Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)


Mr Paul Vaughan, Mr Allan Munro and Mr David Moffett

  Q340  Lord Peston: To take an obvious example, each of you is involved in the international game, which is worth money. In a sense, it is an asset, is it not? Is that written into how you are set up? Excuse my ignorance about these things.

  Mr Moffett: It is written in our constitution that we will foster the game—and I cannot remember the exact wording of it—right across the game, from community game all the way up to professional game, and that we exist to promote and foster rugby as a sport.

  Q341  Lord Peston: That is in—if I may use the expression—your "terms of reference".

  Mr Moffett: Yes. Absolutely.

  Q342  Lord Peston: Does that apply to the English game as well?

  Mr Vaughan: Yes.

  Q343  Lord Peston: It is on that basis that you retain the right to sell to the television industry, is it?

  Mr Moffett: Yes.

  Mr Vaughan: Yes. I think it is also worth pointing out, certainly within the English game, that we have just short of 2,000 clubs and only 12 of them have any interest to television.

  Q344  Lord Peston: That is really what I was leading towards.

  Mr Vaughan: And the national game, the international game.

  Q345  Lord Peston: The ones which have an interest to television nonetheless do not get the total amount of revenue flowing.

  Mr Moffett: But even within our similarity in the way we are set up there is a huge difference. For example, England has an ongoing problem with its clubs in the governance of the game—which I know they are addressing. It is very difficult. Scotland centrally contracts their players and that is a big argument at the moment in rugby as a whole. I was running New Zealand rugby as the chief executive when the game went professional and we put in centrally the contracting of players. It is the single reason why the All Blacks, I think, are doing so well at the moment, because they have had much more control of where they are going. But, to get that control, you also have to have money, and you have to have assured sources of income. I do not know what the premier league division of television income to other sources of income is, but I would say pretty high. In our case, it is round about 33 per cent, and our other main sources of income are sponsorship and also ticket money and hospitality. These guys do a much, much better job than we can, because there is a different market. We do try to compete with each other but there are huge differences between us in the underlying way in which the game is governed and run in our countries.

  Q346  Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: In so far as there is a decreasing amount of rugby union football on free-to-air television, I wonder whether you are assessing the state of public opinion about this or whether you have complaints from the public saying, "Can we not have more?"

  Mr Moffett: We had some complaints when Sky won the European Cup rights from the BBC. Our fans, once again, are slightly different demographically. We are a game that is fundamentally a game for everybody—you know, it is a working man's game in Wales—and they felt that was going to be too much money. However—having been on the RC at the time—it is also about money, and the Sky offer was an offer that was too good to refuse. I think, in hindsight, the BBC might have wanted to be a little bit more aggressive because they do recognise that it was a very valuable property to have. We do live in a competitive world and competition is a good thing. It would be terrible if the BBC, for example, were to pull out of that and not to provide sport at that level.

  Q347  Chairman: How much were they outbid by at that time?

  Mr Moffett: That is not on the public record, but it was significant enough to make a change.

  Q348  Lord Maxton: Could the BBC have done it? Sky do six games plus on the European Cup weekends. The BBC, unless they had a dedicated sports channel—which is another matter—could simply not have put those programmes—except in Wales maybe.

  Mr Moffett: Yes, I think in Wales it would be different.

  Q349  Lord Maxton: Certainly in Scotland and England they could not have done it.

  Mr Moffett: No. But I think you have hit on a very good point there about a dedicated sports channel. I think there has to be some debate about the BBC having a dedicated sports channel at some point in time. Perhaps I could give you an example of that. When you see rugby on Sky, you know that you are going to get a replay fairly soon afterwards. That is pretty valuable: the BBC pay for those rights with the RFU. After the Ireland game, I said to Keith Jones, "Is there any chance that you could replay the Ireland game, because all you want to do is go back and watch it?" Normally you would not get a replay because the BBC has so much else to do. In Wales, network comes in and out, so programmes, like, for example, our magazine programme, are affected by network—by them having to take the network programmes—so you never know when it is on. On Sunday it could be on at 5.30 or 10.30 at night, and that makes for ineffective viewing. It is like going to the rugby, you need to know: I turn the television on at this time of the day and I would like to be able to see that programme. But whether the BBC can afford a dedicated channel or not, I do not know. That is for others to say, but it would be ideal.

  Q350  Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: There are obviously national differences in this field. I wonder whether the Rugby Football Union have any evidence about public opinion on the declining amount of rugby available.

