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How Much Would We Miss F1?

By RubberGoat | 15 Aug 2011 | 17 Comments | 7,432 views

There has been a lot of discussion about the coverage of F1 in the UK moving from BBC next year to all the races being broadcast live on Sky, with the BBC coverage only showing half of them live and the rest being ‘extended highlights’. Now, a lot has been said on the subject on many sites (including my own), but with the dust settling a little bit a few weeks after the shock announcement, I’ve had a little more time to ponder and reflect on it.

This decision doesn’t directly affect me though as I don’t live in the UK, but it did surprise me as I see the UK as one of the few countries where F1 is considered a ‘mainstream’ sport – by my definition this means that the ‘man on the street’ would know about it even if they did not follow it. I have lived in other countries and that was certainly not the case there, although there are probably others where F1 is just as well known and popular as it is in the UK. One thing can be said though; the UK is still the biggest provider of labour and services to the business of F1.
 
Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images
 
The sport was on ‘free-to-air’ TV (unless you did actually pay your TV licence each year) for over 30 years and there is no doubt that the exposure generated by being on the TV every second Sunday afternoon contributed to its meteoric rise in popularity. But is that just because there wasn’t anything else to take its place? In Bernie’s Game, the author Terry Lovell writes that Bernie Ecclestone’s International Sportsworld Communicators (now known as North One Sports) was accused of not promoting other motor sport championships that they were contracted to cover enough and not showing enough coverage of them compared to F1. Whether that’s true or not is open to debate, but that neglect could help explain why F1 has become so popular in recent years.

But will this change now that Sky has the rights to the F1? One could argue that Premier League Football has grown and nurtured by the money Sky has brought to the sport, but would that happen with F1? For some reason I cannot put my finger on it, I can’t see it. A lot of F1 fans come and go – I would see myself as a big F1 fan and yet I have been known to miss whole seasons if I grew tired of it. I just wonder how many will do the same that do not and will not subscribe to Sky Sports? It has been said that one of the reasons the BBC have so many viewers is because of the fact that the UK has two recent world Champions on the grid right now.

Last week I attended the Copenhagen Historic Grand Prix, which was a smorgasbord of beautiful classic and rare racing cars from 1947 to 1981, including Minis, Corvettes, Lotus Cortinas, Porsches, Ford Escorts, BMW’s, and many more. It was very enjoyable and on the whole, the racing was of a very high standard. But the best races of the day belonged to a class of racing called Legends – which is a spec series that looks like an old Hot Rod body made of fibreglass and powered by a Yamaha motorcycle engine. But what fun they were to watch! Battles all the way through the field, overtaking left right and centre with no gimmicks, and even a last corner pass for the win! On the whole, as a car nut I had a great day out and so did even the most casual of observers – for instance my wife, who can’t stand any form of motorsport…

My point here is that if F1 stands to lose a lot of viewers (which I think is entirely possible), then it risks losing a lot of momentum that has been built up over the last few decades. After all, my Dad always used to say that in the 70’s, before F1 was shown regularly live on TV, that loads of people were big fans of Rallycross. But then the sport moved to Sky and the popularity waned to relative obscurity. If this happened to F1, I think another form of Motor Sport could easily fill the void, as my experiences last weekend showed to me.

I think with all the other forms of Motor Sport out there competing for the viewing public, F1 had better be careful that in its quest for more TV money it has not shot itself in the foot and alienated its fans – most of whom will find something else to keep them entertained. Because in the end, it’s the fans that made the sport what it is and it’s their support and spending money which keeps the sport so popular and rich. I do hope those with influence and power within the sport remembers that fact.

Part of the Bloggers’ Swap Shop: Summer Swap, RubberGoat writes at Making Up The Numbers, where he views Formula One from the numbers perspective.

Credit: Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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17 Comments »

  • saltire

    I think Gavin makes a great point that motorsports other than F1 can be great fun.If you calculate how much it would cost for Sky to watch the full season it’s something like £600, that’s the equivalent cost of seeing the British GP live and attending a handful of other feeder series events too. Maybe I should consider that route instead.

