The BBC could give up its right to exclusively broadcast the Wimbledon championship and instead share coverage of the event with BT. Senior BBC executives have held talks with BT, its has been reported, and the broadcaster has reconsidered its coverage of annual tournament, in an effort to cut costs in preparation for further license fee cuts.
If the plans come to fruition it could mean that some matches would only be available to subscribers of the pay-TV channel, after 80 years of coverage available for free for tennis fans, from the BBC. It reportedly costs the BBC up to £40 million a year to broadcast, and fears of further cuts to the license fee in 2016 has led to an examination of where possible cost savings could be made. The BBC has previously made the decision to share its exclusive Formula One rights with BSkyB, and it is rumoured that ITV will bid for BBC Match of the Day’s right to show Premier League Football highlights.
The Wimbledom championship is one of several sporting events, including the Olympic Games, football’s World Cup and European Championship, and the Grand National and the Derby, which has been granted protected status under Ofcom broadcast regulations. However, this only applies to the finals weekend of the tennis tournament.
Wimbledon was televised for the first time in 1937, when matches were transmitted by the BBC from Centre Court, and in 1967, Wimbledon provided the first ever colour broadcast in Britain. The sport is seen by many fans as one of the highlights in the UK’s sporting calendar, a part of its national history, and therefore something which should be free to view by all. The Wimbledon website even states: ‘As important to the All England Club is to carry Wimbledon to as large an audience as possible, which is why, in most parts of the world, the Club aims to place at least part of The Championships on national, free-to-air television.’
The £40 million cost to the BBC of broadcasting the tennis tournament each year constitutes a large part of the tournament’s £150million revenue. The current Wimbledon contract expires in 2017 and it would be in any upcoming negotiation that possible changes would be discussed.