Sports rights are transferring like flies at the moment, and the latest move is no exception. The Racing Post are this evening reporting that ITV will be broadcasting horse racing from January 1st, 2017. The Racing Post are your AUTOSPORT of horse racing, so expect the news to be made official very soon. The report is significant, given the announcement two weeks ago that Channel 4 would be broadcasting Formula 1 from this season onwards, taking over the BBC’s contract which was set to last until 2018.
Notably, the Racing Post’s article says that ITV’s deal for horse racing is £30 million over 4 years, which works out at £7.5 million per year. Based on the BBC’s previous deal, we expect Channel 4’s current Formula 1 deal to be in the region of £15 million to £20 million per year. Quite clearly, the maths does not add up, it was either going to be one or the other for Channel 4, not both.
I have three questions:
a) did Bernie Ecclestone want to do a deal with Channel 4 more than ITV?
b) did ITV want horse racing more than Formula 1?
c) did ITV want Formula 1, but were unwilling to commit to 2016?
How exactly the chain of events went, we do not know. From a 2016 perspective, the good news for Formula 1 is that you imagine the Grand Prix will get preferential treatment in the event of any clash between it and horse racing on Channel 4. As noted in my calendar predictions post, there will definitely be clashes of some degree between Formula 1 and horse racing on Channel 4. The news this evening means that, in the event of a clash, I would expect horse racing to be relegated to More4, assuming it is not a major race.
From an ITV perspective, Racing Post notes that the majority of race days are “expected” to be shown on ITV4. There is no imminent threat to the British Touring Car Championship on ITV4, as a deal was recently signed through to 2022. I think horse racing and the BTCC will co-exist fine, it may affect one or two BTCC races, but I don’t foresee a major problem for the championship.
The bigger problem may be Formula E, although it is currently unknown if ITV have rights for that in season three. I’m not convinced that ITV will be paying anything for Formula E’s rights, based on the viewing figures for season two so far. On the subject of ratings, and I quote from Racing Post:
Since controversially acquiring the BBC’s crown jewels from the start of 2013, Channel 4’s tenure as racing’s sole terrestrial partner has been beset by disastrous ratings for most marquee fixtures. Royal Ascot has lost half its viewers, the Derby’s figure last year plummeted to a record low, and British Champions Day has had its audience collapse from an average of 1.1m in the BBC’s final year to just 367,000 last October.
One aspect this site has not focussed on too much since the Channel 4 announcement is viewing figures. BBC’s Formula 1 race day coverage in 2015 averaged 3.11 million viewers according to overnight viewing figures. Immediately, you can see why Formula 1 is a better prospect for Channel 4 than horse racing, even if the 2015 season performed poorly due to the dominance of Mercedes. However, the above paragraph makes for worrying reading, and suggests that a drop in numbers with the transfer from BBC to Channel 4 is inevitable. I would agree, simply because Channel 4 does not have the ‘pull’ of BBC in terms of TV, radio and online.
But how far will Formula 1’s terrestrial television numbers drop? A drop of 10 percent year-on-year leaves you with 2.80 million viewers. If numbers dropped by 25 percent, you are looking at an average of 2.33 million viewers for Channel 4’s race day coverage. If you went even further and said Formula 1’s numbers will decrease by 40 percent compared with 2015, the overnight average drops to 1.87 million viewers.
Formula 1 needs to be one of Channel 4’s centrepieces and the removal of horse racing from their portfolio helps in that respect.