Barry McGuigan: TV needs to fight to keep sport free to air – or lose everything

The former world champion boxer says the BBC and ITV are losing the battle against pay TV broadcasters like Sky Sports and BT Sport

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Former boxer Barry McGuigan has warned TV broadcasters that unless they fight to keep sports events free to air they will “lose everything.”

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The former WBA featherweight champion convinced ITV to show the upcoming fight between British boxer Carl Frampton and American Chris Avalos. However, McGuigan says in this week’s edition of Radio Times that he was worried that the rise of pay TV broadcasters like Sky Sports and BT Sport threatens to make free-to-air sport a thing of the past.

“I hounded ITV to put this [fight] on and while it’s just a one-off at the moment I hope that the reaction to this fight will persuade them to come back for more,” he says.

Boxing is predominantly a pay-TV spectacle: when George Groves fought Carl Froch last year, 900,000 people paid to watch it on TV. McGuigan’s era-defining bout in June 1985 meanwhile was watched by 18 million on BBC1.

McGuigan admits that Sky have done a “phenomenal job” with their boxing coverage, “but we know with this we’ll be going to millions of viewers rather than hundreds of thousands.”

“Unless terrestrial TV fights back they are going to lose everything,” McGuigan says. “The BBC will be down to just athletics.”

Sky and BT Sport’s new Premier League deal was worth a record £5.1 billion, while tournament such as rugby union’s Six Nations are said to be open to a new deal with a pay TV broadcaster.

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Read the full interview with Barry McGuigan and much more in this week’s Radio Times, out in shops and with bonus material on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 23rd February