Football: Overkill on TV `a threat to game'

FOOTBALL AUTHORITIES were yesterday urged to reduce drastically television coverage of football - or risk killing the appeal of Britain's national sport. The stark warning comes from two of television's most respected football figures - Jimmy Hill and Brian Moore - during a week in which it was possible to watch at least one live match every night.

A clear sign of a backlash against saturation coverage came on Tuesday when millions more tuned in to learn how to make a pizza base with the cook, Delia Smith, than watched Liverpool in Europe. Hill, who left the BBC after the World Cup to join Sky Sports, is convinced that television's blanket coverage is damaging football.

"All this coverage is not in the long-term interests of the game," Hill said. "Television is milking football. Channel Five are taking viewers away from the BBC but they are contributing to the saturation and it must damage excitement. Watching some matches is a duty these days rather than a pleasure. Too much of anything is a bad thing."

Viewing figures for live football on the BBC have been disappointing this season, with Blackburn's matches against Lyon attracting 4.7m and 4.5m respectively, while Leeds' matches with Roma recorded figures of 4.1m for the away leg and 5.8m on Tuesday. Contrast that with the 3.8m who watched Delia Smith on BBC2, on a night when Liverpool's dramatic match with Valencia pulled in just 2.4m on Channel Five.

Hill fears the boom, which has seen players' wages soar in the past two years, could easily turn to bust. "The higher the pendulum swings on one side, the higher it will swing when it comes back. I just hope those who control things will find a balance," Hill says.

Moore, the veteran ITV commentator who retired after the World Cup final this summer, also believes too much coverage is the biggest threat to football's continuing allure. "There has been an over-saturation of football on TV for at least two years and there is only one way the viewing figures can go and that is down," he said.

A BBC spokesman admitted that figures were declining but added: "The BBC cannot be accused of showing too much live football. We have shown four live games, five if you count the Super Cup in August, which is one match every two weeks." He added that Saturday's Match of the Day had increased its average audience from 4m to 4.6m.

VIEWING FIGURES

Tuesday: BBC1 - Match of the Day Leeds v Roma 5.8m. BBC2 - Delia's How To Cook 3.8m. ITV - The Bill 9.9m. Channel 4 - Brookside 2.6m. Channel 5 - Uefa Cup Valencia v Liverpool 2.4m

Wednesday: BBC1- Life of Birds 6.5m. BBC2 - Tomorrow's World 7.5m. ITV - Champions' League Dynamo Kiev v Arsenal 9m (London regions).

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