Formula One fans woke yesterday morning to the news that we had been dreading since the BBC Trust started punching almighty great big holes in the Big British Castle sometime in the first quarter of 2011: from next year, Formula One will be broadcast on Sky Sports.
Let’s leave aside the fact that with twice its budget and half its viewers, the infernal bilge pump that is BBC Three would have been a far more attractive target for the Trust’s guillotine. Let’s also ignore, for the sake of this not turning into a several thousand word rant on the subject of the definition of ‘being a moron’, Barbara ‘Sodding’ Slater’s assertion that broadcasting half the races and no qualifying sessions constitutes F1 ‘remaining on the BBC’. Never mind the sentimentality of Murray Walker, The Chain and whether or not everything to do with Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps should be strapped onto a rocket and fired into the sun, the fact of the matter is this: F1 has just committed commercial suicide.
As you would expect, Formula One fans are pretty pissed off that they’re now going to have to pay ACTUAL MONEY to watch the races, which will almost certainly be met with cries of, “Football fans have had to pay to watch top level football for years”. Yes, that’s true, but what do you get for your £25 (extra, on top of your Sky subscription)? Premier League, UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup, all the top-level stuff basically, and with 115 Premier League games being played out live on Sky Sports each season it’s quite the bargain, really.
As a Formula One fan not really a footballister, 20 races for £300 feels like a bit of a bloody rip-off by comparison. Football is also better at the pub than at home: Formula One requires a bit more concentration, and a bit of peace and quiet. You need to listen to what’s being said and, with every F1 race that occurs during pub opening hours almost certainly clashing with a match, we’ll be lucky to find one showing it at all. There’s also no doubt that, in the minds of the schedulers, F1 will quite rightly play second fiddle to Sky Sports’ crown jewel: ALL THE FOOTBALL, ALL THE TIME.
The idea that two F1 teams could pack a stadium in the same way that two football teams can is, quite frankly, hilarious. Under his huge piles of money, Bernie has apparently lost sight of this.
I’m afraid there is simply no getting away from the fact that Formula One has made a catastrophic error of judgement and, as usual in sport, it’s one that is fuelled by a gross over-estimation of its own importance. Formula 1 has an enormous audience, yes, but a huge percentage of those people are casual observers. They certainly won’t be paying for Sky Sports simply to watch motor racing and, if the reaction on Twitter and the comments sections of several F1 sites are anything to go by, even the people obsessed enough to visit dedicated F1 sites in the first place aren’t willing to stump up the cash either. The idea that two F1 teams could pack a stadium in the same way that two football teams can is, quite frankly, hilarious. Under his huge piles of money, Bernie has apparently lost sight of this.
Audience figures will, of course, fall through the floor. Some are predicting they could drop well below the two million mark – pretty rubbish when you think that during last Sunday’s GP almost half of everyone watching TV was watching the F1 race – and that is going to cause a huge problem. Getting sponsorship for your Formula One car is hard enough at the moment (see the baron side pods of the HRT, Sauber and Williams for reference), and the last thing the sport needs now is a 90% drop in viewers.
The idea that extra money from Sky will supplement this drop in exposure is a joke, so struggling teams will be forced to drop out as they fail to get their budgets together, manufacturers like Mercedes and Renault will quickly lose interest when they realise they’re not getting through to enough people and will withdraw their support. Ferrari will panic because The Pinnacle of Motorsport has been turned into a sideshow for British football leagues and, alongside McLaren will wander off into sportscar racing.
Maybe, just maybe, FOTA (the Formula One Teams Association) will grow some balls, tell Bernie to cram his deal up his backside and go and form their own series. But they won’t. The Concorde Agreement won’t save them either, Bernie’s clearly found a loophole, and the teams will stand by and watch F1 die a slow painful, sad death. A sad day.
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