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Volume 6 No. 216
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BBC Rights Execs Open Consultancy With Sights Set On 'Less Popular' Sports

A former senior BBC sports rights exec believes the European distribution of NBA, NFL and NHL media rights is selling the sports short, claiming they are simply “not jelling” with their audience across the Atlantic. Robert Foster, who has worked for 25 years acquiring sports rights at the BBC, has set up a new consultancy with his former BBC colleague David Murray, called Fozmuz. Foster is reaching out to U.S. sports federations, believing that Fozmuz offers an appealing counterpoint to giants such as IMG, as it is run by just two execs who have worked at the highest level thrashing out rights deals with UEFA and FIFA while offering a personal touch absent from the big players. Foster said, “If you look at the delivery of American sports like NHL, NFL and NBA, traditionally in the U.K. and Europe, their audiences are small, the rights fees are negligible and there is a lot of simulcasting going on. You can find 20 different channels that are showing the Super Bowl. They are understandably more concerned about exposure but there is probably not a lot of value there. I think there is a tradition that American sports doesn’t travel beyond the Atlantic."

BUCKING THE TREND: The NBA was pointed to by Foster as one league which they could possibly work with, though this is likely to be in the longer term. A number of U.K. clients are expected to be announced in the coming months. While the consultancy launched on Jan. 1, the pair will continue to work with the BBC, as advisors on top-level football, for the next six months at least. The consultancy’s focus, Foster said, will be partly philanthropic, highlighting that it will not have “an agenda” but a focus on growing “participation levels” in less popular sports. Fozmuz’s areas of expertise will be media rights, supported by Foster and Murray's ability to open doors and bulging contacts books.

THE TIME IS RIGHT:  With BT, Sky and others engaged in an increasingly frenzied bidding war for sports rights, Foster believes the market is now ripe with opportunities. Foster said, “We’re trying to help the people who can’t necessarily get attention of the big agencies, as sports are difficult to monetize. Any kind of Olympic sports, from hockey to gymnastics to athletics. Anything where two extra eyes can give extra value without an agenda.” Because of the pair’s status, Foster said they can afford to be choosy who they worked with. He said, “We’re not just going to take whoever comes along, like Underwater Netball giving us half a million pounds to do this.” Despite the BBC recently losing out on high-profile rights such as the Grand National and having its F1 rights halved, Foster believes the broadcaster is in good shape. He said, “Within a competitive environment, I think BBC Sport is quite strong. The arrival of BT means we’re looking at competition. There is no doubt that the BBC will be under severe pressure in two or three years' time. But presently I think it is in a robust situation.”
John Reynolds is a writer in London.