BBC wins eyes of sports viewers despite losing a whole calendar of top events

The BBC remains the most watched station for sports events, despite a disastrous run of losses of broadcasting rights and the desertion of Des Lynam to ITV, the corporation said yesterday.

The BBC remains the most watched station for sports events, despite a disastrous run of losses of broadcasting rights and the desertion of Des Lynam to ITV, the corporation said yesterday.

"People forget that more than half the televised sport watched in this country is on the BBC - we have twice as much as ITV and three times as much as Sky," a BBC spokesman said.

Last week, the BBC failed to win the live rights to the Ryder Cup golf tournament, when Sky secured a new four-year contract. The loss was seen as a major blow to the corporation, which had hoped that the arrival of Greg Dyke as director general would help revive its sports profile.

But despite the Ryder Cup failure - as well as the loss of Premier League football, Test cricket and Formula One racing - the BBC is still the nation's favourite sports channel. One reason is its wide portfolio: BBC2 has good audiences for snooker, while athletics, tennis and rugby union have boosted figures for BBC1.

The trade magazine Broadcast confirms the BBC's claim with its annual analysis of weekly top 10 sports shows.

In the year to August 1999, 79 per cent of weekly top 10 entries came from the BBC, up from 75 per cent the previous year. ITV had only 16 per cent of the top 10, down from 19 per cent the previous year.

The BBC grabbed more than twice as many football spots as ITV, despite its lack of live action. This, says Broadcast, was thanks to Saturday's sequence of Football Focus, half-time reports during Grandstand and, above all, Match of the Day. Minor sports such as bowls, darts, swimming, rowing and cycling also helped to boost ratings.

In golf, the BBC secured audiences of about three million for its highlights of the Ryder Cup, while Sky's live coverage attracted only about 600,000.Much of the BBC's success against Sky derives from the fact that two-thirds of British homes still receive only terrestrial services.

All but 11 of ITV's 83 chart placings came from football - in the form of Champions League or FA Cup - and Formula One motor racing.

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