How Much Would We Miss F1?
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.
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