30 July 2011
Team bosses comment on new UK F1 TV deal
The recently-announced deal that will see Sky Sports take over live coverage of F1 in the UK was addressed by team bosses on day one of the Hungarian GP.
The UK's contentious new television deal to cover F1 from 2012 may have raised hackles among fans, but opinion appeared to be split between team bosses when they were questioned as part of Friday's proceedings in Hungary.
News broke early on the opening day of the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend that current broadcaster BBC would only be showing half of the race next season, with subscription channel Sky Sports getting the rights to show the entire season in a move apparently in contradiction to Bernie Ecclestone's recent assertion that the sport would be kept 'free to air'.
Although the BBC will continue to show highlights of races that it does not broadcast live, fans have, understandably, reacted with vitriol, with many insisting that they would turn their backs on the sport rather than fork out for the right to watch it on a satellite channel - especially one owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation organisation remains under a cloud following recent 'phone hacking revelations in the UK.
Team bosses, however, have shown a more lenient approach to the news, with some understanding the need to embrace alternative media while others insist that they will be studying the deal closely to determine whether it is entirely legal amid concerns that sponsors could be turn off by the loss of 100 per cent 'free to air' coverage.
"Like most people, we found out about it this morning, [and] I think it is going to be interesting to see how it unravels," Marussia Virgin's Graeme Lowdon commented, "There are different sides to this. I have read that Sky has said it is good news for fans and [that] there will be an unparalleled experience for them - and that sounds very exciting. To be perfectly honest, I think it is up to the fans whether they think it is good news or not, and that is something that remains to be seen.
"For a team like us, we actually get very little of our revenue from TV rights, and it is very, very important for our entire commercial strategy that we maximise the global fan base and the number of people who watch our team in action, so obviously there are concerns there. But, equally, we are entering a new era potentially for a commercial model for F1 as well.
"I agree completely that the fans are the most important aspect as, ultimately, it's a very, very important part of the cycle of the commercial side of the sport that we are in. I am a great believer that the fans will tell us what they think and I think it is very difficult for us to speak on behalf of fans, that's for sure. Time will tell whether it is good for the fans or not and I am absolutely certain, especially in this day and age, that the fans will make their view pretty clear."
McLaren's Jonathan Neale, meanwhile, admitted that the impact of the BBC coverage had been beneficial for the sport, especially in the UK, and that the fans had a right to be 'up in arms' over the deal to sell the rights to Sky, even if the BBC could not afford to maintain its current level of involvement.
"I think the views and needs of the fans are of prime importance to F1," Neale insisted, "It has been very pleasing during the course of this year that the exciting racing that we have had has been matched by a growth in the audiences throughout the UK and across the globe. Some of that, certainly, is that the BBC has done a fantastic job in promoting that.
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