There’s a red and blue letter day for Channel 5 this month – our own football double achieved in our first season of European competition. Not only did Chelsea win the European Cup Winners’ Cup to ensure that Channel 5 will again cover their games, but we will also cover Liverpool’s in the Uefa Cup next season.
The net result is that we now have a strong portfolio of European action, once you add coverage of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the qualifying stages of Euro 2000, starting in the autumn.
While the deal with Chelsea had already been tied up, provided they won the cup, I had to start afresh with Liverpool. I met executives Peter Robinson and Rick Parry some weeks ago and expressed a keen interest. As the ‘new kid on the block’ and with so little football available, Channel 5 had to be nimble to remain one step ahead in the market.
We were the first broadcaster to talk to Liverpool. They had been impressed with our coverage of both Chelsea and Aston Villa, and our commitment to cover all the home and away games whenever possible appealed to both Liverpool and Channel 5.
Football works well for Channel 5. It brings in big numbers of loyal followers and reaches that most elusive of viewers, the young males that advertisers find so attractive.
It’s no coincidence that the six highest daily shares achieved by Channel 5 have all occurred on days when football has been in the schedule. Our first foray, last year’s World Cup qualifier between Poland and England (last May), remains our largest single programme audience (5 million peak and 4.5 million average) and also our largest daily share (ten per cent), although some of Chelsea’s matches have run it close.
The huge football audiences have given Channel 5 good scheduling opportunities to lead the audience into movies and documentaries.
Of course, having taken Chelsea all the way to the final, we had to make way for the BBC because of an European Broadcasting Union agreement that gives their members exclusive live coverage of both the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Uefa Cup.
While it would be nice to go “all the way” with our clubs, I think we’ve got the better deal. I’d rather show Chelsea and Liverpool ten times each than just once.
As for the future of sport on TV, it’s certainly not going to get any easier to secure rights. It is becoming both more competitive and diluted. More channels now consider sport as compelling viewing and as a means of appealing to a young male audience.
You’ll also see the clubs and sports authorities wanting more of a hands-on role in producing their own TV coverage and providing their own broadcast channels. This in turn could lead to a real fracturing of sport on TV, which may not be to the advantage of the viewer.