Why Luca di Montezemolo’s ideas may not be farfetched

Like Eddie Jordan recently, Luca di Montezemolo, the president of Ferrari, is another personality within the Formula 1 paddock who likes to make suggestions that generate a lot of discussion. Today, he has made a few statements on the subject of broadcasting, believing that races should be shortened and that the time of races in Europe should be changed to bring in a bigger audience.

This is not the first time Montezemolo has made statements that tend to raise eyebrows, I’m sure readers of this blog may remember statements from Montzemolo in the past concerning teams running three cars, a completely mad idea in my opinion as that just shrinks the opportunities out there for smaller teams.

Regarding the statements Montezemolo has made today, I don’t think they are as farfetched as first thought – one I agree with, and one I completely disagree with. Commenting on the length of the races, Montezemolo says that the length is “too long for young people”. I don’t quite see this argument, myself, and actually see it as dumbing down if races were introduced, or if we moved ‘the show’ to two shorter races, more akin to GP2 and GP3. Formula 1 has tradionally been about one race per weekend, to have anything other than that just shouts out gimmicky to me and unnecessary. Are we going to suddenly change football lengths to 30 minutes in three halves because young people don’t have a long enough attention span? I mean, just focussing on the attention span for a second, outside of sport are we going to argue that an exam at school of two hours long must have a 15 minute gap in the middle otherwise they will lose concentration? Personally, and I’ve been watching Formula 1 since I was seven, I’ve found the length just fine. It is not too long, but there is enough action to keep me focussed. The length of the races might have been perceived as a problem in the mid 2000’s when there was more action off the track compared to on it, but nowadays with DRS, Pirelli and KERS, the length is fine. You could argue “BTCC has three races a day, so why doesn’t F1 have two?”. I guess that is an interesting argument to go down, but the BTCC event programme has a lot more races on a typical day than Formula 1. Formula 1 has F1, GP2, GP3 and Porsche Supercup, whereas a typical BTCC event programme has BTCC, Clio Cup, Carrera Cup, Ginettta Juniors and Ginetta Supercup.

Bringing the viewing figures perspective into it, and it is difficult to analyse whether Formula 1 would benefit from having two races. How would it be tailored on television? Obviously Sky would screen it all, but would you get a situation where BBC screen one race live and another before the second race if one race is perceived more important than the other, or in a more valuable television slot? If both races were ‘wrapped around’ something else, what would the ‘something else’ be? I say above it is difficult to analyse viewing figures in this case, the trends I tend to see looking at the breakdowns is that the audience can decrease slightly after the first 10 minutes before rising before the end, but not every breakdown of the viewing figures is the same, for example a breakdown where you have British drivers leading at the front differs massively to one where Button and Hamilton go out at the first bend, for example. Personally, I just don’t want to see the pinnicle of motor sport bastardised to suit a small proportion of the audience, but that’s just me. Looking at a demographic breakdown of last year’s Canadian Grand Prix, 6 percent of the audience came from the 4 to 15 demographic, while 20 percent came from the 16 to 34 age demographic.

Whlist I disagree with di Montezemolo on the two races subject, I do think he has a point with regards how races are scheduled, and what time of day they take place in. I’ve commented a few times on this blog how mind boggling some of the scheduling decisions have been: the FIA have successfully managed to put Formula 1 in direct clashes with Euro 2012, Wimbledon and the Olympics. I know it is difficult to avoid other sporting events, but this is idiocy at its finest, and those that dictate the schedule need to consider other major worldwide events before plotting the schedule together instead of taking a self-centered view. Putting that to one side, Formula 1 traditionally does better when in primetime to viewers in Europe, it is that exact reason why Bernie Ecclestone wants the Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of the calendar, because having the title decider played out in front of primetime all over Europe is music to his ears (hence why a record 13 million viewers in the UK watched Lewis Hamilton win the championship in 2008). According to Initiative Sports Futures for 2005 onwards, the most watched Formula 1 races worldwide on average are:

– 2005 – 51 million viewers – Canadian Grand Prix
– 2006 – 83 million viewers – Brazilian Grand Prix
– 2007 – 78 million viewers – Brazilian Grand Prix
– 2008 – 78 million viewers – Brazilian Grand Prix
– 2009 – 54 million viewers – Bahrain Grand Prix

