Greg Dyke, the BBC's new director-general, is planning to appoint a sports chief from commercial television in an attempt to recapture some of the corporation's previous sporting glory.
Tipped for the post is Mike Southgate, 46, who at present is chief operating officer at Mr Dyke's former employers, Pearson TV.
The appointment will be Mr Dyke's first major recruitment since he took over and reflects his concern at the decline of what was once regarded as the BBC's flagship operation, which has included the loss of the FA Cup final, international rugby, and overseas Test cricket, as well as the defection of star presenter Desmond Lynam to ITV.
The present head of sport, Mike Miller, a surprise appointment three years ago, was formerly in charge of sport at Channel 4. He is known to have been unsettled at the BBC since the arrival of Mr Dyke, and is expected to quit shortly. He is reported to have told friends he will join a sporting website company.
Mr Dyke and Mr Southgate worked together at TVS in the Eighties, and at London Weekend as well as at Pearson TV. Mr Southgate is a little-known figure in sport's corridors of power but, say friends, "knows sport backwards". He has a strong financial and management background and made a reputation as a tough and successful negotiator when running the business side of ITV Sport. These are qualities that Mr Dyke is known to regard as paramount for the BBC's "counter-punch" against ITV and BSkyB.
Mr Dyke believes Mr Southgate has the ability to bring fresh impetus and much-needed commercial nous to BBC Sport. It is possible he will work in tandem with another former Dyke ally, Clive Jones, now chief executive at Carlton TV, who has been approached about overseeing a combined sport and news operation.
There is no doubt that Mr Dyke, a former sports journalist, passionate football fan and, until recently, a director of Manchester United, will want to have a personal input to the flagging sports operation. "No one can outsmart him when it comes to sport," said a BBC insider. "He knows the ropes."
The person Mr Dyke originally wanted to take over was Brian Barwick, formerly with the BBC, who now runs ITV sport. But Mr Barwick made it clear he was reluctant to return to the organisation that passed him over for the top job when Mr Miller was appointed.Reuse content