In conversation with Manel Arroyo

It is Saturday afternoon at a surprisingly warm Silverstone circuit. I am half expecting rain at any moment, but apart from early morning drizzle, the MotoGP event took place in remarkable conditions throughout.

About half an hour before the official post-qualifying press conference started, which featured the Moto2 and Moto3 pole sitters, plus the top three riders in the premier class, this writer headed for the Dorna offices situated next to the media centre. Inside, there was a flurry of activity, with a range of guests heading in and out at various intervals.

Dorna have been the commercial rights holder for MotoGP for just over a quarter of a century. “This is our 26th year. We started in Japan in March 1992, the team back then was just twelve people”, Manel Arroyo, who is Dorna’s Managing Director, recalls. Since 1992, Arroyo and his Dorna team have seen a range of technological changes, on both large and small-scale. Arroyo comments, “One of the big moments is when we changed from analogue to digital, it was a huge change for everyone in the industry.”

“Since then, we have gone from 4:3 to 16:9 [in 2008], from SD to HD, and now we are here looking at 4K technology. The cameras that we now install on the machines have significantly more performance, which allows fans to follow the likes of [Valentino] Rossi. This is what makes our work very enjoyable.” During this weekend’s San Marino MotoGP, fans can access a live 360-degree view from Andrea Dovizioso’s Ducati via the MotoGP Video Pass service.

A worldwide operation
– 155 cameras per race
=> including 95 on-board cameras
– 360,000 kilograms of equipment
transported
=> 230,000 for the teams
=> 130,000 for Dorna
– 92 tonnes of TV equipment
– 50 trucks
– 4 cargo Boeing 747 planes

From twelve people in 1992, the number of people working for Dorna on their MotoGP coverage has increased to 300, with a split of around 230 people on-site and 70 people in Barcelona depending on the race. “For all of us, Sunday is a special day, because it’s real racing, there’s great racing and competition between our riders,” says Arroyo.

“Each race seems better than the last one, although it will be difficult to have one better than Austria! The paddock works altogether as one, for the common good of the sport, that means riders, manufacturers, teams, FIM, Dorna, broadcasters, media and all our other partners. It’s important that we listen to what the riders like, what the riders don’t like around the rules, what the broadcasters like, what the broadcasters don’t like and so on, whether they want the show in another format or package,” Arroyo continued.

> BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP

Although not always visible, the work that Dorna does goes beyond the MotoGP paddock, with Arroyo keen to point out the links to other motorcycle series to help talent flourish through the system from end-to-end. “We have been running with Red Bull the Red Bull Rookies Cup for many years. We also have the Asian Talent Cup that we’re running in Asia with Idemitsu and Honda, this is its fourth year. And [prior to Silverstone], we’ve started the process for the British Talent Cup, we will be running it next year.”

“We have connections with MotoAmerica, the American championship. We help them to produce the TV feed, and with the sporting and technical regulations, as we understand that in the long-term this will help grow the appeal of our sport.” Following Silverstone, it was announced that MotoAmerica would be expanding with a junior series, plus it is enriching its online offering so its European and Latin America fans can follow the series.

On the social media front, Arroyo is happy with the metrics, as demonstrated on this site. “We are reaching through social networks [to younger audiences], as you know very well, we’re the best motor sport in terms of followers in the social networking space!” The feeling that I received from Arroyo is that MotoGP is in a good position.

Attendances are fluctuating, with an unusually low attendance for the British MotoGP. Overall, whilst the picture is positive, the championship cannot afford to be complacent with roadblocks ahead, which is why Dorna are preparing for the long-term future and the next generation by investing in feeder, localised series around the world.

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A race to the printers

When the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoons, the hard work may be over for the MotoGP riders, who have just raced around some of the world’s toughest circuits. But behind the scenes on the journalistic front, there is a separate race against time that goes unnoticed. A race for the printers. A race round the paddock to get the quotes that will either be the lead story online, or the lead story on the supermarket shelves. It is a frantic race, that brings with it many layers that must fit seamlessly into place for the process to work.

