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Spoty: Belfast ratepayers spend £240k for just one mention of city in BBC Sports awards

By Staff Reporter

Published 14/12/2015

The SSE Arena which will host BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards next Sunday
The SSE Arena which will host BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards next Sunday

Belfast is expected to be mentioned just once at the start of the Sports Personality of the Year awards next weekend - despite almost a quarter of a million pounds being handed to the BBC to stage the event at the SSE Arena.

As exclusively revealed in the Belfast Telegraph last week, £140,000 came from Belfast City Council ratepayers and later it emerged that Tourism NI has also ploughed in £99,000.

That means a total of £239,000 has been banked by the Beeb to bring the awards to the 8,000 capacity stadium at the Odyssey complex next Sunday.

"Taxpayers in Belfast will find it hard to shake the suspicion that this is anything more than a taxpayer-funded bung to the BBC," said Jonathan Isaby of the TaxPayers' Alliance.

He added: "This is a ludicrous waste and it's hard to see just what benefits taxpayers will get for the money they are handing over. Budgets are tight, so now more than ever public sector bodies should be looking to make savings, not splashing cash on vanity projects."

Belfast City Council has been running a series of events in the run-up to the awards, and expects the local economy to benefit, with up to 7,000 people taking advantage of hotels and hospitality during the contest.

A council document from August said the "event also gives the city the opportunity to present itself in a very positive light to an audience of over 10 million viewers via BBC's various broadcasting channels".

However, the event has become mired in controversy - the corporation was hit by calls to remove Tyson Fury, the new heavyweight boxing champion, from the shortlist, after he was accused of making homophobic and sexist comments.

Earlier this year the BBC's governing body relaxed a seven-year ban on the broadcaster seeking sponsorship for the awards night, and when the corporation announced it would be staged in Belfast for the first time, a line in the press release noted "Belfast City Council and Tourism NI are supporting the event".

In emails seen by The Sunday Telegraph, Mike Edgar, head of entertainment and events at BBC Northern Ireland, wrote to tourist chiefs saying: "I can't emphasise how important and grateful we are for your commitment to the event as simply without your support we could not have gone ahead."

A spokesperson for Tourism NI was unavailable for comment yesterday.

According to the BBC's editorial guidelines, the corporation is not allowed to take funding for programming, and must put sponsorship cash solely towards the costs of hosting the event.

One message to Mr Edgar from the tourist board asks the executive to detail "the additional programming which may be secured" in the sponsorship deal.

The corporation insisted it has not done any deal for extra programming, and said that there would only be a single, introductory mention of the city at the event, which will not feature the logos of either of its sponsors.

The Sunday Telegraph reported a BBC source as saying the broadcaster had been forced to seek sponsorship as this year's venue is smaller than usual, with less potential to sell corporate hospitality packages.

In addition, the newspaper said it is understood that the BBC faces significantly increased costs for security at the venue, because of the political situation in Northern Ireland.

The BBC has been involved in controversy before by sponsorship deals with Sports Personality. In 2008 the corporation's governing body banned the BBC from seeking an event sponsor, in a report that ruled that the broadcaster's editorial integrity had been compromised by a tie-up with Robinsons, the drinks brand.

At the time the BBC Trust said: "It would not be appropriate for the BBC executive to seek a sponsor for Sports Personality of the Year beyond the expiry of the current contract."

A BBC spokesman said: "All of the money received has gone towards staging the event and we have made no commitment to produce additional programming in return for sponsorship.

"Taking Sports Personality of the Year around the country has proved immensely popular with audiences, so we want all parts of the UK to benefit, and the support from the council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board was very important in allowing us to meet extra costs in staging the event in Belfast. The rules around such sponsorship are clear."

Meanwhile, Jessica Ennis-Hill has shrugged off Tyson Fury's recent comments that she looks "fit" in a dress and insists she is looking forward to the awards.

The Olympic and world heptathlon champion is nominated alongside Fury for the BBC honour.

Belfast Telegraph

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