Changing times: Analysing F1’s willingness to work around the World Cup

Formula 1’s audience figures for the French Grand Prix in the United Kingdom did not paint a rosy picture, with low numbers across the board.

Below the surface here, there is a secondary story, and that is F1’s resistance to move out of the way of the World Cup. But, have things always been that way? Before I wrote this piece, I thought the answer was ‘yes’, it feels like F1 has failed to acknowledge the World Cup’s existence this year.

I have analysed all the World Cup tournaments since 2002 to see if the statistics and timings support my theory…

World Cup 2002 – Korea and Japan
Being eight hours ahead of the UK meant that most matches from Korea and Japan in 2002 occurred during the early hours, but that did not stop the disruption to F1’s European season. Back then, the 60-minute qualifying session started at 12:00 UK time.

But for the European Grand Prix, F1 moved qualifying on Saturday 22nd June to 11:15 UK time, avoiding a quarter-final game between Senegal and Turkey, which kicked off at 12:30 UK time.

The change gave broadcasters suitable time to cover the session, with additional post-session analysis (10 minutes the par for the course at this stage for ITV1), before heading off-air.

World Cup 2006 – Germany
Four years later, the tournament from Germany fell during the same period as three F1 races, causing F1’s organisers to make multiple changes to their weekend schedules.

F1 moved both qualifying and the race for the British Grand Prix to avoid a clash with the group stages of the football competition: the qualifying session on Saturday 10th June started 30 minutes earlier at 12:30 UK time on ITV1, to avoid a potential overlap with England versus Paraguay.

The race the following day started even earlier at 12:00 UK time, preventing a clash between the Grand Prix and Serbia and Montenegro’s clash with the Netherlands, which kicked off at 14:00 on BBC One.

2006 British GP - World Cup ITV
Gabby Logan does a live link to Steve Rider at Silverstone during ITV’s coverage of their first game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

A rare occasion followed during the weekend of the 24th June, when ITV simulcast the Canadian Grand Prix on ITV4. Formula 1’s broadcasters who aired both the football and the Grand Prix faced multiple problems heading into the weekend, and the following weekend with the US Grand Prix.

The knockout games on both weekends kicked off at 16:00 UK time. With qualifying and the race starting at 18:00 UK time, it meant that extra time on either weekend would result in a clash with the F1. England versus Ecuador on Sunday clashed with ITV’s Canadian race build-up but did not go into extra time. Nevertheless, the clash caused significant damage to ITV’s audience figures.

A secondary problem, and the reason for the ITV4 simulcast, was that ITV selected Portugal versus the Netherlands as their live game, which kicked off at 20:00. Clearly the timings were far too tight, with ITV opting for the simulcast so post-race analysis could continue on ITV4. Cutting it tight, indeed…

The qualifying session from Indianapolis on Saturday 1st July did clash partially, even if it was not by design: England versus Portugal went into extra time, clashing with F1 qualifying. For UK viewers it did not really matter, ITV in that era aired qualifying for the North American races on a tape delay late at night.

World Cup 2010 – South Africa
Although three races in 2010 fell into the same period as the World Cup, Formula One Management did an excellent job to avoid direct clashes.

The Canadian Grand Prix occurred on the opening weekend of the tournament. BBC moved live coverage of qualifying, which started at 18:00 UK time on Saturday 13th June, to BBC Two, primarily so Doctor Who could air in its primetime BBC One slot before England versus USA started on ITV at 19:30.

BBC One – Sunday 13th June 2010
16:05 – F1: Canadian Grand Prix Live (race start: 17:00)
19:15 – BBC News

ITV – Sunday 13th June 2010
14:20 – World Cup 2010 Live (match start: 15:00)
17:00 – Midsomer Murders (R)
18:30 – ITV News
19:00 – World Cup 2010 Live (match start: 19:30)

The Montreal race remained on BBC One where it mopped up the floating football audience, becoming the most watched show on BBC One on that day. Starting at 12:00 local time (17:00 UK time), the race started minutes after Serbia’s game with Ghana finished on ITV yet finished before Germany’s tie with Australia started at 19:30. To F1’s advantage, the games in 2010 were spread out across the day better than compared with 2018.

Two weeks later, it was heartbreak for England against Germany on Sunday 27th June. The match kicked off at 15:00, with a risk of overlap between the game and the European Grand Prix, which started at 13:00 UK time. As a result, the BBC moved the F1 to BBC Two, primarily so that they could run an extended build-up, but in the end the two events did not overlap.

