BBC director of sport Barbara Slater has asserted that the corporation's new agreement with Sky to jointly broadcast F1 from next season onwards 'strikes a really good balance' and 'delivers real value' – and stressed that although it is a compromise in many ways, without it, UK viewers would have faced the loss of terrestrial coverage of the sport altogether.
The announcement that subscription-only channel Sky Sports will offer comprehensive coverage of F1 from 2012 until at least 2018 – with the BBC continuing to transmit the sport, albeit only live for half of the races each year [see separate story – click here
] – has been met with anger from insiders and fans alike, with teams also asking whether it breaches the terms of the commercial rights-governing Concorde Agreement.
The main cause of opposition to the deal is that having always been available on free-to-air television, the full F1 campaign will henceforth only be broadcast on pay TV, but the BBC is adamant that as it strives to slash 20 per cent from its budget – or £600 million-a-year – by 2014, this was the only option. The move is expected to save the corporation at least £25 million per year. It currently pays Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) company £40 million per season for sole broadcasting rights.
As part of its new collaboration with Sky, the Beeb has given up the final two years of its exclusive five-year deal in 2012 and 2013, and from next year onwards will show just half of the grands prix live, offering a highlights package for the remainder – similar to its deal with Sky for US Masters golf. The news means the BBC now has more money to spend on flagship events such as Wimbledon – and Slater has defended the decision.
“Any loss is a shame,” she is quoted as having said by The Guardian
, describing the savings only as 'genuinely significant', “but in a very tough financial climate, both of those deals make real sense and deliver real value and continued access for the audience. There will always be events we would want to acquire exclusively, and in each individual sport, it's possible to take different approaches.
“It may well have been we would have had to have lost these rights simply because of our ability to manage our portfolio going forward. The renegotiation has allowed us to come up with such a good package that we have tried to make this sustainable. We will seek to share production resources [with Sky] where appropriate; that is something we are working through. This deal strikes a really good balance between continuing to make F1 available and operating in tough financial times.”
The news has palpably not gone down well with the Beeb's lead F1 commentator Martin Brundle, who has tweeted that he is 'not impressed' [see separate story – click here
], but Ecclestone – who many surmise has boosted the sport's coffers considerably in helping to orchestrate the deal, with BSkyB set to shell out more than £25 million per year on its new rights – has described it as 'super', reasoning: “There will be highlights as well as live coverage on two different networks now, so we get the best of both worlds.”
Sky Sports has promised not to run adverts during the grands prix – only beforehand and afterwards – acknowledging that 'they were very unpopular in the past and we don't have to go down that route'.
The BBC has broadcast F1 exclusively in the UK since reclaiming the rights from ITV in 2009, after its independent rival cut loose with two years of its own contract left to run. In recent years, the popularity of the sport has increased inexorably, thanks largely to the sustained success of home heroes Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Those races shown outside of peak time, however – in Asia and Australasia – have struggled rather more to attract viewers.
Opining that F1 is 'very much a blue riband
event' and 'in the top tier of sports properties', BSkyB chief executive Jeremy Darroch conceded that Rupert Murdoch's organisation had only entered discussions to buy the TV rights very late in the day, whilst today's announcement will doubtless reawaken speculation that the Australian media mogul's News Corp conglomerate – which owns 39 per cent of BSkyB – will now ramp up its efforts to gain control of the sport's entire commercial rights from private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.