Mark Sharman, Channel 4’s controller of sport, supports Derby
County Football Club - the Rams, by nickname. And like the ram, Mark
Sharman is legendary for his stubborn approach to life.
’Mark just hates losing,’ says Neil Duncanson, managing director of
independent producer Chrysalis TV, who worked under Sharman in the early
1990s. ’We used to play football together. There was this huge bloke
playing against us once, about nine feet tall, and after five minutes,
when they were two-nil up, Mark had to be dragged off him. That’s how
much he hates losing.’
Not that Sharman needs to worry too much about losing. He can leave that
to the BBC. The cricket, Des Lynam ... as if to rub it in, C4 has
embarked on a huge marketing campaign to support its new sport. Posters,
advertising and TV promotions all underline the fact that new blood is
in charge of WG Grace’s game.
Sharman credits much of his success to a curious mentor - the irascible
manager of Derby County in the early-1970s, Brian Clough. ’We were
growing up in this town no one had ever heard of and suddenly Clough
took our team and won two league championships with it. It made you feel
anything was possible,’ he says.
Sharman moved away from Derby in 1972 to join the Birmingham Evening
Mail and Sports Argus, and it was in Birmingham that he started to work
in TV. In 1976, he was snapped up from the weekly paper to work at ATV
on its Sunday sports show, Star Soccer.
’Once I’d learned the techniques of TV, my nine years in print
journalism made it easy,’ he says. ’But I always looked for a new
challenge. I started up TVS’ sports coverage in 1981, founded Chrysalis
TV as its first managing director in 1988, and started up Carlton and
LWT’s news operation LNN in 1991.’
Sharman says he only went to C4 because of the chance to mould the
channel’s Test cricket coverage. He has been responsible for the
channel’s ’mission to explain’, using jargon-busters to help viewers
understand the intricacies of the game. The channel is happy - cricket
has given C4 its highest Saturday rating for two years with 2.5 million
viewers. The advertisers are happy with the ABC1 audience. Even the MCC
has been largely supportive.
Now he’s controller of sport, Sharman’s interaction with PR comes mainly
with corporate PR managers representing sponsors. ’I’ve found the
industry to be helpful when they want you to do something and unhelpful
when you need them to do something,’ he says. ’ But I suppose
journalists are exactly the same.’
He realises how important sport is to the sponsors, but says it’s even
more important for the terrestrial channels. ’People watch Sky News for
news, MTV for music and Paramount for sitcoms. If Channel 4 is going to
survive, it’s going to need big events like the cricket to get people
tuning in,’ he explains.
Sharman also runs Channel 4’s racing and Tour de France coverage. And,
as we speak, he is preparing to return to the negotiating table with the
Italian football league for the rights to keep transmitting Italian
’Unfortunately they think it’s worth more than we do, so we’ll have to
see what happens,’ he says.
Despite the legendary Italian negotiating skill, you can’t help thinking
they have their hands full with a Rams supporter who hates losing as
much as Mark Sharman.
Director of programmes, London News Network
Deputy head of Sky Sports
Controller of sport, Channel 4