Can BBC afford to cover sport?

BBC staff outnumbers British team at Winter OlympicsDespite not filming the event, there are more BBC crew and presenters at the Vancouver Winter Olympic games than British athletes.

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How much is the BBC spending on coverage of the Winter Olympics? The corporation hasn’t revealed the full cost, but the estimated £250,000 on staff, travel and accommodation is a small fraction. The BBC came under fire for its extravagance four years ago — see the above story — but it’s sending an even bigger team to Sochi. The television rights for the UK are not known, but as a gauge, we understand Australia’s  Network Ten paid A$20 million  (£11 million) for the rights. This is relatively inexpensive, but, presuming BBC paid a comparable amount, does it constitute good value? Is there enough interest in the Winter Olympics to justify such an outlay? My guess is that if any reader asked the next 20 people they meet to name one competitor in the games, they would not get a single answer. If you asked the next 20 to name a sport, most people would name “skiing” or “ice skating” but know nothing of the specific disciplines. Viewing figures will probably average under a million. I wonder if public interests would have been better served had the Beeb passed on this one and let itv, Channel 4 or one of the other commercial broadcasters take the initiative; at least they could spend their own money rather than the licence payers’, and try to earn it back through advertising revenue. This raises the more general question: how much longer can the BBC continue to compete against commercial broadcasters when it comes to major sports events? The rights for big events are prohibitively expensive and the BBC will eventually have to face the truth: not all of its viewers are interested in sport and will kick up a fuss. I am a stalwart supporter of the BBC and defend the arrangement whereby we licence payers fund what is, after all, the finest broadcaster in the world. But sport will disappear from its menu in years to come and, while many will regret this, we have to accommodate the reality that sport is now for commercial television only. @elliscashmore