Silverstone hosted the British Grand Prix on the same day as the World Cup final, the F1 race serving to be a great warm-up act for the main event to follow later in the evening.

World Cup 2014 – Brazil
With F1 in Europe, no clashes occurred between the football competition in 2014 and the Grand Prix.

World Cup 2018 – Russia
Up until this point, F1 under its previous ownership had done its best to avoid World Cup clashes. Placing a triple header though in the middle of the World Cup was asking for trouble.

During the French Grand Prix weekend, World Cup fixtures kicked off at 13:00, 16:00 and 19:00 UK time, leaving around a 75-minute gap between each game. An F1 race lasts around 90 minutes, meaning a clash of some kind was inevitable. In the end, Liberty Media opted to start qualifying at 15:00 UK time, the closing seconds clashing with South Korea game against Mexico.

As predicted last December, F1 pushed the race back to 15:10 to avoid a clash with England versus Panama, but by moving the race, the latter half of the Grand Prix clashed with Japan versus Senegal. Like in 2006 with England versus Ecuador, F1’s audience figures for the build-up suffered, it was a lose-lose situation for the sport.

Even if the teams are unknown, the dates are known years in advance, and Liberty Media should have had this weekend at the top of their ‘to avoid’ list. Things do not get better for the sport in the next two weeks.

The latter seconds of both the Austrian and British Grand Prix qualifying sessions will clash with a World Cup game. The former on Saturday 30th June will see a slight clash with France versus Argentina, whilst Silverstone’s qualifying session clashing with the opening seconds of a quarter-final clash.

Lastly, the second half of the Austrian Grand Prix will clash with Spain’s round of 16 clash with Russia. What is interesting is that the majority of the clashes could have been avoided had the sessions started at the same time they did in 2017, before Liberty Media tweaked the weekend schedule.


So, when we see the headline “F1 hits new audience low”, we should also remember that an F1 race before 2018 had never faced a World Cup game the 21st century. When Bernie Ecclestone was at the helm, he was sensible enough to move qualifying or the race a couple of hours here or there, avoiding even the slightest potential of a clash, because he knew it would harm the sports audience in the affected territories.

Another element to this is that Formula 1 has significantly more pay-TV contracts now than it did in the mid-2000s, meaning that the number of broadcasters airing both F1 and the World Cup may have decreased, resulting in less pressure towards Formula One Management to change its time slots.

I love Formula 1 and motor racing but I, like millions of others, also enjoy the spectacle that is the World Cup. Even if you do not follow club football, the World Cup has the power to reach cross sections of the population that many other sporting platforms fail to reach. Expecting F1 to come out unscathed from any kind of clash is somewhat naive.

In my opinion, Liberty Media are failing to see the global sporting picture, and where F1 fits in. The World Cup is a once in four years event, and they must be prepared to work around events such as that if F1 is to sustain a healthy audience throughout the course of the season. Liberty Media’s stubbornness is likely to cost the sport millions of viewers worldwide over the forthcoming weeks.

F1 session times have been sourced from FORIX. TV scheduling details have been sourced from Overnights.tv’s programme search.

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F1 hits new low in UK against World Cup competition

The French Grand Prix continued Formula 1’s rough period in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Race
The race itself started at 15:10, twenty minutes after England’s World Cup thrashing of Panama finished over on BBC One. The timings meant that Sky Sports’ build-up of the Grand Prix clashed with the England game, causing its average audience figure to be deflated. There are no year-on-year comparisons, with this being the first French round since 2008.

From 14:00 to 17:30, an audience of 547k (4.7%) watched Sky’s F1 output across their F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event, this figure also accounting for Main Event’s simulcast starting later at 14:30. The F1 channel averaged 337k (2.9%), with Main Event bringing in a further 245k (2.1%).

Sky’s coverage from 14:00 to 14:50, the portion which directly clashed with the second half of England game, averaged 67k (0.4%), an unsurprisingly low figure considering 13.62m (82.0%) were watching the football at the same time.

Lewis Hamilton’s victory peaked with 1.08m (8.4%) as the race started at 15:15, Sky’s second highest peak of the season, only behind Canada. At the time of the peak, 606k (4.7%) were watching on the F1 channel, with 470k (3.7%) watching via Main Event.