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  • RubberGoat

    saltire,

    And some events are free! World Series by Renault for example…

    But even local club events can be quite fun. OK, so it’s very different to F1, but it all depends on what you get out of it. I just think that for a lot of people, something else could easily take it’s place…

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  • paul

    i have watch fia gt on blomberg all year which i quite enjoyed. it also free to watch on the net. I have also watch btcc and moto gp this year. So i still got a motorsport fix. I have properly watch most grand prix since the early 90s but even os i wont pay for sky. Just dont see it as good value for money and i certanly will not reward any f1 sponsor ‘belive me i know most of them’ for the dogs breakfast of tv coverage next year.

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  • acb1c08

    I am disgusted that F1 is to move to sky. We all pay our tv licence which includes F1 and now we are to pay for both this and sky sports.

    Just 1 question tho where did you get £600 pounds from? it costs £20 a month for sky sports thats £240 a year?

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  • Mav

    Just 1 question tho where did you get £600 pounds from? it costs £20 a month for sky sports thats £240 a year?

    That’s just for the Sports pack – i.e. if you’ve already got Sky TV.
    It’s £40 a month for new users. Plus another £10 a month for HD.

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  • Hannah

    Great point about other forms of motorsport filling the void. There was a record crowd at the British Touring Car Championship last week for Snetterton. Perhaps as it was the return from the summer break, perhaps because the circuit was a new configuration….or perhaps because we’re already recruiting converts from F1 who fancy a bit of wheels to wheel action, that they can watch for 7 hours free of charge on TV from home and represents fantastic value for families. Maybe?!

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  • Karen

    Nobody stops people watching other motorsport, and the BTCC is shown live on ITV, but the fact is, the highest rating for a BTCC race was 261,000 for Oulton park.

    If people want to watch the BTCC they can, but they choose not to.

    If F1 completely dissipaters from terrestrial TV then a rival may take it’s place, but this is not set to happen atm.

    Turning to Sky, they will need nearly 100,000 new sports subscribers to break even, and then add an extra 9000+ yearly, to off-set the escalator.

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  • Rubbergoat

    Karen,

    Those are some big numbers. I think 100,000 out of 3-6 million is possible in theory, but 9000 more per year sounds like a tall order. I read somewhere that even premiership football only gets a few hundred thousand per weekend…

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  • RubberGoat

    By the way, I finally got around to posting my pics from the CHGP and you can take a look at them here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubbergoat/sets/72157627317389357

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  • Karen

    Karen,

    Those are some big numbers. I think 100,000 out of 3-6 million is possible in theory, but 9000 more per year sounds like a tall order. I read somewhere that even premiership football only gets a few hundred thousand per weekend…

    Those are new subscribers numbers.

    Plenty of people that already subscribe to Sky Sports will (at least) initially tune into F1 on Sky, so this will inflate the early figures, but as these people have already paid, it won’t pay off Sky’s F1 outlay, Sky need new suckers.
    By the end of the Sky contract, they will need 153,000+ new and unique subscribers.

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  • saltire

    By the end of the Sky contract, they will need 153,000+ new and unique subscribers.

    It sounds as though F1’s future isn’t even safe on Sky, is it pricing itself beyond reach?

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  • Mav

    That does overlook advertising revenue of course, and that’s a complicated issue. Sky will hope that new users will watch other Sky programming, bumping advertising value throughout and not just during F1 programming. There will be a big premium on advertising slots between qualifying sessions and just before the race starts anyway – I fully expect to miss the parade lap as they cut to a quick break for example. Wouldn’t be a total surprise if safety car periods formed ad breaks either – teams get sufficient warning that TV can get back before the restart.

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  • Jordan_F1

    I have a great idea, let us get Sky sports to get the F!A to toss out full course yellows from time to time just so that Sky’s viewer do not miss that all important comerical break…. :p

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  • Karen

    It sounds as though F1’s future isn’t even safe on Sky, is it pricing itself beyond reach?

    Yup.

    It never worked for Sky Italia, when F1 was hidden behind a pay wall in Italy.

