Bob Shennan: Kelvin must realise that we live in a competitive world

Five Live controller Bob Shennan responds to last week's broadside by Kelvin Mackenzie
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The Independent Online

You've got to hand it to Kelvin Mackenzie. He's a funny man. He loves a fight and he hates losing.

But he overstepped even his famous sense of fun in his "White City Whoppers" rant last week when he showed a distinct memory loss, and was often just plain wrong in talking about Premier League rights.

When it comes to winning or losing sports rights in the BBC, experience tells me that you'll be damned if you do and damned if you don't. Lose something and you're complacent and out of touch with changing times. Win and you've wasted public money.

I've won some and lost some and I can tell you it's a lot more fun winning. So it's a bit rich for Kelvin to moan that life just isn't fair when he doesn't get the prize. The BBC didn't bleat when he took overseas cricket, world-title boxing or Champions' League football. We live in a competitive world.

Sometimes simply losing won't stop Kelvin at all. In the past, TalkSPORT has resorted to "off-tubing" major events such as Euro 2000 when they have not had the rights. In this bizarre practice, commentators watch the television in a hotel room to give the impression that they are at the match. It makes a mockery of the market and undermines all broadcasting credibility. As Richard Littlejohn would say: "You couldn't make it up."

Live football commentary has been a key part of BBC Radio for decades. For some listeners it's part of the reason they pay their licence fee, and we know they appreciate what we do and the way we do it. Our ongoing research shows that Radio Five Live is regarded as the best radio station for sport among all radio listeners. Kelvin doesn't like the package of rights that we won, but the fact is it's the Premier League who define the split of matches - not the BBC and certainly not Five Live. We can only bid for what is put before us. The Premier League offered two nationally exclusive packages to the highest bidder. We bid for those rights and got them.

But clubs can also strike their own local deals, and every Premiership game is now available either locally, via club websites or nationally - so to suggest the BBC has exclusive rights is a huge whopper - there's more Premiership football available to the listening public in more places and platforms today than ever before.

We struck a great deal for our listeners - one that offers much more football for less money. I don't know where Kelvin gets the £39m from what we supposedly bid for the rights, but rest assured it's way over the mark.

True, we used an external consultant to help us in our negotiations and ensure the BBC paid a fair price. That's no crime; in fact it's called researching the market or doing your homework. In acquiring any sports rights, we always try to assess their commercial value, to ensure the licence-fee payer gets value for money. It's what a responsible public-service broadcaster would be expected to do. We also take care to offer the highest possible quality and broadest range of programming. That matters too, to the League and the fans.

There is no way the BBC would pay over the odds. The internal checks and balances take the decision all the way to the director general himself and the process is every bit as rigorous as the negotiations with the League.

In the 2002/03 football season TalkSPORT was offered the chance to extend their contract with the FA. This gave them access to the FA Cup and England's games, but they turned the opportunity down. And they could have come back in last season as well (as our rights were non-exclusive) but didn't. That's hardly a great commitment to football. What is more, TalkSPORT has regularly gained rights only to drop them.

The fact is we have totally different approaches to covering sport, and totally different motivations for doing so. Having the Premier League rights is fantastic but it's the BBC's responsibility to offer a whole raft of different sports and to support them with robust journalism. In fact, under the agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the BBC is required to provide wide-ranging coverage of sport. Viewers and listeners themselves see it as a public-service genre. Competitions like the Rugby League World Cup, Super League and the Football League matter to us. They clearly don't to TalkSPORT. Kelvin compares them to tortoise-throwing and camembert-tossing - and that tells you all you need to know.

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