Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1300
TUESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2005
Mr Mark McCafferty
Q1300 Lord Kalms:
Do you have any view on the BBC's role and how they have approached
it before and how committed they are? Are you satisfied as an
organisation that the BBC has the right outlook as far as the
free-to-air facilities which is their objective?
Mr McCafferty: Are you asking me as consumer
or as a sport?
Q1301 Lord Kalms:
I am trying to get a view of how you think the BBC approaches
something like your organisation. How competitive are they, for
Mr McCafferty: I can tell you that when the
highlights package was put together with the Powergen Cup and
the autumn internationals highlights, that package was marketed
and we approached ITV and I think Channel Four as well and the
BBC came out on top of that, so in that sense they have free-to-air
coverage of the game both at a club level and at an international
level outside the Six Nations, as it were. So from that point
of view you would have to say that they won that bid. The generally
held view within the sport in recent years seems to be that they
possibly should have been a bit more aggressive on the Heineken
Cup and at that point should possibly have
Q1302 Lord Kalms:
Taking your product as you have got it now, how do you think the
BBC evaluates that? What do you think their criteria will be because
you are going to come up against them in a few years' time? What
are they really looking for from you for their audiences?
Mr McCafferty: I think the way that I see our
job on that front is that we would be for the main Premiership
competition back out into the market-place in about three years'
time. Our job in the meantime is to make our product on the pitch
as successful as possible and as attractive as possible to as
many people as possible. That is a combination of live audiences
and hopefully an indication is given to us in terms of growing
live audiences that the product is becoming more and more attractive
to a larger number of people. It could be a function also of the
highlights package season in and season out. That is why I make
the point that having that showcase product on there for people
who perhaps do not want to watch a whole game from start to finish
but are interested in watching the highlights we can perhaps draw
them into the game. All of that put together in such as way as
when we go back out to market in three years' time people will
say, "Look, this is an even more attractive product than
it was three years ago." In terms of those who are then willing
and able to bid for those there is not a lot I can do to control
that. That is a function of how other organisations operate and
what the market-place looks like at that point in time. What I
can control is that our product looks very attractive both from
where it is today and where it is vis-a"-vis other sports
and that is the way we would look to evaluate each season, how
are we doing, what does the product look like, how many people
are watching us, how attractive it is, how do we deal with things
like speed of play and disciplinary matters or areas like that.
Q1303 Lord Kalms:
One more thing on this because if the BBC stopped bidding for
you, you would be in a much weaker position vis-a"-vis Sky.
If the BBC decided for one reason or another they did not want
your product, you would be in a much weaker position to negotiate
a price, if the BBC came out and said, "We do not want your
product of Rugby League." Would you envisage a scenario where
the BBC had to make a bid for your product? In other words, do
you think it ought it be a listed sporting event? Does it ever
worry you that you might only have one buyer at some stage?
Mr McCafferty: It is not something we lose a
lot of sleep over currently because we know that we have the next
three or four years in which our main concentration is not the
actual bidding of those rights but the process I described in
terms of making the product more attractive. I think inevitably
if you think your customers or the market-place is going to shrivel
down to one potential purchaser then any business would be worried
about that prospect. That is a natural conclusion. There are other
channels there that have shown interest in sport. I think you
have obviously had a discussion about cricket as one for instance.
Clearly Channel Four did a very good job of moving cricket forward.
I think our job in the next few years is to make our product as
attractive as possible to as many different broadcasters as possible,
and that is the only thing we can influence. I only worry about
things I can influence; I do not worry about things I cannot.
Q1304 Lord Peston:
I am going to ask about radio coverage but could I just check
I have understood what you have said so far. You are involved
with 12 professional rugby clubs and therefore on a typical weekend
there would be six matches?
Mr McCafferty: Covered on television?
Q1305 Lord Peston:
No, I mean that they play between the 12?
Mr McCafferty: Correct.
Q1306 Lord Peston:
So the 12 play each other and there will be six matches. Do they
play each other twice a season or four times a season?
Mr McCafferty: Twice a season.
Q1307 Lord Peston:
If we take the six matches what is the average gate at those six
Mr McCafferty: We would average about 10,000
in the ground per game.
