F1 and Sky exploring F1 TV Pro options for UK fans from 2021

Formula 1 and Sky are exploring making the premium tier of their over-the-top platform available to UK fans from 2021, but only to Sky Q subscribers, a survey from F1 reveals.

Since F1 launched their over-the-top platform back in 2018, UK fans have only had access to the basic tier, F1 TV Access. The basic tier allows fans to delve into F1’s rich archive, but crucially prevented fans from watching live content.

The only way to watch live content on F1 TV is by subscribing to the premium tier F1 TV Pro, which is currently geo-blocked to fans in the UK. Sky hold exclusive television rights until the end of 2024, with free-to-air highlights and live coverage of the British Grand Prix sub-let to Channel 4.

What does 2021 hold?
Now, a new survey issued through Formula 1’s official online community for fans, F1 Fan Voice, suggests that UK fans may receive access to F1 TV Pro as early as 2021.

However, F1 has tailored the survey towards fans thoughts towards receiving F1 content exclusively via Sky Q, a statement which encompasses F1 TV Pro.

“F1 TV Pro is F1’s live and on-demand owned and operated direct-to-consumer application which includes every GP live, archive races, original content and support races,” one part of the survey reads.

“If F1 were to make F1 TV Pro available to Sky Q customers only, here are some of the features that would be made available exclusively through Sky Q…,” the survey continues.

Features such as live on-board content, which F1 TV Pro subscribers can access, would require a Sky Q subscription for UK fans to access. The survey asks whether fans would be willing to subscribe to Sky Q, and whether they would pay £25.00 a month to access.

Sky Q is Sky’s newest product, allowing customers to record up to six programmes at once. The product supports 4K and HDR, and integrates with apps such as Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube.

If this comes to fruition, it means fans hoping to ‘cut the cord’ to watch F1 live will have no choice but to subscribe to Sky Q.

F1 TV Pro would sit on top of Sky’s existing F1 offering, as opposed to alongside it. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense for Sky, although it clearly limits F1’s ability to reach new fans in the UK.

How the UK development stacks up versus other territories
Hiding F1 TV Pro behind a pay TV wall, as opposed to a digital wall, is starting to become a trend, and not a trend that is likely to boost Formula 1’s reach in the longer term.

In June, F1 and Sky revealed that F1 TV Pro will only be available to Sky Sport subscribers in Germany from 2021 onwards, Sky having agreed an exclusive partnership in that territory through to the end of 2024, with free-to-air broadcaster RTL exiting the sport after this season.

Speaking to BlackBook Motorsport before the start of the season, F1’s Global Head of Digital and Licencing Frank Arthofer alluded to the possibility of similar deals being struck elsewhere.

“Going forward, there’s clearly a lot more we can do. On F1 TV we have an opportunity to tell more stories now that we have a more stable technical platform that really goes deep inside the sport, and we know that’s an avid fanbase,” he said.

“Equally, as we think about distribution, there’s probably more we can do with F1 TV alongside our core broadcasters. We announced that in the Sky Germany deal we’ll work together on F1 TV, and I think that may serve as a template for additional markets going forward.”

The UK news is not surprising, however as F1 considers more deals such as, the pricing disparity for F1 TV between different territories increases every further.

In America, fans can watch F1 TV Pro for $9.99 per month. Closer to home, residents of France can access F1 TV Pro for €7.99 per month, yet F1 fans in Germany and UK from next year may need to pay substantially more to access the same content.

Why should a fan in Germany or the UK not feel ripped off at paying three times the price (if not more) for an identical offering?

A two-tier fanbase?
I worry that F1 risks creating themselves a two-tier fanbase in countries such as the UK. Person A subscribes to everything because they can afford it, Person B on the other hand watches the free-to-air offering combined with highlights on YouTube, because they are not as fortunate.

Person B is not less passionate, but circumstances (maybe out of their hand) prevent them from joining Person A.

We want F1 to become more diverse, hence #WeRaceAsOne, which Arthofer says F1 coined before the 2020 season started, but COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter accelerated F1’s plans.

