…but for the BBC, it didn’t end well.
Multiple outlets are reporting this morning that the BBC are attempting to renegotiate their television contract to broadcast Formula 1.
Telegraph.co.uk – Bernie Ecclestone turns down BBC plea to renegotiate F1 contract
Daily Mail – BBC set to pull plug on live F1 with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix set to be swansong race
The Times – BBC rebuffed in bid to revise F1 deal
As the three headlines show, the news is bleak.
The articles say that the BBC met with Formula One Management and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone in his Kensington office yesterday afternoon, following the announcement minutes earlier that the BBC were making further cuts to various budgets, including BBC Sport. Simply put, the offer by the BBC to renegotiate the financial aspect of the contract was refused by Ecclestone. The current cost of the contract is between £15 million to £20 million per year for the BBC.
Various quotes from Ecclestone are making the rounds in the broadsheet papers listed above, which can be summarised as follows, this from The Telegraph: “We had a chat with them [BBC] today. What they would like to do is not spend as much money. They want to know if they can schedule it different ways or pay a bit less now. They don’t have a lot of choice because they’ve got a contract with us. They’re there for another three years. Beyond then , I’ve no idea. I don’t know what’s going to happening tomorrow morning. I can’t tell you what I’m going to do in two years’ time. Definitely, we want them to carry on [with the BBC]. Of course.”
Ecclestone claims that he has not had contact off any other broadcasters concerning future Formula 1 rights. On the BBC side of things, Daily Mail have reported that an e-mail from BBC’s Director of Sport Barbara Slater, circulated to BBC Sport staff, does not list Formula 1 as part of their crown jewels. Most startlingly perhaps is the suggestion from Charles Sale and Jonathan McEvoy of the aforementioned Mail that the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be the last live Grand Prix on the BBC. Yes, that is Abu Dhabi, which takes place in just ten days time, with the BBC either screening highlights only from 2016 or the rights transferring to another free-to-air broadcaster.
ITV is the broadcaster suggested by the Daily Mail. Sale is either hitting the mark, or extremely wide of it. Suggesting that ITV could formulate a team, and put aside the relevant money by Melbourne in four months time seems far-fetched to me. Some of Sale’s track record has been hit and miss, notably claiming earlier this year that BT Sport would broadcast La Liga exclusively live, only for Sky Sports to officially claim the rights a few hours later.
Clearly, this is going to be a fast moving story over the next few weeks and months. If BBC want to get out of live Formula 1 at the end of this season, an announcement would surely come within the next week, it would be ludicrous if there are no on-air references to their coverage ending in Abu Dhabi. However, if we hear nothing before Christmas, we can assume that BBC will broadcast Formula 1 with the same deal as now in 2016.
Update on November 25th – Enter Channel 4. Per yesterday’s edition of The Chris Evans Show (thanks madmusician on DS for the tip), and I quote from Evans: “This is what I heard yesterday, that Channel 4 may sweep in and take the rights to Formula 1 away from the BBC next year.” Given that Evans has involvement with both the BBC and Channel 4, namely through his own show, Top Gear and TFI Friday, I would say that rumour has legs. I have noted on these pages before about their previous efforts when BBC’s rights were under threat in 2011. Will it be second time lucky for the broadcaster?
Update on November 29th – Suzi Perry at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix show: “We will see you next year, hopefully.” – so, there you are.
Update on November 30th – BBC pundit David Coulthard has used his column on the BBC website to comment on the rights situation. He notes that, as reported above, BBC’s rights are under threat because of budget cuts around the corporation. The most important part of Coulthard’s column, was this, which I wholeheartedly agree with: “My personal view is that if F1 allows itself to lose free-to-air television coverage in the UK, it will not only affect the popularity of the sport, and by extension the teams’ ability to raise money to compete, but it will also reduce its exposure to the next generations of engineers and mechanics.”
Update on December 7th – Current Sky Sports F1 commentator and former BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle spoke about the situation at last night’s AUTOSPORT Awards. In an off-topic diversion, Brundle said “I really hope the BBC stays in F1 next year. We [BBC and Sky] push each other along and it’s good for F1.”