Q1308 Lord Peston:
So only 60,000 people watch real rugby in that sense?
Mr McCafferty: Correct.
Q1309 Lord Peston:
That is the perspective I wanted, 60,000 people would be at the
matches. That is the background to the radio coverage. The obvious
question first of all is if only 60,000 people are interested
in going is there anybody who wants to listen to it on the radio
Mr McCafferty: I think I maybe take issue with
the statement that only 60,000 people are interested in going.
Q1310 Lord Peston:
There are more than that at Manchester United in one game?
Mr McCafferty: It is a function also of what
ground capacity you have.
Q1311 Lord Peston:
Mr McCafferty: We have nine of those 12 clubs
operating at over 75 per cent capacity and six of them are operating
at over 90 per cent capacity.
Q1312 Lord Peston:
It is not a question of the share, what is the radio audience?
Mr McCafferty: May I just finish on that point
though. One of the reasons why the financial side is the balance
we have to strike and why it is important to us is because it
is crucial that we invest back into that game. It is public knowledge
if you take a club like Leicester they are sold out each week
at just under 17,000 so they have to move that stadium up now
to try and create a capacity of 25,000. This is a professional
sport which relatively speaking is in its infancy and needs to
move on from there. That is why the financial side is more important
because we are not a mature business, we are a growing business.
Q1313 Lord Peston:
I understand that but if the BBC does have some radio coverage.
Mr McCafferty: Yes, very good local radio coverage.
Q1314 Lord Peston:
But do you know who is listening?
Mr McCafferty: In what sense?
Lord Peston: In the sense when I am talking
here there is no-one listening. I do not mean in the Committee;
I mean in the House of Lords. What I am saying is the BBC broadcast
Chairman: It is not true there either.
Q1315 Lord Peston:
How many people are listening?
Mr McCafferty: I do not know off the top of
my head whether we have those figures to hand about the audience
figures. What I would say is in profiling the sport it is very
clear to us that there are certain parts of the country particularly
that might be called rugby heartlands and within those communities
we think it is a vital part of our marketing mix that we do have
local radio coverage and that is part of promoting the game into
that broader community. So to turn your questions on their head
in one sense, it is not necessarily in the case of radio just
a function of how many people are listening but the kind of promotion
that that gives to the game within the local communities.
Q1316 Lord Peston:
I am not against that. Nothing I am saying is the opposite of
what you are saying on that. I can see why you want radio coverage.
What I want to know is why the BBC wants to cover it. We are talking
about almost minorities of minorities.
Mr McCafferty: I think in the context of local
radio, and I am putting words in their mouth, I would imagine
that it is quite an important part of their local sport. If you
take a city like Worcester which does not have a Premiership football
side and does not even have a professional League football side,
it has Worcester Rugby League club which is in the top half of
the Premiership table and that is where you go to in Worcester
or listen to on the radio to get top-quality, professional sport
in your city. The way in which that club has been built up in
the local community is a testament to that.
Q1317 Lord Peston:
I can understand all that and I think we are being unfair to you
because the people we ought to ask what is the audience size is
the BBC themselves and we will be having them back and they can
explain it. What troubles me, and it goes back to Lord Holme's
question, is why Sky are bidding for any of this. We are talking
about very few people in terms of who are interested in rugby.
Mr McCafferty: Everybody accepts that football
is in a different league in terms of scale to any other sport
but I think in terms of the other sports beneath that we are talking
in the case of Rugby Union about quite a large scale sport within
that second tier within England, and we would be competing against
other sports for a share of voice and eventually getting people
to part with their hard-earned money to come and watch the games
or to participate in the sport.
Q1318 Lord Peston:
But to summarise your view, would I be right in saying you see
the BBC's radio coverage as very much coverage that would be helpful
to you in promoting Rugby Union Football in this country? That
is your vision of it?
Mr McCafferty: It is certainly a very important
part of our marketing mix, yes.
Just going back on one of those figures, do I not also remember
you saying that for one of the games (this is top of the table)
you had two million people watching.
Mr McCafferty: For a Premiership game, in other
words as part of the Sky package we would expect about 200,000
for an end of season game.
Chairman: 200,000? I beg your pardon,
I got that wrong. Lord Holme?