MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON: TV SPORT - Prolific TV coverage of sport fails to curb premium pricing/TV channels are charging top rates for major sports events, Alasdair Reid says

Over the past couple of weeks, given access to the right sort of equipment, you could quite easily have found yourself overdosing on TV football.

Over the past couple of weeks, given access to the right sort of

equipment, you could quite easily have found yourself overdosing on TV


Last week the UEFA Champions’ League returned to our screens, with live

European club action on Tuesday (three whole games), Wednesday and


The enlarged tournament will dominate midweek viewing until the final

next May. Last week we also saw live UEFA Cup games and the week before

we had international qualifiers for Euro 2000. In addition, Sky

routinely shows two or more Premiership games a week and Serie A matches

return to Channel 4.

As if that were not enough coverage of balls being kicked around muddy

fields, the Rugby World Cup starts on 1 October and 41 games will be

broadcast live.

Advertisers targeting that hard-to-reach, youngish male audience should

be finding that they’ve never had it so good. The market is awash with

ratings - there’s not only lots of choice as to where to slot your ads

but, with supply so lavish, prices should be rather agreeable too.

However, according to Europe-wide research by the Media Edge, TV

channels are demanding surprisingly large premiums (1,200 per cent in

Italy, for instance) for entry to the Champions’ League. As a result,

the report argues, some advertisers will be forced out of the market,

while others will be prepared to pay.

ITV must believe it’s on to a very big winner indeed - but is that

necessarily so? Chris Boothby, the TV buying director of BBJ, admits

that big match football has a perennial allure but he cautions against

excessive ITV enthusiasm. He says: ’Champions’ League is big events

programming - but last season ITV rode on the coat-tails of Manchester

United. That success certainly won’t be repeated. There is also the fact

that UEFA has made the Champions’ League a much bigger competition,

which means there’s a far greater risk of there being meaningless games,

and with so many channels showing European games of one sort or another

it all adds to the confusion. ITV needs to ensure it shows the big


But can we rely on ITV not to botch the sales proposition? Last year,

the network thought it was on to a winner with its World Cup coverage,

but hype and price hikes combined to scare advertisers away. Could that

happen again?

Many sources within ITV say that the World Cup situation was six of one

and half-a-dozen of the other. Whatever ITV’s mistakes, clients

underestimated both the tournament’s audience delivery as well as the

potential value of those audiences. But yes - sales bosses say they are

alive to the potential pitfalls. Buyers agree that they can live with

ITV’s current policy.

Mick Desmond, the chief executive of Granada Media Sales, says that this

year’s ad sales strategies for both the Champions’ League and the Rugby

World Cup have been very successful: ’We’ve seen new advertisers -

corporate, telecoms and finance - coming to ITV because of the rugby.

The Champions’ League is also a good market and it’s a long competition

which has allowed us to play a different game.

’Quality sport is very much a part of upfront negotiations these days

and I think we’re continuing to see it attracting a greater premium,’

Desmond continues. ’The key thing is that we have the right balance

across our schedules. We don’t want to have too much sport but we have

to make sure we have the right events.’

But there’s one big argument against premium ad rates - there’s just too

much football around. Surely premium implies some sort of scarcity

value? Nevertheless, buyers and sellers tend to agree that ITV’s

football coverage is special. And not just because of Des Lynam. Chris

Boothby puts it succinctly: ’One thing that ITV has that no-one else has

is huge audiences. Rapid cover-build still matters. It’s the big hit and

it’s what ITV’s still got.’