Eurovision's Killane: We'll fulfil all broadcast obligations despite congested calendar
By Susan Lingeswaran
Glen Killane, the newly promoted executive director of Eurovision Sport, the sports arm of the European Broadcasting Union, has insisted second- and third-tier sports will not be neglected by the organisation as it prepares to coordinate congested sports calendars in the coming years.
With a number of events postponed because of the global health crisis, the EBU and its member broadcasters are facing hectic summer schedules of multi-sports games and world and European championships.
In 2022 alone, the EBU’s schedule will include the World Aquatics Championship in Fukuoka, Japan (13 to 29 May), followed by the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon (15 to 24 July), which is scheduled to clash with the postponed Women’s Euro 2021 in England (6 to 31 July).
Member broadcasters in the UK, Malta and Cyprus will then have the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England to air (28 July to 8 August) before the multi-sport European Championships in Munich, Germany (11 to 21 August), which runs at the same time as the European Aquatics Championships in Rome, Italy.
With so many major events to produce and budgets constrained by the financial impacts of the virus, industry commentators have pointed out the potential for second- and third-tier sports to be left off broadcast schedules.
However, speaking to Sportcal from Eurovision Sport’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Killane dismissed the idea, adding that while coordinating the logjam of events would be challenging, the organisation would make sure it fulfils its broadcast obligations to all its federation partners.
He said: “When we enter a partnership, it’s a proper partnership, it doesn’t matter the size of the partnership, we have obligations to live up to it in terms of broadcasting and that’s one of the things that we bring to the table for our members – security.
“When we say we’re going to pay, we pay, but we also bring the security of the coverage that we provide.
“You’re only as good as your reputation and our reputation is that we live by and we deliver what we sign up for so those minimum broadcast obligations will need to be adhered to and I think our members are acutely aware of it.”
He added compromises would have to be made as some member broadcasters only have one channel to play with, but delayed showings of events or a move to digital channels for certain times could be possible solutions if schedules clash.
Eurovision Sport has more than 35 contracts with over 30 federations. Leading properties being aired on a free-to-air basis by EBU members, excluding the aforementioned 2022 major events, include soccer’s Fifa World Cup, road cycling's Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, European gymnastics championships, World Cup skiing events from Australia and Switzerland and International Biathlon Union championships.
As deputy director, Killane led the acquisition team which signed rights extensions for many of these properties prior to the shutdown of sports due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Killane also acknowledged the condensed scheduling could represent a challenge for EBU’s small and medium-sized broadcaster members in terms of production but insisted having so many big events to cover would showcase the role public-service media and free-to-air television plays in the sports industry.
He said: “We’ve got very few large broadcasters in our membership, the majority of them are medium and small broadcasters across the entire continent and production is a considerable spend.
“I do understand the significant ask there is in terms of 2022 and we’ve got to find ways of driving efficiencies on the production side but I think there’s a huge upside in terms of advocacy for what public service media does and it’s a part of my new role here to demonstrate the value that our members bring to the public in each of their markets.”
Killane, who joined Eurovision Sport as deputy director in August 2018, succeeded Stefan Kürten as executive director in June, having previously acted as managing director of Eir TV and Eir Sport, the Irish pay-television operation, where he was responsible for the launch of the OTT subscription sports business and managed the IPTV platform.
He also worked as head of sport for Irish public-service broadcaster RTE from 2004 to 2010 before being promoted to managing director of RTE Television from 2010 to 2016.
Since starting his new role, Killane said he has been working with member broadcasters and federations on a new framework that will reposition Eurovision Sport as a member-driven organisation rather than a rights agency.
He said: “Members were always key to us as an organisation but actually I think there has been some kind of misconception that the EBU is some sort of quasi-agency and I want to nail that and change our position as very much a member-driven organisation.
“To do that, we want to make our members more present in our key acquisitions, which is a change from the past, and have them take a central role in it, lead it because the feedback we are getting from rights owners is that they want direct access to the broadcasters.
“We don’t want to stand in the way, we’re just here to act on behalf of the members – we’re not here to take a slice of the action, we’re not for profit, we’re very much here to solve problems on both sides of the equation and make it all work on a pan-European basis.”
Another key priority for Killane is ensuring the industry knows the EBU is open and flexible on working with more external partners to distribute content in various other markets.
