By Steven Downes
December 5 - Officials at Glasgow 2014 may be left with a £20 million hole in their budget as a result of the recommendation to drop the Commonwealth Games from Britain’s protected list of free-to-air televised sporting events.
Ben Bradshaw, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, will issue his response soon to the report on TV sport’s "Crown Jewels", which was delivered by David Davies and his committee last month.
There follows a three-month consultation period.
Provided there is not a UK general election before the end of March, Davies's recommendations could come in to force immediately thereafter.
Two small paragraphs of advice contained within the 110-page report passed almost unnoticed when it was published last month.
Yet the recommendations to drop the Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games from the protected list of free-to-air events has caused dismay in Glasgow and London, with one source involved with winter sports describing the suggestion as "deeply disappointing".
Davies's review of the protected list, the first to be conducted since 1998, took nine months, and it clearly struggled to reconcile the aspiration that key events of national interest should be seen by as many of the public as possible, while protecting sports bodies’ ability to generate income from TV rights.
Veteran broadcasting executive Michael Grade likened the arguments in favour of listing events to those in support of a National Health Service.
"The panel's task was to look beyond the interests of any one sport, and assess the events that really matter to society in the modern age," said Davies, a former BBC television reporter and the one-time media director of the Football Association.
"I believe our report is challenging for the sports governing bodies, the broadcasters and the Government.
"But unashamedly it puts the viewing public first."
Glasgow 2014 organisers take a different view.
"What they've done with the list changes the perspective for the 2014 Games entirely," Gordon Arthur, Glasgow 2014’s spokesman, told insidethegames.
"In theory, it opens up the opportunity for discussions with a satellite broadcaster."
The reality, however, may be somewhat different.
Fast Track, the agency tasked by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) to sell TV rights around the world, was so taken aback by the Davies recommendations that they have gone into a period of self-imposed purdah while they re-assess the position.
Commonwealth officials fear that by de-listing the Games, Britain will replace a public-funded monopoly of coverage by the BBC with effectively a commercial monopoly, and one in which the value of the rights are starkly reduced.
The Commonwealth Games has traditionally always received in-depth coverage on the BBC, whether staged at home or abroad.
The BBC has served as host broadcaster at the 1970, 1986 and 2002 Games.
But its estimation of the value of the Games appears to be diminishing: Delhi 2010 is receiving just 60 per cent of the rights fees from the BBC that was paid to the organisers of the 2006 Melbourne Games.
Glasgow 2014, which recently increased its overall budget for staging the Games by £81 million, had based its bid on the BBC being its host broadcaster, setting the cost of hiring broadcast services at £19.3 million while placing the same value on the domestic TV rights "sold" to the BBC.
The report by Davies (pictured) could scuttle that plan.
According to one broadcasting insider: "If the Commonwealth Games are not listed, then it removes the expectation that the BBC will devote so many resources and airtime to the event.
"There’s no guarantee that any other broadcaster will come in and offer huge sums of money for it, either."
The Davies committee was keenly aware of the changing broadcasting landscape, with viewers moving to digital channels and the internet.
There are strong hints in the report that multi-sport events, such as the Commonwealths and Winter Olympics, could "unbundle" their TV rights, and allow sports federations and broadcasters to sell subscriptions for internet viewers to watch individual sports.
This is rejected as unrealistic by Glasgow.
"If you sold off the three most popular sports to separate rights holders, the fear must be that we, as organisers, would not be able to realise much from the content we have left," said Arthur.
"A bundled product is a much more logical route for us to go down."
In predicting the difficulties Glasgow might have in achieving their estimation of a de-listed Commonwealth Games' TV rights value, experts also point to the BBC’s reluctance to introduce a dedicated sports channel, and the Corporation’s failure to commit a worthwhile bid in the last two sets of negotiations for domestic cricket rights.
"Outside the Olympics and World Cup, the BBC is no longer interested in a sports event clogging up its schedules," said the insider, a former senior BBC executive.
This is supported by the BBC's own submission to the Davies committee, which argued against the re-listing of Ashes Test cricket.
"The BBC is not arguing that everything should be listed and it has no Napoleonic ambitions for cricket.
"It recognises the pressures on the sport and although the Ashes [are] of national resonance in the public's view they otherwise do not pass the test [for listing]."
Yet Davies has re-listed the Ashes series, at an estimated loss in TV rights fees to English cricket of at least £100 million.
Even football could be hit in the pocket by the Davies recommendations.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA), which receives £60 million in rights fees from Sky for the Scottish Cup and international matches, was horrified to see Scotland’s home and away World Cup and European championships qualifiers on the revised Davies list.
"If the revenue stream is not there then it's going to have a disastrous effect on the game," said Gordon Smith, chief executive of the SFA.
With the BBC's outside broadcasts also now being outsourced to independent production facilities, another concern for Glasgow is that the costs of televising their event could soar.
"The BBC is a different organisation to that which covered the Manchester Games in 2002," Arthur said.
"If they covered the Glasgow Games, they would have to buy-in the broadcasting resources.
"For us, it is important to look at innovative ways of doing things, to reflect the new media world."
Glasgow is also aware that while Sky and ESPN willingly buy rights to football, rugby and cricket, subscription broadcasters are less generous with sports that deliver smaller, niche audiences.
The likes of athletics and netball – both Commonwealth Games sports - meet the production costs and willingly provide satellite channels with programmes for no charge in order to satisfy their sponsors.
Arthur believes that Glasgow 2014 probably has an 18-month window to discuss its broadcasting strategy, although he gives the impression that his organisation’s best hope is that an election might see the Davies report left to gather dust under a different administration.
"We need to spend some time re-examining some of the principles we laid down when bidding, when we made certain assumptions about broadcasting based on the BBC providing host broadcasting services and taking the domestic rights.
"We now need to ask: what will it cost?
"What would our rights be worth?
"We still want the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to be accessible to as many people as possible, and our view has been that the BBC is best placed to act as host broadcaster and that domestically, the BBC is the right programme maker."
November 2009: Exclusive - Curling hero slams TV proposals to delist Winter Olympics
November 2009: Winter Olympics should not be one of British sport's "crown jewels" says new report
December 2008: Former FA chief to lead review of free-to-air events