BBC sends more staff to Olympics than Team GB has athletes. As ever.

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 26 April 2012
“Our BBC accredited staff numbers for London 2012 will be 765 - an increase compared with the 493 we had in Beijing, of whom 437 were flown from London to China.” - Roger Mosey

The BBC have said they’ll be sending an army of staff to cover the Olympic Games. Everybody will be writing about how that outnumbers British athletes. Hey, look, I’ll save you the trouble of reading today’s articles - here is the exact same story from 2010 and 2008. I daresay with a bit more research I could turn up examples from 2006 and 2004 and 2002 and so on...

It is a classic example of one of those non-stories that really irritate me in journalism. Effectively it says “the BBC has decided to send an arbitrary number of apples to an event, whilst an entirely separate organisation has sent an equally arbitrary but smaller number of pears to the same thing in order to perform a completely different function.”

It isn’t as if “British athletes” is a stable number with which to compare the BBC’s contingent - in 2012 for example, we’ve got the inflationary presence of two Great Britain Football squads contributing an extra 36 athletes alone.

The implication is, of course, that sending more BBC people than we have athletes is excessive. I do wonder how this “golden ratio” of sportsmen to broadcast staff might apply to other sports. England will only have 23 players at Euro2012 - should the BBC cover it with less than 23 staff? What about the boat race, that only has 18 participants - 19 if you count Trenton Oldfield - so should the BBC broadcast it using just 17 people? And since, to my knowledge, the BBC don’t send any horses at all to cover the Grand National, and lots of horses feature in that event, does that represent much better value for the Licence Fee payer than the Olympics?

Of course, having worked there, I’m sure you could shave a few people of the BBC contingent at London 2012 without making a huge difference to coverage, but it seems to me one of those cases where it is very difficult to judge what an “appropriate” number of staff would be. With Olympics being four years apart they always represent a step-change in broadcast technology - this time around massive Twitter coverage and 3D are on the agenda for the first time - and the different venues mean the logistical challenge is always a different one.

And don’t even get me started on complaints that BBC Sport is based in Manchester and the games are in London - I don’t recall anybody being outraged that the Manchester Commonwealth Games were covered by people usually based in London.

I think stories like this irritate me disproportionately because to my mind they patronise the audience. Commodity non-news like this is exactly the reason why mainstream news organisations find it hard to monetise content - who wants to cough up cash for a story that is basically a re-write of a BBC press release that involves a meaningless comparison?

It is frustrating because if you look around for it you can see some great examples of digital sports journalism out there. Tony Evans from The Times provided a brilliant running Twitter commentary this week on the process of getting the paper to bed when the Champions League is running late and a shock results is causing the match reports to have be rewritten again and again. The Times Sport team then built this into a Storify compilation - Tony Evans on producing a sports section.

Barry Glendenning tweeted that reading this might put lie to the myth of the “lazy sports journalist.” Sadly, when “BBC has more apples than Team GB has pears” is still an easy story to write, I think that reputation may stick around for a bit longer...

5 Comments

It's irritating because it's not really news and the agenda of the proprietor is so transparent (other news organisations have proprietary agendas).

More people involved in building of house than will actually live in it etc just isn't 'news' whatever news is.

Anyway, arent the BBC providing the global pictures this time? In which case they need to send more staff than all the athletes of all the countries in the world combined in order to create genuine license fee payer outrage

"BBC sends..." "The BBC have..." - one minute you use the singular then the plural - learn to write then I might read it.

I remain with my belief that the BBC should simply just state one day that "We're only going to send the same number of people as athletes. By the way, this is what you'll get in comparison with what you would get if we sent the number we think we should send."

Then wait a few days and react to the uproar. Because the public simply don't want the mens 100m race covered by one camera and one commentator who is simultaneously trying to do the swimming as well.

Until organisations like the BBC really start challenging these ridiculous stories head on, and show the impact - show how stupid they are - we'll just keep on getting this madness.

A nice article until you tried to defend the move to Manchester. It's not comparable with the Commonwealth Games because the majority of the BBC's sports staff have never been based in Manchester (until now). The Olympics is the biggest sporting competition on the planet and the BBC is moving everyone OUT of the city where its based before it starts!!! However, you were absolutely right to pour scorn on those who compare BBC Olympic staffing levels with the size of the GB team.

Remember the BBC is a licence funded unaccountable organisation . They do in reality have money to burn and no need to do other than find ways to spend other peoples money.

Keep up to date on my new blog