I, like many others, tuned in last Saturday night to BBC Two Scotland to watch the Rabodirect Pro12 Final between Glasgow Warriors and Leinster.
It is fair to say that many were disappointed; not just with the scoreline, but also with the coverage. When it was announced earlier in the week that BBC Scotland would show the game on both BBC Alba and Two Scotland, it seemed as though they were finally starting to take an interest in Scottish club rugby by opening it up to a wider audience. And maybe even giving us some commentary in English?
Maybe some of us dream too much.
For the biggest match Scottish club rugby has seen in the professional era, we hoped they would at least offer the BBC Two viewers commentary in English? Then, for the 57,000 who speak Gaelic (not all of whom would perhaps be watching), they could watch the normal coverage on BBC Alba if they so wish. Maybe comparing viewing figures the BBC would then see that there is an overwhelming majority who want to watch the rugby with English-language commentary.
On whichever Scottish channel you ended up watching the game on, you had the BBC’s experiment of dual-language presentation. This involved our the enthusiastic Hugh Dan Maclennan (our Gaelic readers would have to let us know his quality as a rugby pundit) leading the commentary, with John Beattie cutting in with his own views slightly more often than the usual guest analyst would for normal league games.
The BBC hoped that this would be enough to keep the rugby fans happy whilst maintaining their “need” to preserve BBC Alba as a Gaelic channel. But despite their best efforts, this correspondent felt it was a bit of a shambles with many feeling the need to just mute the TV and turn on BBC Radio Scotland.
Those with Sky, however, were in a much better position as they could switch to BBC Wales. Not only was the coverage in English, but there was a huge contrast between the two presentations; BBC Scotland, who had a team in the Pro12 Final for the first time ever, did not make much effort to improve the coverage quality for BBC Two (no HD), yet Wales, the country which did not even have a team in the playoffs, actually put in a lot of effort for the match.
Perhaps the most surprising thing for people who switched over was the commentator who was waiting for them on the other side: Andy Nicol. Now someone please tell me, what is the BBC’s main Scottish rugby pundit doing in Wales when we are left with a Gaelic/English combo which works about as well as jam and marmite on toast? Surely BBC Scotland must do something to actually attract the better pundits for a game which has meaning for their viewers. Let’s not forget that Andrew Cotter, the top commentator come Six Nations time, is also Scottish.
You have to wonder how much BBC Scotland really cares about rugby once you move away from the internationals. In the comments section of the report of the final on this blog, Allan rightfully said “For BBC Scotland sport to take an interest you need to wear one of two team shirts at the weekend, and neither are for a rugby team!” Considering the fact that even the Camanachd Cup Final for shinty even gets English commentary, how far has rugby been dropping down BBC Scotland’s radar? And its not like the Scottish football teams are even playing that well either…
Despite their approach maybe not being ideal last weekend there are, however, those that will argue that what BBC Alba has done has been really useful, and I agree with them.
Before they started showing Pro12 rugby in 2009/10, the only way to watch it was to pay for Setana Sports and because that was a national broadcasting company, the number of Scottish games was quite minimal. Compare that now with BBC Alba where we can now enjoy a match almost every weekend showing either Edinburgh or Glasgow, and often both in one weekend.
We invited the BBC to comment on its views reflecting on the coverage of the Pro12 Final on BBC Two. Margaret Mary Murray, Head of Service at BBC Alba told us “Recognising that the majority of the viewers to the broadcast on BBC Two were not likely to be Gaelic speakers, the production team tried to make sure that the language barrier was kept as low as possible.”
“All the interviews and packages were delivered in English. However, we recognise that the mix of languages within the commentary and analysis could have been confusing and we apologise if it marred the enjoyment of this significant sporting occasion.”
So it is understandable that BBC Alba held the rights for the coverage and it would not be possible at the time to offer two different broadcasts. I then asked what the plans were for next season and the BBC Scotland Press Office responded with this:
“We are currently looking at whether we could offer a red button service for BBC for next season. Agreements still need to be made and at this moment we are unsure how many games would have this feature.”
“We are investigating into how we could offer an English audio service which runs over the normal BBC Alba coverage in a similar way to how S4C operates for games. An announcement will be made if this proposal goes ahead before the start of the new season.”
This is the encouraging news that people have been waiting for as it seems that we may be close to getting an English commentary option for BBC Alba. If this proposal does go ahead, then it will benefit BBC Alba who will be able to hold onto more Scottish viewers and at the same time this should hopefully allow more and more people to enjoy watching the games on TV. It is unknown just how many games will be shown by BBC Alba next season with Sky Sports now moving into the Pro12 arena, however, hopefully with the Warrior’s performances this season, there will be an increase in game attendances as well as an increase in TV viewers; whichever network it is shown on. If it is on Sky, it’ll be in English, but you’ll have to pay to watch it.
At the end of the day, being able to watch the rugby is still more important than understanding the commentary; but the more that watch rugby in Scotland the better.