For a European round, it is a solid peak for the pay-TV broadcaster, however the audience is not much higher than Spain or Monaco (1.01m and 1.02m respectively), showing that Sky did not benefit much from following on after the England game. I argued in the scheduling piece, and still do now, that Sky should have placed the race front and centre on Sky One to try and capitalise on some of the floating football audience.

Because of the later than usual start time, Channel 4’s highlights programme did not air until 22:15. An audience of 1.05m (10.6%) watched their cut of the race, peaking with 1.42m (11.4%) at 22:45. The audience is in-line with Channel 4’s usual audiences for their late-night highlights, but combined with Sky’s usual European audience is not a good recipe.

The combined average audience of 1.60 million viewers is around 40,000 viewers lower than the Canadian Grand Prix average from two weeks ago, making the audience a new low for Formula 1 in the modern era in the UK.

The peak audience of 2.49 million viewers is lower than Canada’s peak audience of 2.56 million viewers. It is the lowest peak for a Formula 1 race in the UK since the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, which peaked with 2.46 million viewers.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 264k (3.2%) on Sky Sports F1 from 14:00 to 16:35, peaking with 570k (6.7%) at 16:00. Channel 4’s highlights programme followed at 18:30, averaging 918k (6.1%) across a 95-minute slot. Their show peaked with 1.18m (7.0%) at 19:45.

The combined audience for qualifying was 1.18 million viewers, with the peak audience coming in at 1.75 million viewers. Based on the qualifying audience for Channel 4, I do not think their race show would have fared much better in an earlier time slot. It may have moved the combined race average closer to two million viewers, but no further, due to the impact that the World Cup was having on all other channels.

You might argue in the case of the French round that F1 may have had more pub viewing than usual due to the football, but to the contrary I suspect that any pubs showing England would have stuck with the second football game on BBC One instead of turning over to the F1.

Unfortunately for Formula 1, things do not get much better. The second half of next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix will clash with Spain versus Russia, whilst any delay to qualifying will result in a clash between France and Argentina. Liberty Media’s decision to move races an hour later will have a significant impact on audience numbers worldwide as a result.

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Scheduling: The 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

The Formula 1 triple-header moves from Paul Ricard to the Red Bull Ring, for the Austrian Grand Prix. The race airs live across Sky Sports and Channel 4.

On the personnel front, Louise Goodman steps into Lee McKenzie’s shoes as Channel 4’s pit lane reporter, McKenzie will be back in action from next weekend’s British Grand Prix.

It is a busy weekend of motor sport, with MotoGP also in action from Assen. The main bike race starts at the usual 13:00 UK time, but is unlikely to clash with the F1 barring a major overrun.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
29/06 – 10:00 to 11:35 – Practice 1
29/06 – 13:55 to 16:00 – Practice 2
30/06 – 10:55 to 12:25 – Practice 3
30/06 – 12:55 to 15:45 – Qualifying
01/07 – 13:00 to 17:30 – Race
=> 13:00 – Build-Up
=> 13:40 – Race
=> 16:30 – Reaction

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
29/06 – 09:45 to 11:55 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
29/06 – 13:45 to 15:50 – Practice 2
30/06 – 10:45 to 12:15 – Practice 3 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/06 – 13:00 to 15:40 – Qualifying
=> 13:00 – Pre-Show
=> 13:55 – Qualifying
01/07 – 12:30 to 17:10 – Race
=> 12:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – On the Grid
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
27/06 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Preview
28/06 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
28/06 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
30/06 – 17:15 to 17:50 – The F1 Show
04/07 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
29/06 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/06 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
01/07 – 14:00 to 16:30 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

MotoGP – Assen (BT Sport 2)
29/06 – 07:45 to 15:15 – Practice 1 and 2
30/06 – 07:55 to 15:15
=> 07:55 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
01/07 – 07:30 to 15:00
=> 07:30 – Warm Ups
=> 09:15 – Moto3
=> 11:00 – Moto2
=> 12:30 – MotoGP
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Assen (Channel 5)
02/07 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Formula Two – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
29/06 – 11:55 to 12:55 – Practice
29/06 – 15:50 to 16:35 – Qualifying
30/06 – 15:40 to 17:15 – Race 1
01/07 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
29/06 – 16:45 to 17:30 – Qualifying
30/06 – 09:20 to 10:15 – Race 1
01/07 – 08:45 to 09:35 – Race 2

Porsche Supercup – Austria
01/07 – Race
=> 11:10 to 11:55 (Sky Sports F1)
=> 11:15 to 12:15 (Eurosport 2)

Speedway Grand Prix – Denmark (BT Sport 2)
30/06 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

As always, the schedule will be updated if anything changes.

