By Chris Tipping, rugby writer
At the risk of sounding like one of those professional whiners who used to drive the old TV show Points of View; why oh why oh why are there no Lions highlights available on terrestrial television here in England?
From recollections of a childhood consuming sport in as many ways as possible, some of the most memorable world events became so, because they came with pictures.
If you excuse me the folly of a piece of shameful romanticism, imagine a scene where tomorrow’s British and Irish rugby stars are inspired by the images of a proud band of men taking the field in another hemisphere to do battle for the shirt and the reputation of our sport, etc, etc…
Well, unless they’re in a house with a Sky Sports subscription (£35.50 per month at time of writing), it ain’t going to happen! That is unless they can pick up the Welsh carrier S4C, who will carry highlights of all the Lions’ tour matches.
Given its history and cachet – I hear you say; surely the Lions would be on the government’s oft-mentioned ‘Sport’s Crown Jewels’ list? As it happens, it’s not on the A list (that covers live coverage) or the B list (that covers highlights packages), which means that as the exclusive rights holder, BSkyB can decide who, if anyone, it sells highlights rights to, not the government.
Now, I’m not completely on top of the detail in BSkyB’s rights deal, but I am thinking maintaining the exclusivity of its coverage with no terrestrial highlights follow-ups, means its product is more tempting to potential consumers; but at what cost to the sport’s future?
The model of live satellite coverage with terrestrial highlights has worked pretty well in cricket, where this summer’s Ashes will, for the first time, be shown live only on satellite (BSkyB) and then backed up with a daily highlights show on Five. For cricket fans who are not Sky Sports subscribers, it’s not an ideal situation, but at least it’s some crumb of consolation.
I am also convinced this model has legs by the success of ITV’s highlights of the Guinness Premiership last season. Though I don’t know the exact figures, I would be amazed if the popularity of rugby in England hasn’t taken a huge step forward as a result of this terrestrial coverage.
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By similar token, the legend of Lions rugby would definitely grow with some sort of domestic access. A government-commissioned review is re-assessing the ‘Crown Jewels’ list and is expected to report back to the Culture, Media and Sport secretary Andy Burnham later this year. So, get the Lions on that list I say!
But what do you think? Do you agree with Chris?