Media: Sports Radio - Question of sport coverage is answered/Kelvin MacKenzie’s has entered a new contender into the ring of sports radio, but the current champion, Five Live is unlikely to go down without a fight

Last week’s announcement by Talk Radio that it’s relaunching as Talk Sport, a service it claims to be the country’s first 24-hour all sports radio station, has ruffled everyone’s feathers down at the BBC’s news and sports station Five Live.

Last week’s announcement by Talk Radio that it’s relaunching as

Talk Sport, a service it claims to be the country’s first 24-hour all

sports radio station, has ruffled everyone’s feathers down at the BBC’s

news and sports station Five Live.

Mike Lewis, deputy controller Five Live and controller of BBC Radio

sports rights, has hit back at the press coverage, telling PR Week that

’Britain already has a sports station and it’s called Five Live.’

Talk Radio, on the other hand, announced this week that it is putting

its money where it’s mouth is. It’s spending pounds 2 million on an

advertising campaign across television, print and posters showing sports

heroes captured in moments of triumph under the strap lines ’If you love

sport, we’re on your wavelength,’ and ’the nation’s first sports radio

station’. Meanwhile it has also appointed Beattie Media as its PR


Admittedly, Talk won’t actually be an unadulterated sports station.

There’s a car programme at noon called Car Guys and at 5am there’s an

hour long money show from Bloomberg. Nonetheless, sports presenters like

Tom Watt, Alan Brazil and Geoff Boycott will be getting more airtime,

the station has secured the rights to Manchester United’s European games

and the new schedule promises six hours of live sport a day.

It’s clear where the inspiration lies. WFN-AM, a New York sports station

owned by CBS is the highest grossing radio station in the US, earning

more than pounds 30 million a year from ad revenue, twice as much as its

nearest rival. Talk is investing pounds 6 million into the station to

buy up rights and make the station ready to run on planned new services

including digital radio, BSkyB’s digital television service and it’s

terrestrial rival ONdigital.

Of course, the key to the station’s success will be getting its hands on

the holy grail of British sports broadcasting - the Premier League.

Currently the BBC has an exclusive national deal on Saturday afternoons,

with BBC and commercial local stations broadcasting only their local

teams games. All the rights are up for grabs in 2002, however, and in

radio the sharks are circling - the BBC, the new digital radio licence

bidders, the local commercial radio network and now Talk Sport. In the

meantime, the Premier League itself is wondering whether to negotiate

all rights as a body or to allow individual teams to conduct their own


Talk Sports future won’t be decided for a few months yet.


Name: Mike Lewis

Position: Deputy Controller Five Live and Controller of BBC Radio Sports

Rights Weekly reach: 5.6 million adults

’We’re obviously not being complacent about the launch of Talk


Kelvin MacKenzie is an incredibly experienced media figure and he’s

incredibly well connected.

’It’s not clear how close his relationship with Rupert Murdoch is.

Nonetheless, we’re not going to just turn up our heels. We’re ready for

the big fight and we think that when we go toe to toe, Five Live


’On Saturday afternoons, we have 2.01 million listeners which is a 12

per cent share, while Talk has 193,000 listeners which is a 1.1 per cent

share. When we both broadcast the same thing, for instance the Scotland

vs England qualifier, we had 2.5 million listeners and a 25 per cent

share, while Talk had 141,000 listeners and a one per cent share.

’I keep hearing Kelvin go on about how he needs more sports rights and

how it’s an outrage that the BBC controls so many of them, but I should

point out that he could broadcast live nationwide league games, he could

broadcast rugby league games and some racing, but he chooses not to.

’I’m also listening to Talk Sport right now and they’ve got Derek Hatton

hosting a news phone-in on the NHS. I think we’ve got the best sports

presenters in people like Alan Green, Trevor Brooking and Seb Coe and I

don’t think many of our breakfast shows listeners are going to tune into

the non-stop sports update that Kelvin’s offering at that time.

’We’ve got the Premier League exclusively for another season and a half

and the TV rights aren’t yet under negotiation. We’ve made it clear to

the league that we’re ready to talk when they are, but they want to get

the telly negotiations started first. I’m sure we’ll get started this

year, but maybe not until late spring/summer. That’ll be a key

negotiation. At that point, I guess we’ll see how close Kelvin’s links

with Murdoch are if Sky include Talk in their conversations.’


Name: Jason Bryant

Position: Managing Director for Business Development

Weekly reach: 1.9 million adults

’The aim is for Talk Sport to act as a one stop shop for sports news

commentary, interview and comment. Since Kelvin MacKenzie took over as

chief executive in November 1998, he’s been changing the format to

attract a younger and more upmarket audience. Following extensive

research, we identified a gap in the market for a station that provides

intelligent sports coverage and a forum for sports fans to air their


’We think the station will appeal to everyone interested in sport -

fans, players and managers alike, with a line up of presenters,

including Tom Watt, Alan Brazil, Gary Newbon and Adrian Durham. This

year we will cover exclusively the England cricket team in South Africa,

British Lions, World Snooker Championships and Rugby Super League. We’ve

even asked England manager Kevin Keegan to present programmes in the

run-up to Euro2000

’The station will be broadcast on the internet and on pay TV channels as

well as digital radio. The on-line service will also offer a football

discussion forum in conjunction with the Football Supporters’

Association (FSA) The idea is that sports mad fans can tune in on their

computers while they are at work, at home through television and in

their car. Since the internet is global, fans will be able to tune in

from anywhere in the world. That’s when it makes sense economically. We

decided this would only make sense as a 24 hour channel because that’s

how people listen to the radio. It’s about brand loyalty.’

’We will be bidding against Five Live for the Premier League - they paid

five million pounds and it’s hard for us to buy sports rights and

compete against the taxpayers’ money that funds the BBC. We have however

poached several sporting events from them including England’s current

winter cricket tour.’

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