Athletes hoping to do a Jonathan Rea and triumph at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, despite being unknown to much of the British public, will have to think again after changes to the venerable programme.
Rea, the world superbike champion, came second last year after widespread support from his native Northern Ireland and an online campaign. As Spoty celebrates its 65th anniversary the shortlist for the main prize is to be cut and will no longer be announced in advance. With athletes set to learn if they are nominated only during the live broadcast, even the most organised of fans will have little time to get their votes out.
Changes to the shortlisting process were one of several elements announced by the BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, as Spoty attempts to keep up with a changing TV landscape. For the first time, the overseas personality award will be open to votes from outside the UK and there will also be a new moment of the year award. The young personality prize will change ceremony and become part of the Radio 1 Teen Awards.
To be held at Birmingham’s 15,000 capacity Genting Arena on 16 December, Spoty looks set to spend less of the ceremony’s two hours on individuals and more on recapping the year in sport.
“We review and we evolve the show and have done over the years‚” Slater said. “We’re constantly challenging ourselves on how to move it forward. I think we’ve had a concern about the amount of time we’ve had to tell the story of the sporting year. We’ve had some extraordinary sporting occasions and we felt we had to reduce them to seconds. I think that with the number of nominees at, say, 16 [the ceremony] has been led more by individuals. One of the aims here has been to get that balance slightly back.”
On the topic of fan campaigns, Slater said: “If you are going to put a vote out to the public, whether that’s Spoty or any show, you run that in the most robust way you can. It can simply be there are more fans of one sport than another or somebody plays for a club that has a big fanbase. But I think the vote on the night is something very dear to the show. It’s an opportunity for the British public to vote and that won’t change. [The changes are] about adding more interest and excitement on the night. I think that moment at the top of the show where a more focused shortlist is announced is going to add another high point.”
Slater said no cap would be placed on the length of a shortlist. She added the shortlisting panel made up of an expert group of sporstpeople, administrators and media were sympathetic to the new changes. “We’ll be very clear we are aiming for a shorter shortlist‚” she said. “And I think the panel, in my experience, will be very supportive of that.”
The award drew over half a million votes last year, with Sir Mo Farah named the winner.
Spoty will look back on 12 months that have already been successful both for Britain and the BBC, who have enjoyed excellent viewing figures.With the broadcast regulator, Ofcom, reviewing the status of sport’s “crown jewels”, Slater believes the BBC’s continued audience success – on a limited budget for rights – is a reminder of the importance of free-to-air sports.
“This year has been exceptional,” she said. “But during last year, which was a quieter year, the BBC were responsible for 3% of the televised sport in the UK and the highest percentage of viewership, which was 36%. Collectively, the free-to-air percentage of rights is 6% but the viewership is getting up to 60%. So I think the message from those statistics is crystal clear, which is the importance of free-to-air coverage of sport. Imagine how much the impact of sport could be diminished if those viewing figures were dramatically reduced.”