News round-up: Roberts joins Eurosport; Sky extend Speedway deal

There’s a few bits of news this week that are not worth covering as individual articles but are worth noting anyway, so I’ve bundled the bits into one post for future reference.

The main piece of news is that Matt Roberts is joining British Eurosport as their World Superbikes and British Superbikes presenter. Personally I’m very happy to see Roberts get the role, he was a fine presenter presenting MotoGP on the BBC. What the announcement does mean is that he is eliminated from the running for a place on BT Sport’s MotoGP team. Keith Huewen appears nailed on for a role, presumably commentator alongside Julian Ryder, but outside of that it is anyone’s guess. Azi Farni has gone quiet on Twitter lately which makes me wonder if she is part of the team. I’m not too familiar with the two wheels broadcasting picture outside of MotoGP so there are probably more obvious picks which are not obvious to me at this moment in time!

Sky Sports have renewed their Elite League Speedway contract for five years, alongside five other contracts. This is important for speedway to thrive in the country as there was the possibility that Sky could have decided to dispose of this contract, as they did with the Speedway Grand Prix championship before last season. Viewing figures tend to be around 100,000 to 200,000, nothing spectacular but enough for Sky to keep it. There is also the BT factor in all of these contracts, Sky wanted to get these wrapped up early to prevent BT Sport snapping any up.

Talking of BT, and I’ll have more on this at the weekend, the ratings for their live coverage of the World Rally Championship were solid if unspectacular. It is a good starting block, especially when considering that more motor sport fans are liking to subscribe to BT for MotoGP in the forthcoming months (team still TBC for anyone wondering). I haven’t looked in detail at ITV4’s World Rally Championship ratings yet, but the coverage appears to have done better than the majority of 2013, which is a positive sign going forward.

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BBC announces F1 team for 2014 season

The BBC have today confirmed their line up for the 2014 Formula One season. Suzi Perry returns as presenter to front the coverage, with David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan serving as expert analysts.

Coulthard will also partner Ben Edwards in the commentary box, whilst Tom Clarkson and Lee McKenzie will be in pit-lane. However, as noted a few weeks ago, Gary Anderson is absent. Disappointingly, and in some ways disgracefully in my view, BBC have not acknowledged this in today’s press release. Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been with a team ten days or ten years, your contribution should be acknowledged. BBC, and Ben Gallop, acknowledged Legard’s contributions when the two parted ways at the end of 2010, so why not Anderson now? As it turns out, Anderson is doing more AUTOSPORT work for 2014, so BBC’s loss is AUTOSPORT’s gain.

The radio team is identical last year, with Allan McNish on board for fifteen races instead of the six races as it was last year. James Allen and Jennie Gow are back on board as well. McNish it appears has an extended role for 2014. Ben Gallop, BBC’s Head of F1, said: “The 2014 F1 season picks up pace tomorrow as testing begins and the BBC’s F1 team is ready to deliver another exciting year of coverage. We’re delighted that Allan McNish is on board with the team this year in an expanded role – his experience and expertise is an invaluable addition, especially as he joins us straight from a highly successful career on the track. The strength of our presenting line up is something we are very proud of and it’s great to have them back again for 2014. We’re looking forward to the new season and delivering audiences a great package across TV, radio and online.”

Allan McNish said: “Now that I have hung up my racing helmet, I am really looking forward to joining the BBC team again for what I am sure is going to be a fantastic new F1 season. With so many technical rule changes, as well as team and driver movements, there will be lots of things happening on and off track for the BBC team to bring to you.” McNish’s quote amuses me purely because: if the technical side was so important, then surely they would have kept Anderson? As much as I am looking forward to McNish’s contribution, I have to question why BBC are going in the same direction of travel as Sky with a driver heavy line-up. An interesting note is that BBC say that McNish “will also feature across the BBC’s F1 output”. How he will fit into TV’s plans I have no idea. I suspect he’ll be part of BBC’s highlights weekends on TV and some live weekends to add some variety to the line-up.

The last quote on the BBC press release is confusing and potentially misleading “BBC One and BBC One HD will show nine races live on TV [..] with extended highlights programmes of the remaining races. This goes the same for practice and qualifying.” I don’t envisage highlights of practice in any form (especially on BBC One!) and I think this is simply a mistake, but I will update this blog if I hear differently.

A memo to all Formula 1 journalists

Next week, the 2014 Formula 1 season begins with the first of three tests from Jerez. For the journalists with paddock passes, it will be the beginning of another long Formula 1 season. It is those people that this piece is aimed at. First, let me say that the paddock journalists do some fantastic work each year keeping fans up to date with what is happening. However, with that also comes power. A paddock pass is like, a prized possession, and with that, journalists should do things that teams may not necessarily like. Why am I saying this? Double points. Unanimously, over 85 percent of Formula 1 fans want it dropped. It is a needless gimmick, the equivalent of say, making the final day of the Premier League season worth double. It penalises consistency. It rewards a ‘fluke’ result. Double points does nothing for me.

