Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1280 - 1299)

TUESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2005

Mr Mark McCafferty

  Q1280  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: In an earlier question Lord Maxton which asked you, you responded by saying you think you get the balance between free to air and subscription coverage about right but previous evidence we had from David Moffett of the Welsh Rugby Union said they received considerable complaints from fans when the European Cup moved from BBC to Sky. Do you think you have assessed public opinion enough when deciding how much rugby is going to come off the free-to-air channels?

  Mr McCafferty: We do a survey of our fans each year and that will comprise anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 surveys that we put out and we ask fans for their views on a whole range of issues, so we do that and we obviously also monitor the postbag and what might come in in terms of any issues or complaints people have, and for our supporters generally it has not been a significant issue. Remember, we are dealing with club supporters generally and people who are passionately involved in the club game and as they are pretty ardent sports fans they may be more inclined towards opportunities and so forth provided by satellite and the density of sports coverage which is provided, whether it is in your own home or whether it is in a club, but it has not been a strong issue from our point of view in terms of feedback either through that fans survey or through general correspondence.

  Q1281  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: It does not worry you that you are not increasing the number of rugby fans? You say that you are in communication with the more ardent ones. Does it not worry you that there are people out there who do not have access to rugby who you could be bringing into the sport?

  Mr McCafferty: I think the fans survey that we do is out to all the fans, a random cross-selection of fans and we do very deliberately split it between new fans and more established fans so that we try and poll the views of people coming in to watch a handful of games a year. Correspondence obviously by the nature of correspondence, it tends to be from people who are either passionately for or passionately against rather than the silent majority but we do not see any particular issues on that front. In terms of bringing people into the game, our attendances as a sport last year grew by 15 per cent over the prior year. This season we are tracking at about eight per cent per annum growth which I think in a very tough consumer environment is a pretty impressive number and overall there will be just over a million and a half supporters who will go to live games during the course of a season. On top of that we do a whole range of community programmes which are driven by the clubs in the local communities with a variety of organisations—schools, hospitals, health departments, et cetera—and the players themselves are heavily involved in that. I think the last number I saw was that something like 100,000 man-hours of player time was given last season into community work to try and get more and more people involved in the game. I am delighted to say also we have just been given a Business in the Community Award for investing 5 per cent of our revenue into community sport. So I think as a sport we probably punch above our weight, if that is not a bad analogy to use in rugby!

  Q1282  Lord King of Bridgwater: Can I just ask you a couple of quick questions. What percentage of the clubs' income—and you have talked about attendances improving—comes from gate money?

  Mr McCafferty: At the club level, my estimate would be about two-thirds to three-quarters.

  Q1283  Lord King of Bridgwater: Which is then topped up by a share in the television rights that you have given?

  Mr McCafferty: Yes.

  Q1284  Lord King of Bridgwater: Is your remit from the clubs just to get the best price you can for those television rights or is any consideration given to the point that has come out about what sort of audience you will get? Is there any sense of that at all or do people just do not think it matters?

  Mr McCafferty: They do think it matters and the remit we generally have as well as to maximise financial returns is to promote the professional club game on their behalf. They will do it locally in their communities and catchment areas and they expect us to do on a national level.

  Q1285  Lord King of Bridgwater: Let me ask you this: did the BBC get anywhere near Sky in their bidding? We have been through the cricket situation and the BBC did not even bid the last time round on this.

  Mr McCafferty: I personally was not involved in that because I have joined the organisation since that time.

  Q1286  Lord King of Bridgwater: Since this contract was awarded?

  Mr McCafferty: Correct, but I understand that there was a clear distance between Sky and the BBC on that.

  Lord King of Bridgwater: I think we are coming on to a question later about how the BBC bid.

  Chairman: There is a series of questions on the BBC. I will come back to satellite and free-to-air exposure in a moment but let's go to the role of the BBC. Baroness Howe?

  Q1287  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I think you have answered some of this but there was a comment from one of the previous people who was giving evidence who said "BBC scheduling of Rugby Special was confused and could not guarantee a regular viewing slot" and he went on to say that he reckoned BBC "have gone away from wanting to show highlights packages at all." Against that sort of background we have heard a lot about the Rugby Specials and so on. From all aspects of why you are interested in it, from grass-roots, the coverage, and so on, are you content with the current level of live and highlights television that the BBC gives to rugby?

