Media Analysis: BBC sports rethink divides opinion

Veteran sports news journalist Mihir Bose will start work as the BBC's first sports editor in January. Ahead of his arrival, Adam Hill gauges opinion on his appointment among sports journalists and PR professionals.

The BBC's appointment of its first sports editor, Mihir Bose, is intended to put Auntie's sports news on a par with its business and political coverage. In common with his new BBC counterparts on those patches - Robert Peston and Nick Robinson - Bose will not head a department. Instead the BBC says Bose has been hired to ‘provide analysis and context to major sports news stories'.

Bose, who takes up his post on 1 January, says: ‘My job is to break stories.'  So what can PR professionals expect from the man who the Daily Mail had described as a ‘rank outsider' for the job? The good news is that Bose (married to financial PR specialist Caroline Cecil) is receptive to pitches from PR professionals - ‘if a story is genuine'.

A sports business specialist for a couple of decades, he has written The Daily Telegraph's Inside Sport column since 1995. And next year, Bose releases a book - his 23rd - called Manchester DisUnited, which takes in the latter years of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign.

Football Association director of comms Adrian Bevington says: ‘Mihir will help the BBC. He brings a wealth of experience and numerous contacts in the corridors of power with government and major sporting bodies.'

The politics of sport
Bose will report to head of newsgathering Fran Unsworth. While the BBC's sports coverage per se will not change as a result of this appointment, the frequency of sports news stories appearing on the 10 O'Clock News will.  Unlike many sports writers, Bose does not have the ‘fanboy' mentality. He gets his teeth into stories on funding and deals, has a reputation as a scoop merchant, and will get involved in BBC investigations.

Sports PR executives can expect their clients to come under scrutiny - so should they worry about Bose? Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, whose clients include Reebok and Coca-Cola, responds: ‘Be prepared for the good times and bad times. Bose is clever and sharp. He might have a different agenda. But I don't think the BBC is going to trot out investigative pieces every day.'

Not everyone in sports media is impressed with the appointment. ‘You can't teach an old dogs new tricks,' says one rival journalist - a not very gallant way of alluding to the fact that Bose was born in 1947. ‘It's very weird, a bizarre appointment,' says a sports PRO. ‘He's 60 years old [59 actually] - hardly the face of British broadcasting. He's a respected journalist but the consensus is that there were far better candidates.'

If that is the case, why has the Beeb employed Bose? In a word: Olympics. London 2012, preceded by Beijing in 2008, will be big news and Bose has already covered several Games - with an emphasis on off-the-track machinations. ‘His Olympic contacts are second to none. He knows everybody,' says fellow Telegraph columnist Sue Mott.

David Welch, the former Telegraph sports editor who appointed Bose and now manages some of the journalist's activities, such as corporate speaking, says: ‘Mihir's insider knowledge is unsurpassed. He's a major acquisition.'

Despite the decision to axe Saturday afternoon's Grandstand, reports of the demise of sport at the corporation have been exaggerated. It has rights for the World Cup up to 2014, the Olympics to 2012, Wimbledon, Six Nations rugby union, British Open golf, the FA Cup, Premier League football highlights and the Grand National. Bose has written authoritatively on all of these. And Henry Chappell, MD of Pitch PR, says giving Bose the newly created job will help the BBC's reputation. ‘It hasn't been breaking big stories and the business of sport is much more mainstream now,' Chappell says. ‘He's a heavyweight sports journalist, very well connected. He understands the politics of sport well, which is increasingly important.'

But not everyone is a fan of Bose's style. His piece in the Telegraph on 6 September, which suggested that
Wembley Stadium might not be open for another four years, has been seized upon by critics. Charles Sale, writer of the Daily Mail's Sports Agenda, mischievously wrote in his column last month: ‘It remains to be seen whether his often individual take on stories will work for the Beeb.'

Chappell - whose clients include Wembley Stadium - adds: ‘Mihir goes out on a limb sometimes. If he'd done [the Wembley story] at the BBC, he would look pretty stupid next year when Gary Lineker introduces the station's FA Cup coverage from the stadium.'

‘I am not a columnist'
Another PRO says: ‘He will not be able to take fliers at the BBC. It will be a very different working relationship.

Bose, of course, defends his journalism. The Wembley story, he says, has been misinterpreted: he merely wrote that a £350m claim by builder Multiplex against the FA could take until 2010 to resolve. In the same article he wrote that Lord Carter, chairman of Sport England, would be called in to sort out the impasse - and he has been. ‘It is a mistake to say I take up positions,' Bose insists. ‘My stories are factual reporting. I am not a columnist in the sense of having an opinion.'

And if his appointment has divided journalists and PROs, there is one thing on which they all agree: Bose is a respected, highly experienced sports news journalist who gets under the skin of the business of sport.

As colleague Mott says: ‘He can find his way around a balance sheet - this alone puts him well ahead of 99.9 per cent of sports writers.'

BBC Sport: selected contacts

Editor (from 1 January): Mihir Bose
TV correspondents: Adam Parsons; Andy Swiss; James Munro; James Pearce
Radio correspondents: Garry Richardson (Five Live's Sportsweek); Jonathan Agnew (cricket); Ian Robertson (rugby union); Jonathan Overend (tennis)
Sport Interactive: Ben Gallop (editor); Alex Gubbay (sports editor); Claire Stocks (assistant editor)
T: all via 020 8743 8000

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