Jo Coates, UK Athletics chief executive, says talks with the BBC and other broadcasters are taking place, but finances are a problem
British athletics could lose both of its Diamond League events and its terrestrial television presence next year amid financial turmoil at the governing body, the head of UK Athletics has warned.
The British Championships, which have taken place without all of the biggest stars in Manchester over the past two days, were the last event under the BBC’s current broadcasting deal worth around £2.5million a year. Negotiations for a new deal are ongoing, but the BBC is understood to be loath to pay so much for a sport that has struggled with declining interest in recent years and Jo Coates, UK Athletics chief executive, is in discussions with other non-terrestrial broadcasters.
Both the London Anniversary Games and Gateshead Diamond League were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic this summer, resulting in a significant loss of income for UK Athletics.
The governing body’s financial reserves have dwindled in recent years and both events could be relinquished next year as Coates attempts to get a handle on the worrying finances. With Gateshead, Britain’s secondary international event, looking almost unsalvageable, it is the potential loss of the London Anniversary Games – one of the flagship Diamond League meets on the global calendar – that would cause most alarm for fans.
I would like to think that we wouldn’t lose the Diamond League in this country but it has to make commercial sense, We cannot take the sort of losses we have taken on some of our major events. I am not going to say we will definitely have two Diamond League events. We are absolutely looking at our event portfolio, and we have got to look at whether they financially make sense to us. And if they don’t, then we potentially might not have two.
I think we can fill the London Stadium. I think we can stretch out ticket prices. But the broadcast revenue for that was a substantial amount of the income, so if we haven’t got that same income coming in, we’ll have to look at other ways – through ticketing, through additional commercial rights or through partnerships with other people. “I would hate to think that we wouldn’t have a Diamond League, and if we were to have one I would imagine it would be London because that’s where it makes commercial sense to have it.said Coates
Coates confirmed she has been in conversation with the BBC over a new deal, but also described talks with other broadcasters as “very positive”. The BBC currently has the rights to Britain’s two Diamond League events, indoor and outdoor British Championships, and one indoor grand prix.
Asked how important a terrestrial presence is for athletics, Coates replied: “I think it is very important. You always have to weigh up money versus reach. Those are the sort of conversations that I’m going to be having. Everybody wants the cash to come in, but we still need a lot of people to see athletics to get us back where we were 10 years ago.
The sport over the last few years has, unfortunately, dropped in the ratings. It just has, and that’s disappointing. Over the last few years the sport has fallen back a little bit. There’s no point denying that, but we are definitely on the up.
With almost all of Britain’s most decorated athletes – including Mo Farah, Dina Asher-Smith, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Laura Muir – choosing not to compete in Manchester, Coates added: “I understand they’ve had big pay cuts, where they haven’t been able to compete. I understand they’ve got obligations to sponsors and they need the money from competition. But of course it’s disappointing.
It’s disappointing because we want good viewing figures. We need strong viewing figures to take away from these British Championships so when we go into negotiations broadcasters know that this is a well-loved sport and a well-watched sport.