In March, Sunset+Vine was “firing on all cylinders” – but with the Covid-19 lockdown, “we went from that to nothing”, said Jeff Foulser.
The executive chairman of the worldwide sports producer, who was talking at a November RTS Thames Valley event, added: “The last eight months has probably been the most challenging of my career… We are really thankful for BT Sport, our biggest client, who basically said, ‘We want you to be here after this is over and we’re going to keep paying you.’ We’ve come through it now and we’re fine.”
During a wide-ranging conversation with Thames Valley’s Tim Marshall, a former BBC head of events, Foulser looked back at his career, which began as a tea boy at LWT in the 1970s and took him, via ITV’s The Big Match and the World Cup, to running Sunset+Vine.
Discussing sports rights, Foulser said that rights holders were “always looking over their shoulder… Sport is the ultimate unscripted drama; it delivers huge ratings and that’s why it costs so much money.”
Amazon, he noted, had “dipped its toes into” Premier League football and international rugby. “Sky and BT will be thinking, ‘I wonder where Amazon are going next and who else might come in.’
“We all know where sports go if they get offered the biggest cheque.”
But Foulser argued that sport loses out by ignoring terrestrial TV. In 2005, he recalled, more than 8 million watched the nail-biting final day of the series against Australia on Channel 4, which Sunset+Vine produced. Since then, no Test cricket has been shown live on free-to-air TV.
“This is no criticism of Sky but not everyone can afford to have a subscription. Cricket has suffered in the intervening years because it wasn’t available to as many eyeballs as possible.
“All sport needs terrestrial television.”