Posted by Carrot on July 30, 2011 | No Comments
As of next year, and potentially until 2018, you will not be able to watch half of Formula 1 races in the United Kingdom without paying for the privilege. This deal was announced yesterday to the shock of fans and many in the paddock. Teams were given no notice of the new deal, first meeting with Bernie Ecclestone during FP2, hours after the first press announcements. Fans have been very vocal about their immediate dislike of the deal and anything similar from seconds after it was made public
I waited a day before making my first public comment on the matter. It’s fair to say that yesterday I called Sky and their executives every name under the sun. That wasn’t fair though, and I think we have to remember that this isn’t the fault of Sky. Sky are a business and getting exclusive rights to show the full F1 season is going to be great for their channels and their prestige. They made an offer on something that was for sale and it was accepted, it’s not their fault. The fault lies with FOM and the BBC.
Another reason for waiting a day was to wait for the details to be revealed about the Concorde Agreement. This is the document that governs everything in F1, it is secret and binding. It was thought that the contract would have a section disallowing a move to subscription television, and there is. The problem is that the section disallows the races to be only shown on subscription television, the fact that some will remain live on the BBC and free to view means the teams cannot veto the new deal.
It’s an important point for the teams to be on free to view television in the major markets as it’s effectively free advertising for their sponsors that they couldn’t normally buy. The top teams can actually charge their sponsors more money based on the performance they expect to have during the season, and therefore the amount of time their car will appear on the television.
Formula 1 is the first of the major three sports events to go to appearing majorly on subscription television. Things like the English Premier League, which has been on Sky for a number of years, aren’t in the same league as Formula 1. The only two sporting competitions with a higher global viewership than Formula 1 are the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup, both of which are shown (at great expense) on free to view television.
This new deal with Sky isn’t going to affect die hard fans. These are the fans that get up in the depths of night to watch the fly away races and they’ll eat glass if they get to watch F1. This will hurt casual fans and reduce their viewing and it will definitely hurt the uptake of the sport by new fans. It doesn’t matter what the sport, if people can’t see it without spending money they’re less likely to become interested. Anyone remember A1GP? Teams by country, a single seated, single chassis formula. It was on subscription television for the whole of its life, couldn’t develop a fan base and the series went bankrupt. Formula 1 is staring at the same fate.
So what can the fans do? Well for 2012, absolutely nothing. The deal’s been announced, the teams don’t apparently have a veto option so it’s a case of looking at your budget and seeing if you can afford Sky TV. After 2012 is a different matter, the Concorde Agreement runs out at the end of 2012. The threat of a breakaway series directly caused the retirement of Spanky Moseley from the sport. Formula 1 is a great name, but if the front running teams left it’d be nothing. If Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes jumped to a new series, they’d be getting more money and if they cater to the fans in a way that FOM has decided not to, they’d have massive loyalty instantly. Do you really think anyone would tune in to watch a racing series where Williams is cruising ahead of HRT, Virgin and a load of new teams rushed in to make up the numbers. That’s before the major teams and manufacturers pulled their technical support. The first things the fans can do is to tell the teams that they’d support a breakaway because of the Sky deal. If it can happen to the UK then the rest of the major markets that the sponsors pay to be in could be hurt in the same way.
Secondly the fans can go after the BBC. They’ve said they came to this deal to save money, anyone know how much they’ve bid for the Olympics and the World Cup next year? When the Premier League went to Sky there was no real debate about scrapping the licence fee, now there is and the BBC have just alienated a large group of vocal and motivated people. A campaign to end the television licence in the UK would get a massive boost from F1 fans acting as one. When the coverage was on ITV we paid for the coverage by having advert breaks during the race, we all pay for a TV licence to get the coverage on the BBC. Without F1 there’s not much else I’d watch on the BBC, and certainly nothing I couldn’t live without if I had to pay for the channel like I would for Sky. Let’s see the BBC pay Jonathan Ross’ wages and make Strictly Come Dancing if they are put on a level playing field with every other broadcaster in the UK.
The fact is that this deal causes more harm than anything else ever has in F1, more than the supposed boring years where Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated, more than Max Moseley’s sex life, more than Nelson Piquet Jr. deliberately crashing and more than there being no overtaking. After the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, the teams were very open and vocal about need to reform the sport to ensure fair competition and a good show for the fans. You can have the greatest show in the world, but if no-one’s watching due to this Sky deal the sport’s going to suffer and the teams will when they can’t charge as much any more for sponsorship.
Now all fans can do is pay money for their licence fee and then money for a Sky subscription to be able to follow their sport. I remember when there was a massive movement by the teams, FOM and the FIA to ask the fans what they wanted. It’s from this that we’ve got the continual drive for more overtaking, the reintroduction of KERS and DRS. It seems that this theme of putting the fans first has taken a back seat to lining pockets. We’ve been screwed by Bernie, FOM and the BBC. If the teams don’t do something in the future, they’ll be just as guilty.