Those figures are not particularly surprising, as in all three of those seasons, Brazil was the title decider, hence why it was higher than 2005 and 2009. The point remains though, that Formula 1 gets higher viewing figures in primetime compared with other timezones, simply because there are more viewers available. Is that to say every race should be in primetime? No, because that is completely unrealistic. BBC, or any other broadcaster would probably point blank simply refuse to have Formula 1 on 20 Sunday evenings in primetime, after all BBC (and other broadcasters’ around Europe) have to cater for all audiences. There is no guarantee that you are going to have competitive seasons every year, if you had someone ‘run away’, you’ve then got a lot of dud races on in primetime which don’t make for good viewing. Let’s take a look at the sunset times for the ‘European based races’, I know its rather pedantic, but just to see if di Montezemolo has a point:

– Spain (Barcelona – May 13th) – 21:02
– Monaco (Monte Carlo – May 27th) – 21:01
– Europe (Valencia – June 24th) – 21:33
– Britain (Silverstone – July 8th) – 21:24 UK/22:24 Europe
– Germany (Hockenheim – July 22nd) – 21:19
– Hungary (Budapest – July 29th) – 20:22
– Belgium (Spa – September 2nd) – 20:18
– Italy (Monza – September 9th) – 19:45

All times above are local time, except for Britain, which I’ve noted the +1 hour time as well to equalise it with other countries. The races finish, at most, at 16:00. Yet there are at least three hours of sunlight left for most of the races. So surely, that alone is an argument for moving all European based races from 13:00 UK/14:00 European time to 16:00 UK/17:00 European time, thus bringing them into European primetime? Now of course, there are risks, the obvious one being weather related, if a race was red flagged, that would be it, game over, whereas presently you can complete the race in daytime hours. The evidence above though suggests it is definitely in the realms of possibility that at some point in the next few years, Formula 1 races could be moved into more of a mid-afternoon slot to boost television audiences. Myself? I am not sure it would boost television audiences, many countries around Europe have football mid-afternoon, in the UK, a 16:00 start would put it head to head with Sky’s Ford Super Sunday which would take off a million or so viewers. I know that the purists may not like a change in start-time and like the standard timeslot across all races, but from FOM’s perspective, I am surprised this was not considered years ago. I was one of the few that liked the Australia change in time, until 2009 I did not watch Australia live! Moving the European based races to a later slot, is it worth considering? Absolutely.

The source for 2005, 2006 and 2007 ratings come from this post on AUTOSPORT Forum. 2008 and 2009 ratings come from this document released by Initiative Sport Futures. Sunset times are via timeanddate.com for the race date this year.

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2 thoughts on “Why Luca di Montezemolo’s ideas may not be farfetched

  1. The problem with cutting race length by let’s say a third, is that it leaves a third less content for broadcasters to insert adverts into (assuming they’re a commercial channel, as most are), a third more content a broadcaster has to find (and pay for) to fill the gap, and a third less racing to entice ticket buyers into circuits, all this would no doubt mean something like a third less in broadcast fees and sanctioning fees … Would the teams really be prepared to accept a third less money?

    Most sports are broadcast for longer periods than they were a few decades ago, over-runs in tennis and football are very common, broadcasters don’t mind showing a 5 hour tennis match because with 100s of TV channels they find it difficult to find enough content to fill the time available, hence all the repeats.

    For commercial television a later time slot is of no advantage, they may find extra viewers, but the ratio between the advertising generated at 1pm and 5pm is large. In the UK ITV had no programmes advertisers were interested in at the F1 time slot, whereas 4 million viewers in a time slot usually viewed by 40k viewers was seen as a huge hit for the broadcaster, while getting, let’s say 8 million for a early evening slot (7pm) was the same as they’d get for almost any programme broadcast at that time.

    Late start time would be better for the teams, as more eyes on the cars means better sponsorship revenue, but then you have to ask yourself why are most team happy with the Sky deal, which has seen a drop in viewers of over 11% (combined BBC/Sky figure, and not even unique viewers, which is 8% worse still).

    • Regarding the later time slot and commercial television, James Allen put up a very interesting quote in his blog last week:

      “However there is no doubt that the manjor TV companies would like the races to start later. I remember introducing one controller of ITV Sport to Sir Frank Williams and when Williams asked him what one thing would he like to change about F1 he said, “Move all the race start times to 5pm”.”

      So I’m not sure what you say there is strictly correct. Also, ITV very rarely gets 8 million viewers early evening nowadays, ten or fifteen years ago yes, but the only shows nowadays that break 8 million regularly on ITV are the soaps, reality TV and one or two big dramas (Downton Abbey is one), everything else is under 8 million. I think ITV would love to have Formula 1 back, hence why they wanted it last year, but couldn’t have it as they could not commit to 2012.

      Although you say “most teams are happy with the Sky deal”, I don’t think they would openly say to the press “we are unhappy”, but merely just have a quiet word. I do wonder whether the Sky Sports F1 channel will remain for 2013 though when you consider the low figures for The F1 Show and GP2/GP3.

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