Hendon: Snooker's uncertain future at the BBC

Eurosport - Tue, 09 Mar 12:36:00 2010

Eurosport snooker analyst David Hendon talks about the danger that the BBC could start dropping off their interest in snooker.

SNOOKER Crucible general/generic view - 0

Professional snooker owes its rise to the TV big time to the BBC above anything else.

It was the BBC who showed black and white matches, usually featuring Joe Davis, as fillers between racing and other sports on Saturday afternoons in the 1950s.

It was the BBC that brought the viewing public Pot Black in colour, which made household names of the players of the 1970s.

And it was the BBC who took the decision to televise the 1978 World Championship at the Crucible from first ball to last, which led to the explosion of interest in the 1980s and the creation of the professional circuit as we know it today.

But what is the future for the sport on a BBC that now finds itself in a crowded broadcasting marketplace having to defend its use of the licence fee?

This week its director general, Mark Thompson, pledged to cut services to plough more money into programme making - but also to cap the BBC's spend on sports rights to nine per cent of the licence fee.

The Daily Mirror last week claimed Thompson "wants snooker and darts off BBC2".

They do not quote him directly but the BBC's Strategy Review document proposes to 'reduce the volume of sport on BBC2'. As snooker is currently broadcast for many hours on this channel there must be fears that it is one of the sports that will be shifted elsewhere - or even scrapped altogether.

This would seriously threaten snooker's future as a top level TV sport.

Of its sports rights strategy, the BBC document states: "(we will) Continue to provide a home for major sporting events, free-to-air, as well as a broad range of other sport. The strategy for sports rights will, however, prioritise the list of the most important events for free-to-air coverage followed by sports with particular public service potential (such as Olympic sports and the Commonwealth Games) and others that deliver significant value to licence fee payers, recognising that the BBC needs to set a clear limit on how much it can invest."

Snooker is, of course, not an Olympic or Commonwealth sport.

The current BBC contract runs out at the end of next season. Barry Hearn, the WPBSA chairman, has been to see the corporation but no new contract has yet been announced.

It would be a surprise to everyone if it wasn't agreed, but snooker has few options if the worst did happen: Sky has shown little interest in snooker in recent years and ITV has not screened a tournament for the best part of a decade.

I would expect the BBC to sign another contract but for a reduced fee and possibly for three rather than four tournaments.

Make no mistake, though: if they decide their love affair with the green baize game can no longer be justified in the current economic climate, or that it simply doesn't fit in with their view of what the BBC should be, snooker is going to find itself in very serious trouble.

David Hendon is assistant editor of Snooker Scene magazine and commentates on snooker for Eurosport. To read more from his blog or to subscribe to Snooker Scene click on the relevant links below the picture.

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