Does BBC Scotland need to improve its Pro12 Coverage?

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.

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From the Borders town of Melrose, Ruairidh has had more than enough time to admire the game by spending most of his playing career so far in the rather lonely position of wing. When time allows he may also be found with a whistle in his hand attempting control a disgruntled prop twice his size.
Follow Ruairidh on twitter @ru_campbell

18 comments on “Does BBC Scotland need to improve its Pro12 Coverage?

  1. FF on

    “All the interviews and packages were delivered in English”

    As they always are because there is a distinct shortage of Gaelic speaking professional rugby players.

    I take your point that rugby coverage must be more accessible to floating fans but I’m now used to watching rugby on BBC Alba without the English commentary. In fact, I prefer it to the BBC’s 6N coverage because you aren’t inflicted with the total b******s most of them spout. Particularly Jonathan Davies – is there any way to force him to speak in Welsh?

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      I think if the English commentary option did come on BBC Alba, we should at least have Scottish commentators. Providing the likes of Davies and Guscott are not commentating on the games then I’m happy!

  2. Allan on

    Putting aside the BBC Scotland attitude to non Old Firm sport (nothing short of disgraceful), i actually enjoy the BBC Alba commentary. Hugh Dan is a very good commentator who knows his rugby and is very enthusiastic without being overly rose-tinted. It makes me wish they had taught Gaelic at school rather than boring French! The mix of english and Gaelic works well as the game speaks for itself and the insight from the co-commentators (in English) adds to this. We all know what gaelic for ‘penalty’ is now don’t we!

    What sticks in my craw is Andy Nicols subservience to Wood, Guscott, Davies and Inverdale on BBC where he pretty much allows them to slate Scottish rugby with impunity. Granted, we have been mince for a while now but we all know we have talent but Nicol doesn’t tub-thump in the same way that the others do. Perhaps its a fear of coming across as too jingoistic but he could do more to talk up our lads. Blame Johnson if it helps but don’t let knobs like Davies just spout drivel ad nauseam!

    Skys commentary is ridiculously bad. I used to like Barnes and Harrison but they have become a joke. They often don’t even seem to be watching the same game but i put that down to Sky, a commercial broadcaster, being obliged to talk up terrible games as having been great simply to attract the less observant punters!

  3. suffolkscot on

    Hugh Dan to me is the next voice of Scottish Rugby, I think he connects very well with the viewer, unbiased and has a good down to earth chat with the player alongside him. BBC albas coverage to me is spot on especially the coverage of what goes on in the Scottish clubs, I think I have learnt and seen more about Scottish club rugby over the past two seasons than anything BBC Scotland has ever provided over my 42 years of watching Scotland Shame really…I just wish some business men could see the potential of pro club rugby and take some clubs onto biggar and better things, If I could just win that 95 Mil Tuesday nothing would make me more happier than ploughing it into club rugby well leaving some pennies for a car and a play boy mansion!!

    Ref Andy Nicoll he must be suicidal being a pundit for BBC having to listen to the others on how bad we are yet try and some positive spin on it

  4. Donald Peddie on

    A word in praise of the US commentary team on Sunday. Occasionally caught out in fact about Scottish players but well informed, entertaining and even handed.

  5. Iain on

    Couldn’t agree more with this article, the coverage on BBC2 Scotland was a joke! When I heard it was on BBC2 I presumed it would have English commentary, but knowing BBC Scotland’s previous inadequancies it didn’t surprise me that much when I tuned in to find it was in Gaelic! I switched over to BBC Wales and thought they did a decent job tbh. Iirc Jiffy wasn’t involved either! I found Andy Nicol’s contribution perfectly reasonable too.

    I do accept that Alba have given us a lot of coverage recently and can therefore just about accept the Gaelic commentary on regular season matches on Alba – although I still find the mishmash of English and Gaelic questionable – What section of the audience is this supposed to serve exactly? However, for a final shown on BBC2, which clearly has a majority English speaking audience, the failure to provide the full program in English was laughable. I know plenty casual rugby watchers who turned off as soon as they realised it was in Gaelic – Whilst rugby diehards might keep watching, it doesn’t attract many less committed viewers. Surely they could’ve provided a one-off English language commentary for minimum hassle/cost?

