Brown tackles Setanta over World Cup blackout: 'A lot of England fans want answers' 

Gordon Brown has entered the row over the England football team's TV rights expressing disappointment millions were unable to see Wednesday's game.

The Prime Minister said supporters wanted to know why many were unable to see the match live, after Setanta bought up the rights for the Croatia tie in Zagreb.

His comments come after days of controversy over how major terrestrial broadcasters were shut out from even showing highlights of the game.


No-one watching: Walcott belts home England's second goal during last night's match - but Setanta prevented major terrestrial broadcasters from even showing highlights

As a result, the uplifting win was watched by millions less than normal, as many people were unable to see any coverage of the game.

Despite eleventh hour negotiations by ITV, who doubled their offer to £500,000 to show highlights, the main channels were left out in the cold.

Instead, at the last minute, Irish broadcaster Setanta announced it was broadcasting free-to-air highlights on its paid-for channel without charge.

But this still meant people who do not have digital TV or those who had cable, which did not do a deal, had no way of even seeing the best bits of the game.

Support: Gordon Brown today

Support: Gordon Brown wants to know why many fans were unable to see the match live

Setanta had earlier in the evening shown full live coverage of England's impressive 4-1 win over Croatia.

As a result a measly 222,000 viewers tuned in to watch highlights of England's win over Croatia on Setanta, who bought the entire rights for £5million.

A highlights show of a games like this would be likely to get 3million to 4million viewers if aired on BBC1 or ITV.

The Setanta highlights did not air until 11.30pm, so many viewers had gone to bed anyway.

Brown weighed into the controversy by claiming it was regrettable that so many had been unable to watch the match as it happened.

He said: 'It is perhaps a little unfortunate that large numbers of people were not able to see the match live and that is something that I think a lot of supporters will want to have answers to.'

His comments sparked optimism from some quarters that the government could step into to protect important World Cup qualifying games.

Earlier this week Labour MP John Grogan called for the rights to highlights of qualifying games, home and away, to be included in protected sporting events.

Setanta has bought up the rights to all the England away games for World Cup qualification, meaning the row is likely to be reignited in the coming weeks.

Brogan has said culture secretary Andy Burnham should fast track a planned review of the list of protected sports events on TV.

He claimed as an interim measure England's qualifying World Cup games  involving home nations should be made free to air.

Grogan added Setanta was 'hoarding' the rights to the highlights.

Setanta has wanted £1million for a highlights deal. ITV, the highest bidder, offered only half of that.

The BBC is understood to have offered £200,000 with Channel 5 and Channel 4 offering about £100,000 a piece.

England's game against Andorra at the weekend did not get a terrestrial window after no deal was done.

During the previous Andorra game travelling fans were heard chanting 'We hate Setanta', even singing in support of the BBC.

For the live coverage of last night's game an average of 1.41 million and peak of 1.55 million viewers tuned in.

Following Brown's comments pressure to agree a highlights deal with the BBC or ITV for the match in Belarus on October 15, will intensify.

Setanta logo

Rival broadcasters insisted that for the good of the game the fiasco over the highlights could not be repeated.

A source at ITV said: 'Setanta were ill advised, and have misjudged the mood of the nation. You end up just making enemies of the nation when you do this.

'I think they have been stung and I am sure it will get sorted now but it should not have come to this. The feeling in the industry is that this can't happen again.'

ITV is understood to be back in talks with Setanta about a deal which would see it get the rights to broadcast highlights from remaining away games.

A BBC Sports insider said: 'We are still interested at bringing in the highlights for the away games. But it has to be at the right price. There is disappointment from fans that could not see the game on major terrestrial TV. But it comes down to value for money.'

A Setanta spokesman said: 'Setanta always look to sell on highlights to enable fans to get what they want and from a business point of view as well.

'It cost Setanta £5million for the Croatia match but in the build-up to both the Andorra and Croatia games there was no offer they could accept that was financially viable.

'The Government has become involved in the past to try and broker a deal but did not do so this time.'

A statement from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: 'We understand the frustration felt by many supporters around this issue, and in an ideal world an arrangement would have been found to air highlights on terrestrial TV for the Andorra and Croatia matches.

'It is Government policy to ensure that key sporting events can be made available free to all television viewers, which is why major events such as the World Cup finals and the FA Cup final are protected by law.

'However, outside the protected list, sports bodies are free to decide which broadcasters to sell rights to and it is for broadcasters, not Government, to decide which sports to bid for.'

Mr Brown also paid tribute to England football manager Fabio Capello following the team's triumph.

He singled out hat-trick hero Theo Walcott for special praise, as well as fellow goal-scorer Wayne Rooney.

He said: 'Can I congratulate the England manager on what is one of the best results that England has achieved, 4-1.

'I congratulate particularly Theo Walcott and also Wayne Rooney for the goals that were scored.'

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