 

Toyota’s Le Mans victory peaks with 343,000 viewers

Toyota’s first Le Mans victory, with Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and debutant Fernando Alonso at the helm, peaked with 343,000 viewers on Sunday afternoon in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

Le Mans down on 2017, but solid against World Cup competition
2018 was always going to be a tough year for Le Mans thanks to reduced competition in the flagship LMP1 class, as well as the football World Cup competition getting underway, but the famous race fared solidly.

Live coverage of the race aired in its entirety on Eurosport, with three portions airing on free-to-air channel Quest TV. ITV4’s coverage, which was present last year, did not return for 2018 which should be factored into year-on-year comparisons. However, the level of coverage was like that provided in 2015 and 2016.

The audience figures in this piece exclude those who watched via the Eurosport Player, FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) App or via other online means.

Across all UK television outlets, the whole race averaged 84k (1.3%) from 13:45 on Saturday through to 14:15 on Sunday, which is in the same ballpark as previous years. The audience is lower than 2015 and 2017, when the race averaged 98k (1.5%) and 98k (1.7%) respectively. In both years there was no major football tournament to contend with.

Le Mans was up on the 2016 race average of 73k (0.9%), which should be considered a success, considering 2016 clashed with the Euro 2016 tournament (the weekend also clashed with Formula 1’s European Grand Prix).

Eurosport’s coverage averaged 53k (0.9%) from 13:45 on Saturday, a slight decrease on last year’s audience of 59k (1.0%). It is Eurosport’s worst average audience for the race since 2012, although the margins are tight between the different years. Their coverage peaked with 146k (2.4%) at 10:50 on Sunday, down around 20,000 viewers on the 2017 peak audience of 166k (2.5%).

Unlike in previous years, Eurosport’s coverage did not build its audience in the final few hours, slipping back under 100k at 12:05, and only jumping back above that mark at 13:20. At 13:50, 135k (1.5%) were watching Eurosport’s coverage.

Three separate shows aired on Quest TV. The start of the race averaged 62k (0.7%) from 13:30 to 15:00, down on last year’s audience of 89k (1.6%). Saturday’s evening update at 22:00 averaged 102k (0.8%), an increase of 4,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 98k (0.7%).

The highlight for Quest was Sunday’s live coverage, which averaged 130k (1.8%), peaking with 209k (2.3%) at 13:50, their highest Le Mans peak since 2015.

The combined peak audience of 343k (3.8%) came at 13:55 on Sunday, with the audience split 134k vs 202k in Quest’s favour. The peak audience is down 176,000 viewers year-on-year, some of that a result of ITV4 no longer airing coverage, some of it due to the World Cup.

Even-stevens between BTCC and Formula E
The weekend prior to Le Mans, as well as Formula 1’s excursion to Canada, there was British Touring Car Championship action from Oulton Park and Formula E racing from Zurich, both airing live on free-to-air television on Sunday 10th June.

The touring car action aired on ITV4 from 11:15 to 18:10, to an average audience of 219k (3.0%). Race 1 started at 12:20, averaging 221k (3.7%), with race 2 following on with an audience of 285k (4.0%) at 14:50.

An opening lap accident halted race 3, resulting in a 25-minute delay. 329k (3.2%) watched the delayed race from 17:30 to 17:55, with the peak audience of the day coming at 17:45 as 347k (3.4%) watched the closing laps.

Further up the channel order, Channel 5’s coverage of the Zurich E-Prix averaged 290k (3.0%) from 16:30 to 18:15. The race itself from 17:00 to 17:55 averaged 331k (3.4%), peaking with 396k (4.0%) at 17:25. Eurosport 2’s coverage of Formula E is unlikely to make a substantial difference to audience figures.

It is interesting to note that 70,000 viewers switched from Formula E to the BTCC as race 3 restarted, with ITV4 overtaking Channel 5 at this point. Channel 5 dropped from 396k (4.0%) to 304k (3.0%) between 17:25 and 17:40, whilst ITV4 increased from 275k (2.8%) to 338k (3.3%) in the same period.