In the lead-up to the home round of the 2017 MotoGP championship, Motorcycle News (MCN) published a 32-page British Grand Prix special, that was months in the making. “We’ve been planning the paper for three months. I started on it at Sachsenring before the Summer break, planning and then gathering quotes during Austria and Brno,” explained Simon Patterson, MCN’s MotoGP reporter.

Patterson, who has been MCN’s reporter since the start of 2016, described how the input of British riders was vital in helping with delivery of the special. “With British riders, we can do things over the phone as we have a great relationship with them. One of the features we have in the preview is a track map which needed to be annotated. I sent the map to Tarran [Mackenzie], he printed it, scribbled notes on it, photographed it and sent it back! There’s mutual benefit.”

Despite a reduced circulation, the weekly paper is still a key part of MCN’s output, with an audience of around 66,000 readers per week in 2016 according to Press Gazette, a healthy number and comfortably ahead of its competitors in the market. It is important for the future of the newspaper that it has exclusive stories, such as Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati from last year.

“You get to build your circle of sources. There are a few things that someone has told me a month in advance, I think it doesn’t sound correct, and then a month later it comes true! The next time they tell you something, you take them a bit more seriously,” Patterson says.

Attention during the early part of the weekend is on producing content for the website, with a clear emphasis on disseminating driver quotes, session results and evening round-ups, before focus turns to gathering key information ready for the magazine.

The paper, which is published each Wednesday, forms the backbone of Patterson’s post-race output. “The race normally finishes at 3pm local time, we go straight into rider debriefs and the press conferences, trying to catch riders in the paddock. Normally that takes me until around 6pm, and it is just me from MCN at this stage! I won’t start writing until 6pm essentially, which is normally four spreads of the paper, eight pages and around 6,000 words in total,” explains Patterson, who regularly spends Sunday evenings amongst other journalists in the media centre until the early hours!

Only after the chequered flag falls does the lead story start to fall into place, but even then, the narrative may still be undecided. “You have an idea of what the story is, but sometimes you can ask a question in the debrief to get the quotes from them to support what you’re going to write. You know your angle, you ask the question and get the supporting evidence from them, that’s the way to build it,” Patterson notes. Patterson is MCN’s sole MotoGP reporter at 16 of the 18 rounds, meaning that his role is critical throughout the entire process. The news gathering process is similar irrespective of organisation.

Unlike the television crews around the world who broadcast MotoGP, journalists have time to digest the information presented to them before writing their narrative. “[The TV guys] can do a certain amount of prep [before going to air]; they may have talked to people after warm-up, but I get the chance to talk to all of the riders first, talk to crew chiefs, talk to people from Michelin and then form an opinion,” explains fellow MotoGP journalist David Emmett, who has been writing about MotoGP for MotoMatters for a decade. “Because it is more reactive it requires less preparation, because I write 2,000 words in the evening, I have time to sit down and think about it.”

Outside of the circuit, once Patterson has written his material for the newspaper, a quality assurance phase occurs, a procedure common place in the print industry to ensure the material written is accurate and of high-quality. Known as ‘sub-editing’, Patterson’s pieces for print go through four layers involving three MCN editors (Sports, Production and Senior) and the design team before final sign-off. It is an exhaustive, but vital, process. Already in the background, journalists are compiling quotes and research for future races, as MotoGP speeds towards the flyaway races, the process is constantly moving forward.

Following publication of last week’s edition of MCN looking back at the British MotoGP, truncated stories are published online to direct attention to the paper. And then, for Patterson and the rest of the fraternity, attention turns to the next stop of the season, which this weekend is the San Marino MotoGP…

BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP

BT Sport look likely to continue broadcasting live coverage of MotoGP beyond their existing contract, this site can exclusively reveal.

