The head of the BBC’s football output has admitted that the broadcaster needs to “keep an eye on” the amount of coverage it is giving Manchester United, amid claims it has become obsessed with the club.
In an interview with RadioTimes.com, Mark Cole, the Corporation’s lead executive for football, revealed that when the BBC decided to televise this Friday’s FA Cup game at Salford City – a club co-owned by five former Man Utd players – it had been “mentioned” in discussions that it could provoke claims of favouritism towards the Old Trafford side.
The game on Friday night comes just 24 hours after the broadcast of the second of a two-part BBC1 documentary called Class Of ’92: Out of Their League, which is about the stars’ ownership of the club.
In recent weeks there has also been a BBC1 documentary about United’s legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson fronted by Nick Robinson, himself a well-known Man Utd fan, and another documentary on the same channel about striker Wayne Rooney, presented by Gary Lineker.
One viewer, writing on the BBC’s Points of View message-board recently, criticised the “Mancunian-centric-ness” of the BBC, over its sports coverage, and the Sir Alex Ferguson documentary in particular. Sir Alex had famously snubbed the BBC for years after a 2004 documentary investigated his son Jason’s work as a football agent.
Another viewer posted on the BBC site: “As I said last week, BBC sports should flit over the Manchester Ship Canal and set up in Old Trafford, or just let MUTV take over their sports content.”
The BBC sport department’s new base in Salford is just a stone’s throw away from Manchester United’s ground.
But Cole defended the coverage saying each programme should be judged on its own merits.
When asked if the BBC was obsessed with the Old Trafford club, he said: “That was mentioned when we were choosing the games and I said ‘look we have to just choose what we think is the best game and we’ve just got to make sure all of our coverage is fully representative of the whole country’, which it is.”
Referring to the recent spate of programmes about the club, he added: “I can see as a collective that some people will say ‘look actually you have got to be careful on that’, I think it is just one for us to keep an eye on.
“I think if you had said five years ago that the BBC would be accused of having a bias towards coverage in the north then people would have laughed at you.”
Salford City’s game against Notts County will be broadcast on BBC2 on Friday.
Former United players Ryan Giggs, currently the Premier League team’s assistant manager, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville as well as Nicky Butt are all co-owners of Salford City.