Why I’m gutted by today’s Formula One deal with BBC and Sky

Posted on July 29, 2011


Today’s news about the split coverage of Formula One between the BBC and Sky has sparked predictable outrage from devoted fans of the sport.

The BBC have had the contacts and expertise to ensure brilliant access. Credit: Red Bull/Getty

And it’s not hard to see why. In the BBC’s desperation to save costs but also to save face, the door has been opened for Bernie Ecclestone to do a deal with Sky and introduce exclusive pay TV at half the races for the first time ever.

The result is the BBC show ten weekends live – they’ve mentioned qualifying and races only – while Sky show every session, every weekend, apparently ad-free.

It’s a bizarre solution to the problem which leaves disjointed coverage on the BBC and Sky looking even more expensive because of the lack of exclusivity. It appears a sop to the Free-to-Air requirements of the Concorde Agreement.

In short, it’s a mess.

There will likely be nothing wrong with Sky’s coverage. They’ll probably hire in top talent and if ads are kept out of the track action, it will no doubt be top notch, at least at first.

But the BBC have rightly won awards for their work over the past two and a half seasons and it feels they are throwing it all away.

I’d expect Jake Humphrey to leave to do the Olympics, while Martin Brundle tweeted this morning he is out of contract this year. Why wouldn’t Sky hire that knowledge and expertise? It’s speculation on my part but appears likely to me.

It would leave the BBC short of key players – assuming they don’t cut to the bare bones, showing track action but none of the excellent features, analysis and behind the scenes access we’ve been blessed with.

What is not speculation is the collapse in UK viewing figures. Even if race day on Sky matches the biggest Premier League games, it’s millions of viewers short of what the BBC has pulled in.

And it’s those ordinary viewers and fans who will suffer. I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford the Sky subs and that will be true of many, many fans.

The teams may blow some smoke this weekend but long term some of them will surely prefer the steady, guaranteed TV money to the hazardous world of sponsorship. It’s not done many Premier League clubs any harm these past 20 years.

But it will gut UK support for F1 and motorsport. Where will be the exposure of the sport’s heroes to kids? When will one of the country’s most successful high tech industries get to show off its wares?

Because this seems only the thin end of the wedge. The current deal is ending early, ITV’s deal ended early – this new deal will end early. At some point Sky will put money on the table and demand exclusivity, showing off their wares of the next couple of seasons.

It’s all about money. Money for Bernie, money for the teams. Bernie could have cut the rates for the BBC. He reportedly could have done a deal with Channel 4. But he’s taken the money from Sky.

Bernie Ecclestone is not a charity but he’s reversed his position from just weeks ago. As a fan it’s frustrating, depressing and mostly so, so disappointing.

Posted in: Formula One, News