There have been rumours in recent months that BT Sport may be embroiled in a battle with Sky Sports to continue showing the championship beyond 2018, with Dorna apparently looking elsewhere. But Dorna, who are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, have told this site that they are “very happy” with BT’s coverage. BT won the UK television rights to MotoGP in 2013, ending the BBC’s free-to-air coverage. Since then, live action has aired on pay television in the UK, with free-to-air highlights switching from ITV4 to Channel 5 more recently.

According to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, BT Sport’s live coverage has averaged 117k (1.3%) on race-day for the first half of 2017, 186k (1.8%) for the MotoGP race itself, regularly peaking with around 250,000 viewers. Channel 5’s highlights have averaged 446k (2.5%) at the half way stage of the season. BT’s television audiences are marginally down year-on-year, whilst Channel 5 is up by 40 percent on ITV4’s numbers from one year ago.

Speaking to me during the British Grand Prix weekend, Manel Arroyo, Dorna’s Managing Director for Media said “We are talking with BT, to extend the relationship. We are comfortable and happy with the work that has been delivered by BT. We’re very happy with the evolution of live coverage on BT compared with the BBC previously. The existing format, where we have full live coverage on BT Sport, with highlights on free-to-air, can continue in the future. We’re talking to BT at the moment.”

Perhaps an indirect worry is that the attendance for the British round of the championship was the lowest for many years, with 56,008 showing up on Sunday compared with 73,000 for the past two years. Arroyo defended the direction taken by the championship in recent years to switch from a free-to-air model to pay in various territories, noting that it is the wider industry trend and it brings opportunities for future expansion. “For me, it is not just about the money. The pay TV platforms have tools that allow fans to have a better, more expansive experience than on linear TV.”

“Pay TV gives you the possibility to have multiscreen, more data. It is a path that we started many years ago, it is the new world and the new way that fans can watch races. We still play some of our content on free-to-air, but clearly there is a switch to digital platforms. What Dorna is doing is trying to be aware of what is going on in the market and preparing for everything,” Arroyo noted.

Beyond the next television deal in the UK, there is the much wider question of whether exclusive MotoGP programming may play out on the likes of Amazon Prime or Netflix in the future. “We are aware of these services,” Arroyo said. “We haven’t been talking to Netflix, as they have said that they are not going to invest in sports, but Amazon and other social networks for sure. The live content must be paid, as it costs a lot of money to produce the quality that we offer to our fans. It is something that we need to work on seriously moving forward.”

There will be further quotes from Arroyo on this site in the next week.

Liberty Media helps bring F1 social media strategy on-track

The direction from Liberty Media, through Formula One Management, to pour resources into Formula 1’s official social media platforms appears to be paying off, figures for the first half of 2017 show, with Formula 1 the fastest growing motor racing series.

Liberty Media helps F1 to significant growth…
This site has tracked the cumulative number of followers for the likes of F1, MotoGP and the IndyCar Series across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram since March. The results for Formula 1 are impressive, with a 20 percent boost in the cumulative number, going from 7.9 million followers in March to 9.6 million followers at the end of July, racing past NASCAR. Assuming the rate of trajectory continues, I would expect F1 to reach 12 million followers across the three platforms by the end of the season.

At the foot of the table, Formula Two and GP3 continue to struggle, below the likes of the British Touring Car Championship. As I mentioned briefly last December, Liberty needs to work hard to help promote Formula Two, after all it should feature the next generation of Formula 1 stars, such as Charles Leclerc. A few video highlights on Facebook and Twitter would significantly help the series’ reach, as would cross-promotion with the F1 channels. Instead, Formula Two and GP3 hides their video highlights away exclusively on their website. I suspect Liberty needs more resources dedicated both of their social media channels. It is absurd for example that Formula Two still does not have an active YouTube channel.

Social media - August 2017 - motor sport series comparison
Comparing the leading motor sport series on social media, showing their cumulative follower growth between March and July 2017.