In my view, hiding your key digital asset behind a pay TV wall contradicts the overall strategy that F1 is trying to achieve. Some of the demographics F1 wants to attract to become more diverse may live in communities where deprivation is higher than average, and where pay TV is not the norm.

The two natural paths should be free-to-air to F1 TV Pro, or free-to-air to pay TV. Instead, it appears the only path will be free-to-air to pay TV, and onto F1 TV Pro.

Sky are a business, and if this comes to fruition, I do not blame them for this one, they are protecting the asset that they bought for a reported £1 billion over seven years.

However, F1 risks locking a future generation out of the sport – now more than ever considering recent developments. To quote a recent political phrase, albeit the other way around, F1 risks in the UK being a sport that caters for the few, not the many.


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Dramatic British Grand Prix conclusion watched by over four million viewers in UK

A peak audience of over 4 million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win the British Grand Prix, which concluded in dramatic style yesterday afternoon, overnight viewing figures show.

All overnight viewing figures exclude people watching in pubs and bars, as well as those watching via on demand platforms, such as Now TV and All 4.

Although Motorsport Broadcasting no longer has access to audience data, the headline figures are in the public domain, allowing us to glean how the landscape looks. The sources for the figures are at the foot of this article.

UK viewing figures
Comparisons year-on-year are difficult to the differing factors surrounding each race, which we need to account for.

Last year’s race clashed with the Cricket World Cup final featuring England and New Zealand, as well as the Wimbledon final, both taking a bite out of the F1 audience.

Naturally, that meant more people watching around the television set, whereas the COVID-19 pandemic means that this year’s race fell during the Summer holidays, a period where fewer people are watching TV.

Channel 4’s coverage of the race itself, including a short portion of the build-up and immediate post-race reaction, averaged around 2.3 million viewers (25% audience share) from 13:45 to 16:15.

The free-to-air broadcaster says that the audience share for younger viewers was 20%, the biggest share in that time slot. Their coverage peaked with three million viewers, an increase on last year’s figure of around 200,000 viewers.

Live coverage across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event averaged a further 1.1 million viewers from 14:05 to 16:00, significantly higher than last year’s audience for the pay TV platform. Last year’s coverage on Sky Sports F1 peaked with around 900,000 viewers.

When accounting for Sky One, it is likely that Sky’s coverage in total peaked with around 1.3 to 1.4 million viewers, a sizeable year-on-year increase.

All of this means that, in total, a peak audience of over four million viewers watched the closing stages of the Grand Prix, a jump compared to last year’s figure of 3.7 million viewers, and bringing the peak back closer to the 2016 to 2018 audience figures.

Based on the (albeit limited) evidence we have, the strong suggestion is that Sky’s audience figures have increased compared to 2019, which is good news for the sport for the whole, although perhaps not good news for those hoping that F1 returns to free-to-air television in the UK.

Viewing figures across Europe dip as Summer hits
Despite Mercedes’ continued domination, there is little sign that audiences have tuned out in significant numbers when comparing the figures for key territories to the season opening Austrian Grand Prix, however there are some noteworthy dips.

Not in a title winning car? Not a problem in the Netherlands, where audiences continue to tune in for Max Verstappen. According to SKO, a massive audience of 1.43 million viewers (58.6%) watched the Grand Prix from 15:05 to 16:58.

The race, which was in-line with the season opener, saw 1.07 million viewers (44.2%) watch via the dedicated F1 channel, with a further 351,000 viewers (14.4%) watching via Ziggo Sport’s generalised offering.

Viewing figures did dip more in Germany and Austria, however. Motosport.com reports that 4.81 million viewers (30.8%) watched the race across RTL and Sky, compared with 5.09 million viewers (31.6%) for the season opener.

An audience of 4.28 million viewers (27.4%) watched RTL’s free-to-air offering, with a further 530,000 viewers (3.4%) watching Sky’s race coverage. Bearing in mind that Sky are the exclusive supplier for F1 fans in Germany as of 2021, it shows just how many fans F1 could lose in Germany if not many of them make the transition to pay TV.

Over in Austria, an audience of 550,000 viewers (39%) watched ORF’s offering, a decrease on their Austrian Grand Prix audience of 609,000 viewers (46%). Canal+’s offering for fans in France also dropped by a similar amount.

