2 December 2014
MotoGP pay TV 'something we must face'
“Free-to-air TV is going to be broadcasting less and less sport in the future. Sport will be on dedicated channels and it is something that we must live with”
MotoGP's increasing shift to pay-per-view TV coverage continues to be a source of controversy.
While many fans are naturally against the move, critics inside the paddock also argue that the smaller pay-per-view audiences restrict the sport's growth and harm the chances of teams finding meaningful sponsorship.
That creates a vicious circle where teams become ever more dependent on hand-outs from Dorna, which in turn needs the bigger fees offered by the subscription channels to support the teams.
Repsol Honda team manager Livio Suppo agrees that Dorna is keeping some teams afloat, but sees pay TV as a solution rather than cause of the problem and rejects the idea that free-to-air would solve the sponsorship issues.
“I think like it or not, this [pay TV] is the way all sports are going,” Suppo said. “And like it or not Dorna has been for some teams the main sponsor for many years and to do that they need money.
“So I think at the end of the day it is something that we need to face. Honestly I've never had an experience in speaking with potential sponsors who've said, 'ahhh no, because now there is no free TV coverage'.”
As an illustration of the difference in scale between pay and free-to-view audiences, F1broadcastingblog.com states that BT Sport's live UK coverage of the Valencia MotoGP season finale peaked at just 151,000 viewers (average 110,000, slightly more than the 101,000 spectators present at the actual track on race day).
Meanwhile the free-to-air race highlights broadcast by ITV4 the following night were watched by a peak of 518,000 viewers (average 407,000). The 2013 Valencia title showdown averaged 1.21m as live free-to-view on BBC Two.
Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis believes that both broadcasting models have their merits.
“It can sometimes be a double-edged sword,” said Jarvis. “Maybe the situation in Spain and Italy has some slightly negative influence due to the restricted number of people that are watching, because instead of free-to-air you have subscription TV. The quality of the programming I think is a lot better when you have subscription TV, but of course not everyone can afford that, so you miss a certain mass market.”
In terms of the sponsorship issue, Jarvis highlighted that some subscription channels are also team sponsors. In Yamaha's case, the title sponsor.
“In our particular situation obviously Movistar, as one of the pay TV channels, came on board to sponsor a team as well,” he said. “So in our case it has been a very positive experience and I think, outside of Europe, this is not so much a phenomenon at the moment. It is something more localised to three or four European markets in particular.
“But it is a trend in sport in general. It has happened also in Formula One and Football and it is something that we have to come to terms with, because the promoter needs to secure his income through TV contracts.”
It is a similar situation for Ducati, with pay TV resulting in reduced viewing figures in Italy, but new opportunities for team sponsorship.
“In Italy it is an issue on the one side because the [viewing] numbers are a lot lower,” said Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti. “On the other side for example our sponsor Telecom Italia has acquired the rights to broadcast MotoGP on devices like tablets so it is an opportunity for them.
“As Livio said, we must get used to it. Free-to-air TV is going to be broadcasting less and less sport in the future. Sport will be on dedicated channels and it is something that we must live with.”
In other MotoGP TV news, Dorna commentator Gregory Haines will be switching to World Superbikes in 2015, where he will provide the world feed commentary alongside Steve Day. Haines did a good job as replacement for Gavin Emmett (who moved to BT Sport) alongside Nick Harris in MotoGP this year, with Dylan Gray providing pitlane commentary and technical analysis.
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