Fernando Alonso’s drive in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 has helped IndyCar’s standing on social media, jumping from 860,000 followers to 1.06 million followers, a percentage rise higher than F1’s outlined above. The social media strategy around #AlonsoRunsIndy worked, although I suspect any long-term impact for IndyCar will be minimal, unless he returns next year! Further back, the electric Formula E series gained around 60,000 followers from March to July, a jump of 13.9 percent (note: figure recorded prior to the season finale). Formula E is rising at a similar rate to the World Endurance Championship, which is not a great statistic considering the interest from manufactures in the former. Certainly, Formula E’s social media standing is reflective of their viewing figures worldwide in my opinion.

The small rise for Roborace is because of the removal of ‘bot’ followers from their various platforms, meaning that they only see a jump of around 2,000 followers. As mentioned before, I am highly suspect of Roborace’s numbers, I would be unsurprised if the real number was a quarter, or even a tenth, of what the statistics suggest.

…but Mercedes’ F1 growth stagnates…
The loss of Nico Rosberg has hurt Mercedes’ social media portfolio, with Red Bull Racing the major winners. The drinks company has seen growth for the past two years, which has continued in the first half of 2017, their platforms (excluding drivers) rising from 8.95 million followers last December to 11.36 million cumulative followers, a substantial rise of 26.9 percent. In comparison, Mercedes following increased from 13.99 million followers to 14.57 million, a smaller jump of just 4.2 percent. Their Facebook following has stalled at around 11 million followers for the past year and a half, suggesting that it may have peaked in that department.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 team increase
Comparing Formula 1’s ten teams on social media, looking at their cumulative followers and growth between December 2016 and August 2017.

Whilst Liberty Media’s aggressive social media helped the official F1 channels, the loss of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg hurt the series as Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll replaced them once the dominos fell into place. Rosberg and Button were Formula 1’s third and fourth biggest stars on social media, behind Lewis Hamilton and Alonso. The pair leave behind a significant gap, with Daniel Ricciardo now F1’s third star on social media, currently half of Alonso’s following and less than a quarter of Hamilton’s combined number.

Moreover, Hamilton and Alonso are still recording the biggest growths on social media with no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2017, Hamilton acquired 1.73 million new followers, with Ricciardo acquiring 683,000 new followers. The loss of Rosberg, who was Formula 1’s first new champion since 2010, is extremely apparent when you look at the numbers. It continues to be the case that neither Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen have a social media presence, both would likely fill that gap in another world.

…as Ricciardo becomes the third top dog
The loss of Rosberg and Button may explain why audience figures have struggled to rise, for example in the UK, where Button would have had a strong and loyal fan base. Hopefully, this is a short-term pain, long-term gain situation, whereby Ricciardo and Verstappen fill the gap left behind in the years to come, assuming both drivers have the equipment underneath them to deliver the results on the circuit. F1 on the list below does skew older age wise than MotoGP, which is a major issue moving forward.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 vs MotoGP
Comparing how Formula 1’s and MotoGP’s top drivers line-up against each other on social media.

The problem illustrated above will be one that MotoGP faces when Valentino Rossi retires, although you could easily see Rossi going another three to five years. Whilst Rossi is firmly top dog on social media, the championship is in a situation where there are other stars on the track building their reputation. MotoGP’s rider numbers are generally lower than Formula 1, as one might expect. From an age perspective, Marc Marquez, Max Verstappen and Maverick Vinales are the stars with potential in the next ten years in the new media platforms.

It will be fascinating to track the trajectories in both MotoGP and F1 as the baton moves from Rossi and Hamilton respectively. Of course, this assumes that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are still around. Instagram is the platform continuing to surge, with it set to overtake Twitter in terms of F1 team and driver influence within the next six months to a year, despite only having a quarter of the F1 following two years ago.

Scheduling: The 2017 Belgian Grand Prix / British MotoGP

After a four-week Summer break, the Formula One season roars back into life at the classic Spa Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix! The race will air live on Channel 4 and Sky Sports, both channels with their usual offering throughout.

