ITV has announced that it will not renew its contract to broadcast the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race beyond 2010.

The network has decided to financially prioritise football over the historic Boat Race, despite 7.6 million viewers tuning in last year – the highest number of viewers since the event was first broadcast on the channel in 2005.

A spokesperson for the network said, “ITV has invested heavily in a fantastic football portfolio and therefore we will not be renewing our contract for the Boat Race, with the 2009 race the last on ITV1.”

“One of the most expensive events”

ITV’s decision may be part of cost-cutting exercise. The race requires various camera positions along the Thames and two helicopters overhead, making it one of the most expensive sporting events to cover.

The decision has come as a shock to many. The Chairman of the Boat Race Company, Giles Vardey, expressed regret at ITV’s refusal to renew their contract.

He said, “we are naturally disappointed that ITV has decided not to extend its coverage of the Boat Race beyond next March. Discussions are continuing with other broadcasters regarding coverage of the Boat Race.”

A spokesman for the Boat Race Company rejected claims the company would not be able to secure a contract as profitable as that negotiated with ITV four years ago.

“Back to the BBC”

He explained, “there is the assumption that there will be a drop in income. However, we do not know for certain until the negotiations have finished.”
He said the company would favour a return of the Boat Race to the BBC, which broadcast the event for over 50 years.

“There is a desire to see the Boat Race on terrestrial television and the BBC would be a preference, if possible.”

The BBC declined to comment on whether they would be bidding for the contract. Channel 4 and Five are also thought likely to bid for the rights.

Robin Ejsmond-Frey, a member of the Oxford rowing squad for the past four years, expressed sadness at ITV’s decision to drop the Boat Race.

“The race will go on”

He said, “I think it is a shame that ITV have decided to pull out, especially because I think they have done a great job in covering the race.”

But he added, “whatever happens, the race will go on; television or no television, sponsor or no sponsor, the Boat Race will continue – of this I am certain… as long as the spirit of amateur oarsmanship and sportsmanship is upheld, the essence of the race will remain the same.”

Other students have expressed their support for the annual Boat Race.

Tom Gilligan, a Worcester first-year, said, “I love the boat race and always have. I would prefer it on the BBC because there would be no adverts. I do think it is an important event as it shows university competition at the highest level.”

“A lost opportunity”

Some, however, have remained indifferent to its fate.

Chris Greenwood, a first-year rower, said, “I can’t see many people caring about it too much. I suppose it’ll be a lost opportunity to observe some fine technique, but I won’t lose any sleep over it.”

Another student commented, “I watched it for the first time last year. If I wasn’t at Oxford, I wouldn’t be interested in it. I only have four channels and so I wouldn’t be able to watch it if it was on Sky etc. But I would prefer other things to be on those channels much more than the Boat Race.”