Media Profile: C4’s sport gets rambunctious - Mark Sharman, controller of sport, Channel 4

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 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

football.



’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.



HIGHLIGHTS

1991

Director of programmes, London News Network

1994

Deputy head of Sky Sports

1998

Controller of sport, Channel 4



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