    I get the impression from this and other forums that many people are happy with the Gaelic commentary. Each to their own, but frankly I find it bonkers that people are happy with commentary in a language they don’t understand a word of – especially when it’s coming from an organisation they’re directly funding through their license fee. As for English language commentators speaking “rubbish” – how do you know Hugh Dan isn’t coming out with much the same!?

    It’s interesting to hear they may be looking at a red button option, this would be a major improvement and surely wouldn’t be that difficult. At the very least if a Scottish side get to the final (or possibly semi) again, I sincerely hope BBC Scotland do better. In the meantime I’ll be watching on Sky/BBC W/S4C/BBC NI as much as possible.

  6. John Ellis on

    Given that BT seem to have moved into Scottish rugby big time what odds on Autumn Internationals going to BT Sport channels. Alba took / got Rabo 12 when no-one else wanted it because of the dross that was getting served up. Now we have one competitive side and everyone knocks the coverage at least we got to see the matches without having to cough up for SKY

  7. Suffolkscot on

    Can you with bt sport pay for viewing one day? So i can watch the canadagame
    But if our Autumn internationals go to bt sport would it better to go to
    Bt sport decisions decisions.
    I like the bbc alba commetry. If you dont like it just turn the volume down!!

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Sadly there is no day pass for BT Sport like what Sky have. As for the commentary, would you honestly rather listen to it in Gaelic and not be able to understand it or listen to it in English?

    • Suffolkscot on

      It was a bit strange at first but i’ve just got used to
      It. The commetry has some english discussion
      Anyway when they have a chat with the player from
      Edinburgh or glasgow so breaks up the commetry
      A fair bit.
      Just amazes me a small part of scotland speaking gaelic
      Are at the forefront of scottish tv when it comes
      To televising scottish rugby.
      Bbc scotland stv and borders just dont have a clue
      Or prepared to take a chance on scottish sport unless
      It involves sectarian divides with large viewing numbers.

      A lot of people in scotland are crying out for a change
      And scottish rugby have the potential of turning their
      League pro! Televise the local games and people will
      Come to sport that isnt filled with people from the
      Gutter filling the world with hate on stupid issues from
      Hundreds of years ago

    • Allan on

      Ruaridh. I WATCH rugby on the box in the same way i watch it down the park. I don’t need commentary to enjoy it. Without Alba, there is no, i repeat no scottish pro rugby coverage. That is the problem, not Hugh Dan!

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Yes, I agree that it is great that BBC Alba are showing the rugby Allan, and that Hugh Dan is a good commentator if you speak Gaelic (this article does not in any way attack Hugh Dan…) What the article does say, however, is that for the BBC to help promote Scottish rugby, then they need to be at least showing games like the 1872 cup on BBC 2 as well as offering an English commentary option for those who would rather listen to something they fully understand. Now, if the BBC do go ahead with the plans that are outlined in the article for an English commentary option for next season on the red button, then this will only boost Scottish rugby. And still, if you do prefer Hugh Dan and the Gaelic commentary team, then you can still listen to them instead of the English alternative. The question will be however, how many games BBC Alba will be able to show as I imagine Sky will want a good number of Glasgow games after their great performances this season.

  8. Mike Hall on

    A red button English commentary option would be a step in the right direction. But you would not be able to record the game in English and watch it at a later date.

    Still stuck in the stone age. Should have English commentary as standard. How many of the 57,000 non English speakers play rugby?

    Should be on BBC 2 Scotland.

    I’m fed up trying to convince folk to support Scottish rugby. If they are on the fence, non English commentary sends them running to better covered sports.

  9. Egypt Chat on

    You might undoubtedly visit your expertise while in the works of art you’re posting. A segment desires a lot more enthusiastic freelance writers such as you whom aren’t scared to say the way they consider. Constantly follow your current cardiovascular.

  10. neoneocon.com on

    This was a thoughtful article, I’m pleased I tracked it down and I’ll certainly be back to see what others out there have to say regards the matter. Again, thanks.

  11. Michael Atkins on

    ..and how about BBC Alba being made available beyond the shores of the UK? There are many Scottish Rugby affaciendos living elsewhere who would love to watch Edinburgh and /or Glasgow games.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      It depends where you live because I know that some countries including New Zealand, France and Australia have channels which hold broadcasting rights for the Pro12 games in that country. Some houses abroad do have Sky satellites which means that they get the normal channels available on Sky to view, which includes BBC Alba. As for making BBC Alba available as another channel on normal TV networks abroad, it is extremely unlikely that there would be enough demand to make it financially viable.

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