  Mr Vaughan: Yes, is the answer. If you go back in time, the BBC used to do Rugby Special, a weekly magazine and highlights programme. At one stage their scheduling got a little bit confused and it was always: spot the Rugby Special, because they could never guarantee the slot it was going to go in—which is not very good from a regular viewing point of view. If you come into the present day, they have gone away from wanting to show highlight packages at all. The BBC in our game in England are unable to show 22 weeks of professional club rugby as a live sport. I do not think they can schedule that in because it is difficult to do. I guess that is probably one of the arguments about live cricket, because they just cannot schedule in the volume that is there. Our solution is always: "What about highlights? Can you not package it up on a Sunday, as you used to do?" Their view is very much: "We do not like highlights—and actually we are not prepared to pay for that any more either." Now they are contracted to do eight, I think it is, this season—eight Rugby Special programmes—which is terribly disappointing from a consumer point of view. We do tend to get quite a lot of correspondence from disgruntled people who do not have Sky/will not have Sky and actually wish to watch it.

  Q351  Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: Is it the same for Scotland?

  Mr Munro: I think it comes back to what I stated earlier: apart from the internationals, there is no coverage whatsoever. Sport on the radio is 100 per cent football: Rangers and Celtic.

  Q352  Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: Do you get a public reaction to that?

  Mr Munro: Yes. I think it is fairly well known that every other sport in Scotland has an outcry about the coverage, or lack of coverage of their sport, to the coverage given to football.

  Q353  Lord Maxton: Particularly when they call it Sports Scene.

  Mr Munro: Yes.

  Q354  Chairman: And radio is the same, is it?

  Mr Munro: Radio is the same. On Saturday afternoon, from one o'clock through to six o'clock is football.

  Q355  Lord Maxton: Except for BBC Radio Borders.

  Mr Munro: The Radio Borders. I do beg your pardon, you are right.

  Q356  Chairman: What about radio as far as England and Wales are concerned?

  Mr Vaughan: We separate our radio rights away from our television rights and offer those separately. We do have an arrangement with the BBC for those rights. They tend only to broadcast international games, but they also do the club game on a local radio basis, and they also allow the clubs to use that broadcast on their own websites, which generates quite a lot of audience of people who are not anywhere near wherever that domestic game is.

  Mr Moffett: We do not have much problem at all getting BBC to do radio rugby in Wales. Whilst I might be sounding as though I am very much in favour of the BBC, it is a fact of life that the two of us work very closely together where we are a national sport, and it makes things an awful lot easier at one level.

  Q357  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Both Mr Moffett and Mr Vaughan have said they think the BBC have helped the market for the Six Nations. In their submission to the Independent Panel on Charter Review, the BBC characterised the Six Nations as a "championship once in decline" until they came in. Do you think that is a statement that is slightly excessive or would you agree that the Six Nations has really needed the BBC?

  Mr Vaughan: If I could come back to what I said earlier, it was a five-year period that they had missing from the Six Nations or Five Nations championship, two to three games per year for five years only. The BBC had had the Six Nations since the year dot (and still has it now) so there was obviously a decline setting in before that period of 1997. But, I have to say, they have refocused on it and they have done a fantastic job in the last few years—and long may it continue.

  Mr Moffett: I would agree with that. I have only been in Welsh rugby for three years. It has coincided with that resurgence, I guess, so I would have no complaints about what is happening. There is a debate at the moment about the structure of the season in the northern hemisphere. There is a view that we should have more product to get more money, whereas, with television rights and sponsorship, outside of the Rugby World Cup the most valuable rugby competition in the world is the Six Nations.

  Q358  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: So you would wish to continue having BBC coverage for the Six Nations.

  Mr Moffett: As long as it is done on a financial basis; that is, that you are going to get the right figure for the property. I think that is important as well. But I think we have so far felt that we are getting the right amount of money for it.

  Q359  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: If you did not get the right figure, you could compensate—-

  Mr Moffett: I do not know. You see, with the BBC it is a little bit more than just money; it is whatever else they can give you in terms of helping you grow the game. I think that is something that should not be understated because—especially from our point of view in Wales—it is such an important issue. There would have to be a significant premium, I think, to pay, for Wales to take the view that that particular competition should be off the BBC and perhaps onto pay television. Obviously there are other competitions, but that particular competition is, I think, the jewel in the rugby club world crown.

  Mr Vaughan: We are tending to ignore the other four terrestrial broadcasters here as well. I mean, ITV do a great job every four years, but they do not really have any match practice in between. That is the small problem—except for the IRB Sevens, which they tend to put onto the digital platform. But it is also worth making the point that, whenever our rights come up for offer, we do tend to take them to the market and offer them, so we do not actually do a sweetheart deal with any one particular broadcaster.

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