. The relationship has been built over many years and is one of mutual respect.

3.  Should there be an independent review of the way the BBC bids for sports rights?

  It is the LTA's view that the BBC currently has a suitable and appropriate level of governance. To add any additional layers would be unnecessary and bureaucratic, self-defeating and be to the detriment of sport as it would interrupt the market process.

  More appropriate would be a consideration of whether the BBC should, after digital crossover in 2012, establish a digital sports channel to ensure more sporting coverage, particularly for sports outside of those currently catered for on the main BBC1 and 2 platforms. There is real competition within the BBC itself at present between the various forms of entertainment. As a public service broadcaster the BBC has a duty to make scheduling decisions on a far more varied list of criteria than simply ratings. Can the BBC legitimately claim that sport, particularly minority ones, should be removed from the schedules in place of old black and white 1930s Hollywood movies or repeated programming, solely because the latter gets better ratings?

  Under the auspices of public service broadcasting, it might also be argued that the BBC has a duty to its audience and it's audience's health; in helping to get them up from the sofa and adopting a healthy lifestyle. Sport and coverage of sport clearly could form a huge part of that "call to action".

  The LTA would not support an independent review at this stage—there are many policy decisions required first.

October 2005

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