One country that did increase their audience compared to the season opener was Spain. An audience of 183,000 viewers (1.7%) watched Movistar’s coverage according to Formula TV, compared to a figure of 104,000 viewers (0.9%) from one month ago.

Sources for UK portion of article: Channel 4 Press, Liam Hamilton. US audience figures will be added once available.


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Scheduling: The 70th Anniversary Grand Prix / Formula E season finale

Formula 1 celebrates seventy years, with a second race at Silverstone owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a revamp of their schedule.

The second Silverstone race will not air live on Channel 4, as their contract with Sky only allows them to air the race given the formal ‘British Grand Prix’ title live. As thus, the broadcaster reverts to their usual highlights format, however, their team will remain in the paddock, for the 70th Anniversary round at least.

In the eight years since Motorsport Broadcasting launched, this is probably the most congested scheduling piece I have written, with Formula 1, MotoGP, Formula E and World Superbikes all taking place on the same weekend.

Beneath that the British Touring Car Championship, British Superbikes, as well as all the Formula 1 and MotoGP support races, are all fighting for column inches.

The clashes mean that Jack Nicholls will not be part of the BBC’s 5 Live F1 coverage for the weekend.

Nicholls is out in Berlin for the Formula E finale, which concludes on Thursday 13th August, again another quirk due to the pandemic. The middle two races from Berlin also air live on free-to-air channel Quest. Nicholls’ 5 Live F1 replacement has yet to be confirmed.

It is worth mentioning that many people behind the scenes, whether it is camera operators, directors, floor managers, and so on, would normally work multiple of these events in a given year, the clashes meaning that some lose out on work that they would have otherwise have had.

For example, some of BT Sport’s MotoGP production team also works British Superbikes and World Superbikes for Eurosport – a clash makes it impossible to work both. Similarly, some of those working on the Formula E production may work other events during the year.

However, the net positive is that it means others within the industry may receive opportunities that they may not have received in a normal racing year, which is worth bearing in mind if some of the direction elsewhere is sub-standard over the next two weeks…

For Sky, Ted Kravitz is not with the team now until the Italian Grand Prix next month, meaning that there is no Notebook for the next three races.

Back on the scheduling front, IndyCar organisers have cancelled their Mid-Ohio double header due to the pandemic, which is one less scheduling headache for Sky Sports. Elsewhere, the Euroformula Series is absent from BT Sport’s schedule, so fans wanting to prioritise that series will need to watch on YouTube.

A huge apology below if anything is incorrect: due to the amount of sport taking place now (and cancellations), schedules are subject to change at short notice.

Channel 4 F1
08/08 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights
09/08 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
07/08 – 10:30 to 12:50 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 09:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 10:00 – Practice 1
07/08 – 14:45 to 16:45 – Practice 2
08/08 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3 (also Sky One)
08/08 – 13:00 to 15:35 – Qualifying (also Sky One)
09/08 – 12:30 to 17:00 – Race
=> 12:30 – Grand Prix Sunday (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 14:05 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag

Supplementary Programming
07/08 – 17:30 to 18:00 – The Story so Far
12/08 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
05/08 – 19:30 to 20:30 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
08/08 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08/08 – 12:00 to 15:00 (BBC Radio 5 Live)
=> 12:00 – Build-Up during 5 Live Sport
=> 14:00 – Qualifying
09/08 – 12:00 to 16:00 (BBC Radio 5 Live)
=> 12:00 – Build-Up during 5 Live Sport
=> 14:00 – Race

MotoGP – Czech Republic (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (£)
07/08 – 08:00 to 10:45 – Practice 1
07/08 – 12:00 to 15:00 – Practice 2
08/08 – 08:45 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
09/08 – 07:30 to 14:30
=> 07:30 – Warm Ups
=> 09:15 – Moto3
=> 11:00 – Moto2
=> 12:30 – MotoGP
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Czech Republic (Quest)
10/08 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

