Tuesday 5 January 2016

Formula 1 Is First On the Chopping Board for BBC, by Joshua Mason

Formula 1's TV contract with the BBC has been cancelled three years before the end. It has left those in and around the sport scratching their heads and looking for answers as to the reason behind the decision and where to go now. Channel 4 has answered one of those questions already swiftly swooping in to pick up the remaining contract. Has the BBC got off the ride just in time? Was the decision really money motivated? What does it mean for Formula 1?

The Facts
The BBC has cancelled its contract to cover F1
Photo: Octane Photography
Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that since the move to pay TV the amount of viewers in the UK of F1 has diminished. In 2009 the BBC's bringing the world's premium race back to the masses was seen as a coup. It was able to offer non-interrupted ad-free races and extended highlights to a greater audience. On top of these the world famous Fleetwood Mac song 'The Chain' would return, to the delight of fans everywhere. But less than six years later the BBC has cut all ties.

Barbara Slater of the BBC said "A significant chunk of BBC Sport's savings target will be delivered through the immediate termination of our TV rights agreement for Formula 1". It is true that the Beeb has been under pressure from the government to cut spending, and with a total saving of £150m to be made this year, there were always going to be big names getting the chop. Most notably The Voice was sold off to ITV. In sport the BBC has said it would like to concentrate on flagship events that have a national relevance such as Wimbledon or the World Cup. The cost of Match of the Day rose to £204m with the new TV deal too and therefore more 'niche' sports like F1 would have their budgets shrink (in this case all of it!).

The Speculation 
Along with talks of budgets and costs, there has been a question as whether economics are the true motives of the BBC. Eddie Jordan pointed out that to cancel the contract BBC would have to pay a hefty penalty, money which could have gone to a dignified last season hurrah.

Eddie Jordan criticised the BBC's move
Photo: Octane Photography
In 2015 the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) conducted a huge survey of petrol heads as to their thoughts on the current state of Formula 1. 'Boring', 'Technological' and 'Expensive' were just a few of the complaints in a seemingly growing list levelled at the sport. Formula 1 has always had to answer questions on the entertainment value, but with Lewis Hamilton winning his second championship in a row and favourite to win a hat-trick this year, these claims could be justified. The lack of competitiveness currently is well known while excitement around the drivers seems in sharp decline too, according to the same survey. Lewis Hamilton did not even rank among the top favourite drivers globally despite his dominant performances. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso came first and second.

The Solution 
Formula 1's power players over the past few years have been suggesting many changes, but there seems to be a disconnect between what the fans want and what they will get. Louder engines, fuel consumption and car aesthetics all seem to be top of the list when it comes to the changes suggested by Ecclestone and co. There have been implications too that F1 is looking to shrink the number of teams and increase the number of drivers. This is wrong on every level. What the car looks like or sounds like should all come second to the bare minimum expected. Fans want to see the best drivers, in the best cars, competing at the highest level. Giving Mercedes more drivers right now for instance, will just mean they will finish 1, 2 and 3, instead of just 1 and 2.

It seems that the BBC has seen something that others have not. Why else would the corporation facing cuts, chuck Formula 1 in the bin first? Channel 4 may be hoping that the sport will boost its outreach, but in the BBC's opinion it had more important things in its locker than Formula 1 worth more, and that should be the worry for the powers that be. Are you watching/listening Bernie?

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