Formula 1 likes to pretend its fans matter. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t. We (and journalists) were never consulted, we are simply outsiders to the inner circus and bickerings that occur. Don’t get me wrong, I love Formula 1, I’ve watched it for fifteen years. But it is frustrating, year in, year out, to see how out of touch those that run this sport are with the audience that tune in and watch. Double points feels like the tip of the iceberg. It is a needless change in response to one driver dominating the latter half of the 2013 season. Fans have never wanted a gimmick such as double points, so why has it been implemented? FOTA, better known as Formula One Teams Association, hold forums, every so often. Are view points ever taken on board, or does what the paying audience say go in one ear and then straight out the other? Because that is what double points feels like. As soon as the reaction came out, someone in power should have thought “oh, you know what, maybe we did make a big mistake after all” and removed the regulation.

Could I e-mail the teams? Of course. But the e-mail addresses on the teams’ website are generic. The Christian Horner’s and Stefano Domenicalli’s of this world (i.e. those in a position of power) are never going to read said e-mails, are they? It is the same in any corporate business, the secretary reads it, throws back a standard response and nothing else happens. Eric Boullier’s response to double points on AUTOSPORT was spineless. A response like that cannot end there, it needs to be challenged, until a breaking point is hit. If double points is still in place come Melbourne, it cannot be allowed to just go away. Pressure needs to be maintained by those journalists in the paddock. I feel sometimes like journalists and TV personalities are the only things that connect fans with the teams, because the teams appear to be in some kind of parallel, distant universe. Fans feel alienated.

To Formula 1 journalists attending the three tests and races: please exercise your power and put pressure on all in power to drop double points. Because the frank truth is, fans are powerless. High up members of the Formula 1 paddock like to think that they care about fans, but again, they don’t. And the past few weeks proves that. I’d like to think journalists have the power to do this, but hey what do I know. No round the edge questions, simple and direct. “Why are you not dropping double points?”. No off the record writing, all on the record and in person. Hold those who made a disastrous decision accountable. It is about time F1 bosses listen to those who matter most. Not the bank managers with big wallets. Those who matter most are the fans. Me and you. Journalists, you have power as a member of the F1 paddock. Exercise it.

And if you don’t have the power to influence. Ask yourself why.

Antena 3 and TV3 extend F1 rights

Over in Spain, it was reported by SportBusiness on Monday that Antena 3 and TV3 have extended their respective rights to screen the Formula 1 World Championship until the end of the 2015 season.

The previous deal was over five years from 2009 to 2013, whilst the new deal is only two years in comparison running for 2014 and 2015. Unlike the UK, Spain’s rights system for F1 is slightly different, Antena 3 are a commercial broadcaster, whilst TV3 are free-to-air, but only based in Barcelona. TV3’s rights are dropping by 30 percent. I would be lying if I said that I’ve been keeping an extensive track on the Spanish ratings picture, but I could not imagine Spain’s Formula 1 ratings dropping by 30 percent.

I can imagine a drop, because of Sebastian Vettel’s dominance, but a 30 percent drop seems extreme to say the least. The ratings that I have reported from Spain (for Canada and Belgian) have appeared healthy. Of course, the reason I’m mentioning ratings is because the ratings influence the rights deal logically, the higher the ratings, the higher the fees.

This is the first case I’ve seen of free-to-air rights fees drop significantly, and it will be interesting to see if this is an anomaly or whether it is repeated in other parts of Europe. The BBC are understood to be paying between £15 million and £20 million. A 30 percent fee drop would send that to between £11 million and £14 million, although the UK deal does not expire until the end of 2018.

Scheduling: The 2014 Bahrain test 1 on Sky Sports F1

The scheduling details for Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the second test for the 2014 Formula 1 season have today been confirmed. The test, the first of two from the Bahrain International Circuit will again feature fifteen minute highlights from each day.

However, Ted Kravitz’s Notebook is replaced by #AskCrofty. The reason for this is simply because Kravitz is not going to be at the first of the two Bahrain tests. I assume that the #AskCrofty feature will be filmed at the end of each day, with viewers submitting questions via Twitter.

Kravitz will be back for the final test, for which scheduling details should be out next week.

Wednesday 19th February
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 1 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15
22:15 to 23:00 – Day 1 Highlights (R)

Thursday 20th February
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 2 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15
22:15 to 23:00 – Day 2 Highlights (R)

Friday 21st February
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 3 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15
22:15 to 23:00 – Day 3 Highlights (R)

Saturday 22nd February
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 4 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15
22:15 to 23:00 – Day 4 Highlights (R)

Sunday 23rd February
13:00 to 13:45 – Day 1 Highlights (R)
13:45 to 14:30 – Day 2 Highlights (R)
14:30 to 15:15 – Day 3 Highlights (R)
15:15 to 16:00 – Day 4 Highlights (R)

As always, I’ll update this post if anything changes concerning the first Bahrain test.

Update on February 15th – Some minor changes made, but nothing too major.