    If the teams needed less money to race, less money would need to be charged for races and broadcasts, so maybe places like Spa, and broadcasters like the BBC would be happy, or happier at least.

    15 years ago you could win the WCC by spending $30million, and prize money was just under $2million a race ($35million a season), now if you don’t spend $300million you can barely trouble the scorers.

    Te RRA agreement is a complete joke, you only have to look at the staff levels to see that all the top teams are breaking it.

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  • Pat W

    I wonder if ITV should take the opportunity to promote BTCC back to ITV1, since the series seems to have started growing out of the doldrums again. It’ll never get a big audience on ITV4 but if they stuck highlights / delayed race 1 and 2 followed by live race 3 on ITV1 they could get decent numbers. Not F1 numbers, but decent.

    The other thing to wonder about is the extent of the BBC’s highlights.. will they cover it in-depth or will it be a lot of intro and outro, only showing 20 minutes of race footage.

    I am worried about what’ll happen to the viewership of F1, not in 2012 but later when the contract really bites. How will things look in 2015? I’m worried the BBC figs will have plummeted so they’ll use it as a reason to drop F1 completely.

    I agree with those saying ‘go to other races’. WSR is free, BTCC is only £25 and you get all sorts of series, Silverstone 6 Hours is only £23 and you have a race which lasts all day with plenty of top ex-F1 talent involved. Get out there and try other things.

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  • Alianora La Canta

    I’ll be surprised if 100,000 covers the amount Sky needs for covering F1. Bear in mind that people who buy Sky will not necessarily stick to watching F1, so Sky cannot use all £477/£590 per year on F1. It has to distribute the money between the different channels so that all the different programmes people watch are paid for.

    As such, the only funding Sky can depend upon for the F1 (other than the advertising, which is likely to be taken up with production, marketing and labour costs given ITV’s problems in getting sponsorship for its F1 programming last decade) is the Sky Sports addition. Even then, if a given individual watches football, cricket and WWE as well as F1, then that person’s Sky Sports subscription has to be divided according to the needs of those 4 sports. Bernie isn’t the only sports promoter who charges money for his package.

    I ended up with an estimate of between 0.5 million and 0.88 million new Sky Sports subscribers watching only F1 on those channels for Sky to break even, depending on whether Sky gets Sports 2/3/4 involved in broadcasting certain sessions, which sessions it does that way and which year of the contract is under discussion. This assumes the advertising breaks even on the expenses of the F1 being provided and promoted. It also doesn’t count people whose Sky Sports is used for more than one sport because doing the true fractions would be really difficult. Nor does it count people who already have Sky Sports, for the same reason. It does, however, count people with some sort of Sky package (irrespective of the use gained from it) and decide to upgrade just to see F1 (plus people completely new to Sky who just watch F1, obviously).

    I struggle to see how Sky can break even on this one.

    Rubbergoat, the Premiership football statistic is correct. Few programs of any kind on Sky Sports break the 0.25 million mark at the moment and only one this year (the Manchester United-Manchester City derby in football) broke 0.5 million (the lower of the two figures I quoted for F1 to break even on Sky).

    saltire, I believe that is exactly what Bernie has done. Come 2018 (or 2016, if the previously-established pattern holds), Sky will decide F1 is uneconomic and drop F1. Having burnt his bridges with all the major British TV providers, Bernie will have to drop his fees if he wants his series to be shown. That will put the series back on free-to-air on a more permanent basis (if Sky can’t make it work, nobody else on pay TV will touch it) but the enforced drop in fee will be noted by every other contract-holder and Bernie will find he cannot command the same prices anywhere else either as the penny drops. Ironically the same nugget of wisdom Bernie himself provided in 2002, “Pay TV does not work. And nobody knows why.”

    Pat W, I think ITV promoting BTCC to ITV1 would be a very good idea. It would give it something to entice the motorsports enthusiasts who will struggle to get their “fix” from the BBC and give their series a whole new audience. Even with digital completing its roll-out in Britain next year, I fully expect the main 5 channels to stay the main 5 channels.

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