He said: “It’s very tricky right now for everyone and I think we need to work together.
“What we see is the commercial realities because if you are a rights owner and you want your sport to be seen by the biggest audience you could possibly imagine in the European market, we’re the place to be but we can’t do everything and we don’t want to do everything.
“That’s where the partnership piece works and there’s room for everyone.”
Looking ahead, Killane said he and others new to the organisation are keen to learn from the mistakes of the past and will be looking to once again bid for Olympic rights in Europe for its members after losing out to Discovery back in 2015.
Many had tipped the EBU, the traditional Olympic rights-holder until London 2012, to regain the rights in Europe from 2018 to 2024 but its bid was unsuccessful. Instead, the rights were handed to Discovery Communications in a deal worth €1.3 billion ($1.46 billion). At the time, member broadcasters reacted to the news with a mixture of disappointment, surprise and frustration.
Discovery ended up signing sub-licencing deals with a number of EBU members.
Killane said while the date of the tender for the new rights cycle for the Olympics has not been confirmed yet, Eurovision Sport would be keen to re-acquire the next set of rights.
He said: “For sure, we are having a very good look at any tender that might come out of the IOC.
“I think we see ourselves as very natural partners of the IOC, we need to build that relationship and we need to do everything we can to get back in there and I think our members are predominantly the rights holders sub-licensed by Discovery so it doesn’t really make sense for us not be part of it but we are learning from mistakes of the past and we are listening.
“Introspection is good sometimes and looking at what has happened in the past while we weren’t there and looking at some of the mistakes.
“There is a huge change happening at the EBU with new management from the director general to my level coming in and we are keen to learn from the past and we are keen to change things.”
Asked about the interest from members for the 2022 European Championship in Munich now that LEN, aquatics’ continental governing body, has confirmed it will not take part, Killane expressed his disappointment but said Germany would still host a great tournament.
Eurovision Sports is a stakeholder in the European Championship and a partner of LEN. Last year, it was decided aquatics, which along with athletics is seen as a driving force in multi-sports events for ticket sales and television audiences, would not participate in the championships because of a lack of a suitable venue in Munich.
Hopes of a deal were raised when LEN scheduled its championships in Rome for the same window, but ultimately no agreement could be reached.
Killane said: “We’ve made no secret that LEN are a partner of ours and we really wanted them to be part of the championships but unfortunately they took a decision a number of years ago not to go to Munich and move their championships to Rome.
“We want LEN in the European Championships but we are building a great relationship with Munich and we are working with ECM [European Championships Management], we’ve still got our major partners in European Athletics and European Gymnastics there.
“Munich is going to be a great host city, they have a great narrative there, it’s been 50 years from the time of the Olympics and they’re putting a lot of effort into it and we want to support them.
“We absolutely believe the championships would have been stronger with LEN as part of it but that wasn’t to be so we just get on with it now.”
On Eurovision Sport future acquisition plans, Killane said while the organisation is looking to gain younger audiences, it would be led by what member broadcasters want to air.
He said: “There are a list of priorities but we’ve very keen on looking at ways of attracting new audiences, younger audiences because we have to be mindful of that, we have to be aware of that.
“That could be looking at things like esports and some of our members are already in that space and quite involved so we take our line from our members, we put proposals in front of them and we gage their response.
“At the same time, like all organisations we have limited resources and we can’t be going on a wild goose chase after things that aren’t of interest to our members. We focus primarily on the key things that our members really want and that add value for them.
“I think aside from the Olympics, football is hugely of interest for everyone, we’re very keen on that space and we have a good set up there. We’ve got some good rights in terms of the women’s Euro coming up and Qatar 2022 so we’re in a good place and we want to drive home that advantage and build those relationships and make sure we’re right front and centre when they come to market again.”
Meanwhile, the EBU announced today its members will be offering live coverage of three of road cycling's biggest events this month, which were postponed due to Covid-19.
The Criterium du Daphine, from 12 to 16 August, will be shown by at least 10 EBU members, while the UEC Road European Championships, scheduled to run from 24 to 28 August will be aired live by at least nine.
The rescheduled Tour de France, which is set to run from 28 August to 20 September, will see 13 members gaining access to coverage via Eurovision Sport.