Channel 4 sport chief on claiming Super League rights

Channel 4 Head of Sport Peter Andrews has said that when the opportunity to screen ten Super League matches for the next two seasons was offered to the Leeds-based broadcaster, he had very little hesitation before deciding he would like to bid for the rights.

And, in having done so successfully, it means that Super League will be shown on free-to-air television for the first time since its launch in 1996.

“We are always looking for sporting rights,” Andrews told League Express.

“We look at all rights tenders that come out from sporting organisations.

“So yes, the Super League came to us and showed us what was available. We have been looking at this for at least a year.

“The fact that we are now based in Leeds wasn’t the decisive factor in persuading us to bid for the rights, but I certainly think it helped. I like to think we would have looked anyway. The main thing is that you have to wait for the rights to become available.”

Andrews admits that, originating from the Midlands, he doesn’t have much experience in Rugby League but he recognises its qualities.

“When Super League approached us, it helped to focus our minds,” he added.

“I think it’s a great sport and it feels like the opportunity is there for everyone to be pushing in the same direction. We are all united in wanting to present a brilliant sport in the best way possible, to raise the profile of Super League.

“We are trying to bring sport back onto terrestrial television. We are funded by advertisers but we are a public service and we have to box clever because we don’t have unlimited resources available to us.”

Andrews confirmed that Channel 4 will commission independent production companies to provide the programme content for its Super League coverage.

“The tender documents are going out as we speak,” Andrews explained

“We don’t yet know who will be doing it but it will be an independent production company. We would like to open it up to everyone. We want everyone’s best ideas on how the programme might look.”

But that doesn’t mean that the tender documents will include an over-arching specification.

“We like to be not very detailed in what we prescribe,” said Andrews.

“We will have a minimum broadcast specification and we want the best coverage possible, but we don’t want people to be limited by our ideas. Essentially the question we are trying to answer it how to attract a broader audience but not alienate an established audience.”

But that doesn’t mean that Andrews won’t influence the production values of the successful applicant, particularly in relation to the personnel they propose to use.

“To be fair, we would have a say in pundits and presenters. We want to hear who the bidders propose to use before we make a decision.

“I don’t want to claim that we are suddenly revolutionise anything. We want to appeal to a new audience while wanting to entertain the core fans.

“By using independent production companies, we have a constant renewal of ideas and that competition helps to bring the best practice to the screen.”

When asked how he envisages the programme format, Andrews admits he hasn’t yet finalised his thoughts, although he won’t be bidding to broadcast a Super League highlights package.

“We like the 12.30pm kick-off time on Saturdays and our first three games will certainly kick off at that time, but down the line there may be some games we want to cover that can’t fit into that timeslot. I would imagine at this stage that the programme will have 30 minutes building up to the game before the kick-off.

“We are not looking to acquire the highlights package. We only have Channel 4 as our platform and a highlights package wouldn’t work for us, given that we only have one channel on which they could be shown.”

On the weekends when it will broadcast matches, Channel 4 will have the second pick of the weekend’s matches, with Sky Sports having the first and third picks.

“We were delighted to be able to pick the game between Leeds and Warrington for our opening game (on 12 February) and we are hoping for a packed stadium, as it will be Leeds’ first game of the season,” said Andrews.

“And we might all be there from Channel 4. It will be the first time we will have done a big sport day out since Channel 4 moved to Leeds.”

When asked what his hopes are for Rugby League on Channel 4, Andrews admits that he is hoping for a long-term relationship.

“This is a really good starting point,” he said.

“We are not a company with really deep pockets, but that means we treat everything like it’s our most important thing. The best example I can give is the Paralympics, which have prospered enormously since Channel 4 acquired the rights.

“You look at Rugby League and it’s a big family. You can see that when you look at what Kevin Sinfield has done for Rob Burrow and the support given by the Rugby League public. We’ve been welcomed into the family already and we hope we can really add something.

“We are all pulling in the same direction.”

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