Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1280
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
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
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 organisationsschools, hospitals,
health departments, et ceteraand 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' incomeand you have talked about attendances
improvingcomes 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
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
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
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
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.
Are you saying the highlights used to have a regular scheduling
Mr McCafferty: Yes they did.
What time was that?
Mr McCafferty: Sunday afternoon.
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
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
Chairman: We had better get back. Baroness
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
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