Formula E – Berlin
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying air live on YouTube
All sessions are available live on BBC’s website
05/08 – Event 1 – Race 1
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (BBC Red Button)
06/08 – Event 1 – Race 2
=> 17:45 to 19:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (BBC Red Button)
08/08 – Event 2 – Race 1
=> 17:30 to 19:30 (Quest)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (BBC Red Button)
09/08 – Event 2 – Race 2
=> 17:30 to 19:30 (Quest)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (BBC Red Button)
12/08 – Event 3 – Race 1
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (BBC Red Button)
13/08 – Event 3 – Race 2
=> 17:45 to 19:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 to 19:00 (BBC Red Button)

British Superbikes – Donington Park
08/08 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
08/08 – 15:00 to 17:30 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
09/08 – 13:30 to 14:30 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
09/08 – 15:30 to 18:00 – Race 3 (Eurosport 2)
12/08 – 20:00 to 21:30 – Highlights (ITV4)

British Touring Car Championship – Brands Hatch (ITV4)
09/08 – 10:20 to 18:15 – Races

Formula Two – 70th Anniversary F1 (Sky Sports F1)
07/08 – 12:50 to 13:45 – Practice
07/08 – 16:55 to 17:30 – Qualifying
08/08 – 15:35 to 16:55 – Race 1
09/08 – 10:00 to 11:05 – Race 2

Formula Three – 70th Anniversary F1 (Sky Sports F1)
07/08 – 09:30 to 10:20 – Practice
07/08 – 14:00 to 14:45 – Qualifying
08/08 – 09:20 to 10:10 – Race 1
09/08 – 08:35 to 09:35 – Race 2

Porsche Supercup – 70th Anniversary F1 (Sky Sports F1)
09/08 – 11:20 to 12:05 – Race

Virgin Australia Supercars – Darwin (BT Sport 3)
Also airs live on SuperView (£)
08/08 – 06:45 to 08:00 – Race 1
09/08 – 04:30 to 05:45 – Race 2
09/08 – 06:45 to 08:00 – Race 3

World Superbikes – Algarve
Also airs live on World Superbikes’ Video Pass (£)
08/08 – 10:45 to 13:00 – Qualifying 1 (Eurosport 2)
08/08 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
09/08 – 10:45 to 13:30 – Qualifying 2 and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
TBC – Highlights (ITV4)

If the schedules do change, this post will be updated.

Updated on August 7th as the Supercars round from Darwin has been moved by a week.


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Formula E’s Sebastian Tiffert on Driver’s Eye, TV coverage, localised content and more…

The next two weeks are arguably the most frantic in Formula E’s six-year history. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, championship organisers have opted to wrap up the 2019-20 season with six races taking place over eight days at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport.

Finishing a championship on a warm Thursday during the holiday season in August is never ideal from an audience perspective, although Formula E have attempted to make the best out of a bad situation: all six races start on the edge of primetime in Europe to try to attract a bigger audience.

As the championship grows, so does its reputation and standing in motor sport. The Berlin finale ends season six for the electric series, a remarkable feat considering it very nearly went under half way through season one.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Motorsport Broadcasting caught up with Formula E’s Head of Content Sebastian Tiffert on how the championship has moved forward in recent times.

Celebrating the drivers
Tiffert’s first interactions with Formula E occurred through his previous role, where he was Eurosport’s Global Director of Motorsports.

Although not part of the paddock family on a race-by-race basis, his role allowed him to indirectly influence Formula E’s direction of travel from a marketing perspective.

“Prior to the start of season four, I attended a broadcaster workshop, which was really interesting,” Tiffert says.

“In there, we all collectively agreed on the fact that, because this was the flag I was waving at the time at Eurosport internally, that we need to get away from celebrating the championship or the cars, but we need to celebrate and build the profiles of the drivers, because they are the real heroes everybody can refer to.”

Sebastian Tiffert - Formula E Head of Content.png
Sebastian Tiffert – Head of Content at Formula E.

Tiffert cites the fact that Formula 1 fans do not remember Ayrton Senna as a driver of an individual team, but rather as an F1 driver, because of his supreme driving ability.

“I want fans to remember our drivers as Formula E drivers. What we are really focussing on, and what I was talking about when I was at Eurosport already, is how can we lift the profile of the drivers as that’s how we can build a fanbase and following.”