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Scheduling: The 2018 French Grand Prix

Formula 1 returns to Paul Ricard for the first time since 1990, with the French Grand Prix! The race makes its return to the calendar, having last held a Grand Prix in 2008 at Magny-Cours. It forms the start of Formula 1’s first ever triple-header, Austria and Britain following in the next two weeks.

A returning race is normally a big thing, generating more publicity for the sport than usual, however that is not quite the case this year thanks to the clash with football’s World Cup extravaganza.

The start times for all the weekend’s action is an hour later than usual (and 130 minutes later than the 2017 European times), the change designed to avoid a clash on Sunday between the Grand Prix and England’s football game against Panama.

Because of the race starting at 15:10 UK time, Channel 4’s highlights are pushed deep into the evening. Channel 4 have opted to keep Bake Off: The Professionals and The Handmaid’s Tale in their usual slots, the F1 highlights starting at 22:10.

The free-to-air broadcaster cannot start their highlights programme at 18:00 (less than 3 hours after the race starts), so the options were to run a truncated show from 19:00, start the programme at 19:00 and drop either Bake Off: The Professionals or Handmaid’s Tale for a week, or do what they have done and start the F1 at 22:15.

It is very unfortunate as the F1 would comfortably bring in more viewers than both programmes based on audience figures so far. The football competition in that scenario would have been Poland versus Colombia, not exactly tier 1 material.

Sky have failed to capitalise on their exclusively live coverage, sticking to the usual routine of airing coverage on the F1 channel, with a Main Event simulcast. Exclusive race or not, I am struggling to grasp why they have not gone a step further and aired live coverage on Sky 1.

There is a massive shop window here for Sky to bring new viewers to their output, and they have not recognised that fact. Furthermore, there is limited coverage on 5 Live, so a major missed opportunity, in my eyes. A separate question is just why the FIA decided to run a triple-header in the middle of the biggest sporting event of the year, and not at either the start or end of the European season…

On the personnel front, Tom Clarkson continues to be super sub for Channel 4 reporter Lee McKenzie, McKenzie currently presenting rugby coverage elsewhere on Channel 4.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
23/06 – 18:30 to 20:10 – Qualifying Highlights
24/06 – 22:15 to 00:10 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
22/06 – 10:30 to 12:55 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
22/06 – 14:45 to 16:50 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
23/06 – 11:45 to 13:15 – Practice 3
23/06 – 14:00 to 16:40 – Qualifying
=> 14:00 – Pre-Show
=> 14:55 – Qualifying
24/06 – 13:30 to 18:10 – Race
=> 13:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 14:30 – On the Grid (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 15:05 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 17:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)

Supplementary Programming
20/06 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Preview (also Sky Sports Mix)
21/06 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
21/06 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
23/06 – 18:15 to 18:50 – The F1 Show
27/06 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Review (also Sky Sports Mix)

BBC Radio F1
22/06 – 10:55 to 12:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
22/06 – 14:55 to 16:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/06 – 11:55 to 13:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/06 – 14:55 to 16:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/06 – 15:00 to 18:00 – Race Updates (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Blancpain GT Sprint Series – Misano (BT Sport 2)
23/06 – 18:45 to 20:30 – Qualifying Race
24/06 – 12:15 to 14:15 – Championship Race

British Touring Car Championship – Croft (ITV4)
24/06 – 11:15 to 18:20 – Races

Formula Two – France (Sky Sports F1)
22/06 – 12:50 to 13:50 – Practice (also Sky Sports Main Event)
22/06 – 16:50 to 17:35 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
23/06 – 16:40 to 18:15 – Race 1
24/06 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Race 2

GP3 Series – France (Sky Sports F1)
22/06 – 17:45 to 18:30 – Qualifying
23/06 – 10:25 to 11:20 – Race 1
24/06 – 09:40 to 10:40 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Road America (BT Sport/ESPN)
24/06 – 17:30 to 20:30 – Race

World Superbikes – Laguna Seca
23/06 – 18:30 to 20:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
23/06 – 21:15 to 23:15 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
24/06 – 21:30 to 23:15 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
26/06 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – Vila Real (Eurosport 2)
26/06 – 09:00 to 10:30 – Qualifying
26/06 – 15:00 to 18:00
=> 15:00 – Race 2
=> 16:30 – Race 3

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.