Formula One’s decision-making process. You just could not make it up.
On the same day that the body representing Formula One drivers (the Grand Prix Drivers Association) criticised the increase in satellite TV broadcasting of Formula One for reducing audiences, guess what the buffoons at the top of the sport have done?
Yup, these clowns have killed off free-to-air Formula One in the UK. The heartland of Formula One’s fanbase.
And Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One Management, wonders why audiences have dwindled so badly over the past five years.
Like a drug addict seeking his next fix, the 85-year old cannot help but chase his next big payday. In this case, £300m from Sky Sports for exclusive broadcast rights between 2019-2024.
Sod the fans of the sport that have made him as rich as he is today.
Sky have proposed a new “free-to-air” channel that will show highlights in the evening and the entire British Grand Prix live.
But by then, the damage will be done. When the BBC had half a season live as Sky began their stranglehold on F1, they would often get five times the audience Sky had for their live races. Furthermore, they still managed to obtain twice as many viewers as their money-burning rivals when they could offer only highlights.
Do you actually want to keep people interested in your sport Bernie? Or is an extra few million quid more important to someone who’s fortune is comfortably in the ten figure bracket?
F1 fans will find some solace in most drivers agreeing that that pay-TV only is negatively affecting viewing figures.
President of the GPDA Alexander Wurz, who drove for McLaren, Benetton and Williams during his career, made these observations.
“F1 has pursued a rigorous business model in the past two years to switch from public to pay television in some countries.”
“Despite good financial results, the viewing figures have dropped,” Wurz argued. “But in countries where the TV contracts have not changed, the ratings have stayed the same and even risen slightly here and there.”
How can you argue with that? Certainly, it answers the above question.
Ecclestone has made Formula One what it is today. Through his handling of broadcasting contracts, the sport has become available to billions across the world.
And for all of his work, if not profits, it’s rapidly being undone.
Sky isn’t cheap. For the sport package alone prices, from June, will be over £27 per month. A lot of people cannot afford that.
If you make Formula One less affordable to watch then you risk missing out on future drivers, even World Champions.
We all know about Lewis Hamilton’s story, coming through karting racing from a much less privileged background against far richer kids with far bigger budgets because he was inspired by Ayrton Senna.
And from an estate in Stevenage, he’s now a global superstar. All, arguably, because he was able to watch F1 on terrestrial TV.
Formula One wouldn’t have the icons, both current and historical, if it was unavailable to the masses in the past and it won’t have any more if only a select few can watch it.
By excluding those who cannot afford to pay extra to watch it, Formula One is limiting its own fanbase at a time when it needs all the fans it can get.
This decision could see Formula One pale into insignificance.