Gordon McKie attacks BBC's 'derisory' rights bid

THE SCOTTISH Rugby Union has highlighted a reluctance by the BBC to match its previous rights fee for this year's autumn Test matches and warned of a TV blackout just days after Scotland secured their first-ever Test series victory in Argentina.

On the day Andy Robinson's squad flew back into Edinburgh from their two-Test success, Gordon McKie, the SRU chief executive, attacked the BBC's offer to renew the contract to screen November internationals as derisory. The SRU has written to the BBC Trust to outline its frustration with how the BBC in London continues to increase its investment in Welsh rugby, but drop its interest in the Scottish game, and also revealed that the Scottish Parliament will next week debate the issue.

Sarah Boyack MSP has tabled a motion titled 'Broadcasting black hole for Scottish rugby' which has the widespread cross-party backing, including that of former sports ministers Stewart Maxwell, Frank McAveety, Andy Kerr and Rhona Brankin. The motion states "that the Parliament ... is disappointed that terrestrial broadcasters do not cover a broader range of rugby matches and tournaments at all playing levels; believes that more investment in the coverage of Scottish rugby is essential in order to promote sport in general to a wider audience, thereby increasing participation and health levels and to showcase the successes of Scotland's rugby teams; notes the substantial contribution that rugby matches bring to the local Edinburgh economy, and would welcome efforts to ensure increased broadcast coverage of rugby in Scotland."

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At the end of 2009, the latest four-year agreement with the BBC network ended and McKie insisted yesterday that the offer made by the London-based broadcaster to renew the deal was "derisory" and had led the SRU into talks with satellite, cable, internet and pay-per-view broadcasters.

He praised BBC Scotland's broadcast of the Argentina Tests, and their weekly radio coverage, but stated that the Glasgow-based management would not entertain any live coverage next season, or a highlights package of Magners League games despite BBC Alba agreeing a deal to screen eight live games which hands the BBC all match highlights. BBC Wales screens extensive rugby on two channels as a result of investment from the BBC network that BBC Scotland does not receive.

McKie said: "I am not dealing with BBC Scotland at all. BBC Scotland has no interest in buying live rights to rugby. All my discussions are with the BBC in London. BBC Scotland do a lot of work with us on radio, which is appreciated, but they have no budget, no equipment and no appetite to buy live rights to rugby, and, it would seem, to take on the highlights of the Magners League next season either.

"The BBC have always held the rights to the autumn Test games and they don't want to drop it; they have made an offer but their offer is unattractive and does not value the opportunity fairly. The differential between us and Wales for example is inequitable and we feel quite sore about it.

"We have been offered a derisory sum to renew an existing contract. Clearly, it's subjective in terms of how they value it and how we value it, but they are a national broadcaster and so they should have equitable principles in terms of how they deal with regions such as Wales and Scotland.

"That's perhaps the bigger issue than how they value the renewal of our contract. We are reasonable and understand it's a difficult marketplace.

"But the difference (between BBC's approach to Wales and Scotland] is night and day, in terms of money invested, coverage, frequency of broadcasting, activation, promotion. Okay, rugby is a national sport in Wales and we have football, and we understand that, but there is room for improvement. Given that sport is supposed to be so important to Scotland in this decade of sport, rugby doesn't seem to be very important to the BBC in Scotland."

It may be a measure of how far the stock of Scottish rugby has fallen, but working now against the rising performance levels of Andy Robinson's squad are factors such as the current economic climate where rights fees have dropped, a greater focus on football and a personal lack of enthusiasm for rugby among the decision-makers of BBC Scotland.

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McKie spoke yesterday of announcing a 4million increase in turnover to 33.6m to Saturday's agm at Murrayfield, with a rare surplus, of 600,000, and he believes the national team is in better health than possibly at any time in the past five years. However, the lack of a broadcaster is also hampering SRU efforts to secure a sponsor to replace Bank of Scotland Corporate was made more difficult without clarity on how – or if – the games would be screened.

The chief executive said that a better deal might be available from a satellite broadcaster, such as Sky, but he feared knock-on effects of leaving the BBC behind. This is also why ticket sales due to have been launched already for the autumn Tests were halted, the SRU unsure of when the games will kick-off to fit TV schedules.

"We are talking to other broadcasters including subscription, cable and satellite, and other forms of pay-per-view which have been done in other sports," said McKie. "It's not very friendly, but we cannot allow our income to be significantly decimated by what's currently on the table. We have a lot of work to do in the next month to finalise these matches, but we need and expect to have it clarified within a month."

While BBC in London stated only "we never discuss rights negotiations," BBC Scotland issued a statement. It read: "Just days after BBC Scotland broadcast live on TV and radio both of Scotland's matches against Argentina, it's disappointing that the SRU feel that we do not support Scottish rugby.

"Every Scottish sporting authority rightly wants to get as much exposure for their sport as possible, but as a public service broadcaster we have to balance both the expectations of non-sports fans and the competing demands of every sport within a very limited budget, which inevitably means that some sports don't get everything they want.

"Scottish audiences enjoy all the Six Nations matches live on the BBC, while we also try to show other international matches whenever we can – as we did with the Argentina games. We show the Melrose Sevens live every year, carry a weekly live match commentary on Radio Scotland, and last week BBC Alba secured a deal to show Magners League action every week – so it's simply not true to say that rugby doesn't get a fair crack of the whip.

"Negotiations continue for a deal to show the autumn Tests but this has always been part of a pan-UK BBC deal funded from a centrally held rights budget."