Mark Webber and Susie Wolff will be part of Channel 4’s team for the weekend, whilst Martin Brundle is expected to be back with Sky following his recent illness, although this has yet to be confirmed. The schedule for Spa remains at three days in length (no more four-day experiments, yet), although GP3 qualifying moves to a Friday evening time slot, and the weekend sees an extra dosage of Porsche Supercup action.

For the second year in a row, the British round of the MotoGP championship finds itself clashing with a Formula 1 race. Last year the race clashed with the Italian Grand Prix, this year the clash is with Belgium, partially because the race has moved forward to the Bank Holiday weekend. Again, I will be reporting for this site from Silverstone, so keep an eye over the weekend and afterwards for interviews and news from the MotoGP paddock.

Channel 5’s MotoGP highlights time have been shunted out of primetime and onto a different day, thanks to cricket highlights of the second test between England and the Windies. I understand why cricket takes priority in this instance, but if Channel 5’s agreement with Dorna does not allow highlights to air on Spike, then that is a major flaw in the contract, meaning that the viewing figures for the series suffer as a result.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
25/08 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
25/08 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2
26/08 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
26/08 – 11:55 to 14:30 – Qualifying
27/08 – 12:00 to 16:00 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build–Up
=> 12:35 – Race
=> 15:10 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
26/08 – 11:25 to 11:55 – F1 Meets… David Coulthard

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
25/08 – 08:45 to 10:55 – Practice 1
25/08 – 12:45 to 15:00 – Practice 2
26/08 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
26/08 – 12:00 to 14:40 – Qualifying
27/08 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Mix)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
23/08 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
24/08 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Driver Press Conference
24/08 – 19:45 to 20:00 – Paddock Uncut
25/08 – 16:40 to 17:30 – Team Press Conference
25/08 – 17:30 to 18:00 – The F1 Show
26/08 – 14:40 to 14:55 – Lewis Hamilton Quiz
30/08 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
24/08 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
27/08 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Britain (BT Sport 2)
25/08 – 09:00 to 16:00
=> 09:00 – Practice 1
=> 11:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 13:00 – Practice 2
26/08 – 09:00 to 16:15
=> 09:00 – Practice 3
=> 12:00 – Qualifying
27/08 – 09:45 to 17:30
=> 09:45 – Warm-Up
=> 11:30 – Moto3 race
=> 13:30 – Moto2 race
=> 15:15 – MotoGP race
=> 16:30 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Britain (Channel 5)
29/08 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights

Blancpain Sprint Series – Budapest
26/08 – 14:30 to 16:15 – Qualifying Race (BT Sport 3)
27/08 – 12:30 to 14:45 – Championship Race (BT Sport/ESPN)

British Touring Car Championship – Rockingham (ITV4)
27/08 – 10:45 to 17:45 – Races

European Le Mans Series – Paul Ricard (Motorsport.tv)
27/08  10:45 to 15:20  Race

Formula Renault Eurocup – Paul Ricard
26/08 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Race 1 (BT Sport 1)
27/08 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)

Formula Two – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
25/08 – 10:55 to 11:40 – Practice
25/08 – 15:20 to 15:50 – Qualifying
26/08 – 14:55 to 16:05 – Race 1
27/08 – 09:10 to 10:25 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
25/08 – 16:10 to 16:40 – Qualifying
26/08 – 16:30 to 17:30 – Race 1
27/08 – 07:55 to 08:50 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Gateway 500 (BT Sport/ESPN)
27/08 (Saturday night) – 02:00 to 05:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Belgium
26/08 – Race 1
=> 17:30 to 18:30 (Eurosport)
=> 17:30 to 18:25 (Sky Sports F1)
27/08 – Race 2
=> 10:15 to 11:15 (Eurosport)
=> 10:25 to 11:20 (Sky Sports F1)

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 1)
26/08 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Update on August 24th – A new show has appeared in Sky’s F1 schedule, called Lewis Hamilton Quiz. Presumably based off this feature that is airing during their coverage this weekend. With all due respect, I am pretty glad I am missing that.