The recently announced deal to bring live F1 to SkyTV on a exclusive basis from 2019 onwards has been met with widespread criticism from fans and employees of the sport countrywide. What exactly does it mean for the sport in the UK? The simple answer is bad things.
Frankly if F1 had never been on the BBC when I was a child I would never have noticed it’s existence having come from a relatively poor background. We could never have afforded the luxury of Sky TV and the same was true of tens of thousands of families up and down the country. Sadly thats the reality we now face for F1; the sport has become a luxury to a small percentage of the population. Sky Sports F1’s average F1 audience has been dwindling slowly since it’s debut in 2012, they averaged around 0.64million viewers in 2015. Just 1.7million people saw Lewis Hamilton clinch his third WDC in Austin last year, in contrast with the 8million who saw him wrap up title number two in Abu Dhabi the previous year. That’s over four times the Austin number. Safe to say which of those two races was shown on free-to-air TV.
Not only is F1 cutting itself off from a huge chunk of it’s viewing population, but also sponsors are said to be up in arms about the new deal. Each year F1 becomes more expensive to run and each year sponsors have to dig deeper into their pockets in order to see their logos splashed across the side of a car. Many will reconsider whether or not these tremendous price points are truly worth the money if only a quarter of the potential viewing public are watching the sport. Less sponsor money leads to less cash for the teams which leads to them either employing a pay driver rather than talent or facing having to make vast redundancies within the team. Some teams will simply fold without their sponsorship money. The problem would continue to snowball until something had to give, be that the commercial rights or F1 itself remains to be seen.
As mentioned above, without free-to-air options being available I would never have paid the slightest bit of interest to F1. How many of the current crop of drivers, engineers, technicians, PR gurus, managers, mechanics and journalists would have been in the same position as me? I’m going to guess a considerable number. From 2019, F1 could very well be slamming the door shut in the faces of thousands of kids who one day may just have made it to the sport. Kids would could have designed the world’s fastest race cars, kids who would have written incredibly eloquent articles, kids who perhaps would have come up with an innovation that saved the lives of countless drivers within the sport, kids who fit together the most complex engines in motorsport, kids who would have went on to become Formula One world champion. F1 may think money is the be all and end all but without all these talented people the sport would crumble around itself.
The GPDA have finally spoken up about the state the sport is finding itself in and have urged the sport’s rulers to reconsider the business choices that have been made in recent times. Perhaps they knew this new Sky deal was imminent. While unlikely the drivers will strike to get their point across to Bernie and co the fans can certainly have a huge say in the future of F1. The more people who watch C4F1’s current product the better. Perhaps a certain silver goblin may finally realise where the sport’s true priorities should lie. For if no one is watching F1 then what is the point of it at all? It seems the teams realise this too since it’s recently been revealed they blocked a deal for Sky to take exclusive live rights from 2016 onwards.
So Bernie, this is an open letter you you. Please don’t shut us out. Please don’t ruin a child’s dream because you think your billion-pound empire isn’t big enough yet. Have heart and get F1 back on free-to-air as soon as possible. The future is coming whether you like it or not and if you want F1 to be a part of that future you have to start taking into account not only the driver’s and team’s opinions, but ours too. After all without us fans where would your beloved sport, sorry business, be? Absolutely nowhere. If you want your future world champions, future electronic wizzes, future team bosses and future sporting business then it’s time to see sense.
Viewing figures for Sky and BBC TV sourced from @F1Broadcasting.