World of Sport

BBC ‘could lose top sporting events’ over £150m licence fee row

World of Sport

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The BBC has been broadcasting events such as the FA Cup and Wimbledon since before the Second World War - but the national broadcaster could lose the rights to broadcast these and other 'crown jewels' events, including the World Cup, if a dispute over the licence fee is not resolved.

As it stands in the current legislation, around £150 million is set aside so that the BBC can secure many of the world's biggest sporting events for free-to-air TV.

The cash is raised as part of the licence fee and used to ensure that the 'crown jewels' remain free to watch for the general public, ensuring that the very biggest events in the world of sport will not be sold out to pay TV broadcasters.

But the BBC's stranglehold on those events could all be about to change - meaning that ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5 could end up with some of the most sought-after rights in broadcasting.

Ministers have been urged - presumably by highly-paid lobbying firms employed by the commerical free-to-air broadcasters - to consider handing that money to rival free-to-air broadcasters.

These ministerial "urgings" were then leaked to a reporter from the Daily Mail, which came to the conclusion that the Beeb's rights to the biggest events in sport are under threat.

The government has apparently been asked to consider why the BBC should automatically receive the funding to air the so-called 'crown jewel' events when other organisations could potentially devote more time and attention to them.

Millions watched Britain's Andy Murray finally win that elusive Wimbledon title earlier this year, but that is one of the events that the BBC might lose its grip on in the future.

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Tory party chairman Grant Shapps warned the BBC at the weekend that the licence fee could be cut unless a "culture of secrecy, waste and bias" is swiftly addressed, while others have hinted that the situation could change.

The BBC could lose licence fee funding for "crown jewel" sporting events if it fails to "put its house in order".

The crown jewels are organised into two categories. The A-list includes the Olympic Games, World Cup and European Championships, English and Scottish FA Cup finals, The Grand National and the Derby, Wimbledon, rugby union's World Cup final and rugby league's Challenge Cup final.

There is also a B-list, of events which can be shown on pay TV but which must have free-to-air highlights available. Sports on this list currently include Test and World Cup cricket, The Open, the Ryder Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the Six Nations.

Every year the Corporation spends £150 million buying the rights to major sporting events, including Wimbledon, the FA Cup, Six Nations rugby, Formula 1 (now shared with Sky) and Premier League highlights for Match of the Day.

A source close to culture secretary Maria Miller told the Daily Telegraph: "There is a conversation to be had there as to whether the BBC should be funding things that are also covered by commercial broadcasters.

"There's an array of sporting events. It would impact on the licence fee. The money that was given to the BBC could theoretically be given to other broadcasters who were doing something that we would consider of public service.

"The BBC covers a whole range of events which private commercial broadcasters pay to cover. The licence fee is not a given right any more. There is an acknowledgement that the change in commercial broadcasters means this is something that needs to be looked at.

"If the BBC doesn't put its house in order we will bring forward talks on the royal charter and start to thrash it out earlier."

It is not yet known what this could all potentially mean for sports fans in the UK, but any changes could well occur as part of the BBC's royal charter renewal, which is due in 2016.

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