Rachel and Ross, Charles and Diana, and now the BBC and Formula 1. A break up out of nowhere has come for the BBC as the British ad free broadcaster has cancelled its contract with F1 three years before it expires. The BBC was showing 10 races live a season and extended highlights for the entire season. The contract has been taken up by ‘rebound’ Channel 4 and the broadcaster will be looking for it to add value after the BBC deemed it did not.
Why? Why? Why? BBC!
In a classic case of “it’s not you it’s me” the decision to drop Formula 1 comes off the back of BBC being pressured to cut spending. This year alone £150m is expected to be saved and £35 million specifically in its sports division. Barbara Slater Director of Sport at the BBC said “A significant chunk of BBC Sport’s savings target will be delivered through the immediate termination of our TV rights agreement for Formula 1”.
BBC had bought the rights under much fanfare in 2009 and F1 fans were looking forward to the return of the sport and the iconic Fleetwood Mac song ’The Chain’, which is so synonymous with Formula 1 and BBC. The Beeb has been slowly ending associations over recent years with Australian Open, BDO Darts getting the chop and The Open shrinking in size. The BBC has said it is looking to focus on flagship events with national importance such as the World Cup and Wimbledon. The bill for the Premier League is rising too for Match of the Day rights so the amount of money left for more ‘niche’ entities such as Formula 1 is diminishing.
BBC presenter Eddie Jordan has said the decision will leave 60 members of staff utterly devastated just before Christmas. “The people I have spoken to find it really gut-wrenching,” added Jordan. “They feel senior management have not really batted on their behalf.” The move does not make fully fiscal sense either. Jordan argues that by cancelling the contract they would have had to pay a substantial fee to F1 anyway, money they could have used to broadcast one more year and warn staff of the impending cancellation. Does this strategy by BBC point to something more than money?
Is It Just About the Numbers?
Formula 1 has been popular in the UK. Lewis Hamilton has seen more success as well as Jenson Button and BBC are giving up an opportunity to broadcast Hamilton possibly winning his third championship in a row. Bernie Ecclestone has battled to get on terrestrial TV admitting that viewership has fallen since the sport went on to Pay TV. Channel 4 have offered a non-interrupted broadcast of the races and will pay £25 million for the privilege. They will also outsource the TV production which is believed to cost them £10 million.
The is claimed to be a budgeting issue for the BBC, or is it? Formula 1 has always had to answer complaints over its entertainment value and recently these questions have grown stronger. In July 2015 the Drivers Association (GPDA) ran a survey to look up the three words that come to the mind about the sport to F1 fans. The words were ‘boring’, ‘expensive’ and ‘technological’. Not the exciting reaction the GPDA were hoping for when they surveyed 215,000 of them. The recent ambitions for F1 has been things such as fuel consumption and noise to bring back excitement but from this survey they are completely missing the point. The fans want to see competitive racing!
The star child of F1 at the moment Lewis Hamilton didn’t fare much better. He did not feature in a ranking of favourite drivers, which was topped by the entertaining Kimi Raikkonen and charismatic Fernando Alonso.
The Chequered Flag
Formula 1 seems to be on the wane and the fans are crying out for something new. Whatever will come the BBC have refused to be involved. Channel 4 will hope that their eloping with Formula 1 will pay off, but if the fans aren’t listened to and only basic changes are made to the sport, it could be a wise decision by the BBC. With tight budgets to adhere to it appears that BBC has given the sport a vote of no confidence. It is first on the chopping block in what will no doubt see others follow. BBC will be hoping it can avoid a messy break up.