  Mr McCafferty: I think at this point in time in general, yes. We are working a new competition this year that I mentioned, a Powergen Cup competition, which the BBC is carrying on free to air and our early experience of that has been good and those are the numbers I quoted to you earlier on. We are now moving into the semi-final stage of that game which is both semi-finals on the same day at the Millennium Stadium in Wales and then a final at Twickenham, so we will be expecting now to see quite an uplift and I would hope to be touching some quite significant numbers in terms of television coverage. I think if we did have an issue at this point in time it would be in the highlights area and I would echo the comments you referred to that I think have been made previously. In terms of promoting the game it would be nice from our point of view if two things were done: first of all, we had a much more regular, predictable scheduling slot that people could become addicted to again. Secondly, I think in terms of style we would like maybe a more progressive approach to that, maybe some new ideas, some new formats, to test the boundaries of what people found attractive and acceptable in the way highlights packages are presented. Part of our remit is to try and push partners, broadcasters, title sponsors to develop new things and innovations in the area in the interest of promoting the game generally.

  Q1288  Lord King of Bridgwater: Let me just ask you this; are you saying this particularly about the BBC or are you trying to encourage all broadcasters or do you think the BBC's quality and imagination is not as high as Sky's?

  Mr McCafferty: I think on the highlights package we could improve with the BBC. We would like to do that and we will explore ideas of how to do that with them. I think as a general principle I am interested by virtue of the clubs to push continually the boundaries of innovation and new ideas.

  Q1289  Lord King of Bridgwater: But you do not think the BBC are as good as Sky?

  Mr McCafferty: No, I did not say that. I think the highlights package particularly we need to look at as a way of improving that. Market forces would tell you that if the BBC are not particularly interested in paying independently for a highlights package then it says something about their view on what the marketability of that is. My job is to find new ways of marketing that aggressively with an emerging popular interest.

  Q1290  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Just following up from my viewpoint, given that the BBC is there to make jolly certain that right across the board there is free access to some of the things that the vast majority of the population want to have access to, are you not from your viewpoint, by the way you have negotiated all these things, losing out on the potential to get even more popular game by actually getting a wider coverage in the first instance, really very much Baroness Bonham-Carter's point?

  Mr McCafferty: We are trying to strike a balance, that is the issue. We do not want to be entirely satellite or entirely free to air. We are trying to strike a balance that meets the objectives that you have just described as well as producing a good financial return that we can then invest back into the game. At any point in time when these rights are up for renewal and bidding that is the balance that we would look to strike. That is why we were particularly happy that the BBC did become involved in the Powergen Cup because it did give us what we loosely call a "terrestrial window" to promote the product. At this point we feel the balance is quite good. In a few years' time when those rights are up for rebid and renewal we have to reassess that and look at that at that point in time.

  Q1291  Chairman: Are you saying the highlights used to have a regular scheduling spot?

  Mr McCafferty: Yes they did.

  Q1292  Chairman: What time was that?

  Mr McCafferty: Sunday afternoon.

  Q1293  Chairman: What is the position now?

  Mr McCafferty: It moves around a bit and it is only on a certain number of weekends. I think they are committed to 12 weekends.

  Q1294  Lord King of Bridgwater: Are you in competition with Rugby League?

  Mr McCafferty: We do not think so, no.

  Q1295  Lord King of Bridgwater: You do not think the BBC thinks, "We will get some people running around with a ball in their hand that keeps the viewers happy?"

  Mr McCafferty: No, especially since Rugby League moved to being a summer competition. In fact, you may know one of our clubs in Leeds runs both the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club as well as Leeds Tykes and that is possible as a business model.

  Chairman: We had better get back. Baroness O'Neill?

  Q1296  Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Some sports bodies have seen merit in the idea of a dedicated free-to-air sports channel. If the BBC had such a channel would that make them more attractive as partners to you because they could perhaps give you a regular slot or more time?

  Mr McCafferty: I think from our point of view competition is always to be encouraged because it creates more opportunities to increase the value of our rights. I think we would probably address one of the issues about the difficulties that can be had sometimes on scheduling and the amount of scheduling time there is available for sport generally and then a sport in particular, and that possibly would allow continuous coverage of the type that I mentioned earlier in response to a question, which is a key concern for us, that that competition is promoted continuously through the season.

  Q1297  Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: So that would in principle perhaps make it possible for you to get the exposure you want although the financial side would remain competitive bidding?

  Mr McCafferty: I think it would, in principle. Then it would depend obviously and it is a decision for the BBC how well they could utilise that possibility.

  Q1298  Lord Kalms: Concentrating basically on the BBC, I do not think you have yet yourself negotiated with them?

  Mr McCafferty: Correct.

  Q1299  Lord Kalms: So it is not useful to ask you questions about their negotiating stance and commitment or their outlook on purchasing your rights?

  Mr McCafferty: I was not personally involved in that, no, so anything I have is second-hand from within our organisation, yes.


 
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