“One of the goals we have is to be able to elevate the profiles of the drivers, not in an artificial way, but rather in a way to explain to the fans how difficult it is what they do, because what they do is incredible.”

“They multi process everything at the same time, telling the engineers the regen, energy management, battery temperature, all whilst fighting for position and dealing with Fanboost,” Tiffert tells me.

“If you’ve watched the races so far this season, this is where we try to place the emphasis. The drivers have incredible skill, and this is something we want to put in front of everybody to make people realise that they are incredible.”

The road before Tiffert arrived on the Formula E scene was bumpy: they ditched their YouTube show Voltage half way through the 2018-19 season after just six races, one reason perhaps why their content teams have since been centralised into one division.

Released during lockdown, feature-length documentary And We Go Green helped shine a light on some of Formula E’s leading stars, although only 35,000 views so far on YouTube suggests that the film did not cut through in the way that Formula E were hoping for.

> Free-to-air “the right way forward” for Formula E in the short to medium-term

The overall intent is correct and we should applaud them because it is a well-made documentary, and broadcasters worldwide did air the film, however the timing of the release was perhaps not ideal due to the pandemic, plus the film focused on events that happened two years prior.

The release of And We Go Green is only one part of Formula E’s wider strategy to focus on the stars of the show.

Formula E have “humanised” their website, stripping back some of the more corporate assets and focusing more on original content, tailoring the content based on the readers location.

“We’re putting out much more original content on the website as well in different languages,” Tiffert says. “I believe in us needing local language content which relates to the local fan.”

“A French fan of Jean Eric Vergne won’t be very interested in the fact that someone else won the race, but he would rather know why JEV didn’t win the race.”

“The Champions League final between Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Liverpool fans are very much interested in their half of their story, and the same goes for Bayern fans.”

“It’s more complicated for us because we have so many nationalities racing, but doing it like this allows us to engage with the fans in a better way,” he believes.

Tiffert happy with TV coverage, Driver’s Eye a success to date
Formula E’s television coverage continues to be a joint venture between Aurora Media Worldwide and North One TV, which Tiffert says gives the best of both worlds.

“We’re very happy working with them and the partnership is very unique, allowing us to bring innovations like Driver’s Eye, Attack Mode and Fanboost, and then presenting it in a way to make it clear to people what has happened on the circuit.”

Positioned on the inside of the helmet, the Driver’s Eye camera angle weighs just 2.5 grams and is eight millimetres in diameter, which the FIA says is the first time a championship has used that angle in any of their sanctioned categories.

Tiffert joined Formula E from Eurosport in September 2019, at which point Driver’s Eye was far down the development road, but thanks to his role at Eurosport, Tiffert knew about Driver’s Eye early in 2019.

“It’s been a two-year journey for Formula E, if not longer, from figuring out what the idea is, getting ideas on the drawing board, and then bringing together all stakeholders, including the FIA.”

“Driver’s Eye is integrated into the helmet, so it has to be developed in a way so that it passes all of the homologation tests and obligations with the FIA, not compromising the driver’s safety, which is very important to us of course.”

“And then the next one was the engineering and development part, which was to make the camera that small, that stable and then to have the processors and the software which allows you to control the image from a distance.”

“The normal on-board shots from the car can be spectacular, but it’s very stabilised and it doesn’t move with the car, whereas this one is raw, which is the beauty of this camera, it’s so unique,” he adds.

Formula E’s intention, before COVID-19, was to increase the amount of Driver’s Eye cameras across the field gradually across season six, although Tiffert is keen not to sacrifice the quality for the sake of quantity, in his words “overwhelming” the product.

“We’re discussing all possibilities internally to see how far we can push this, and then time will tell what people are really interested in. But this is great content, an immersive experience where people may in the future only want to see the race from that camera angle.”

After a five-month hiatus, Formula E returns on Wednesday 5th August for the final hurdle of season six, with Vernon Kay leading the show as presenter, whilst Jack Nicholls returns in his role as lead commentator.

Interview was conducted earlier this year prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.


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How Fox have adapted their NASCAR offering during the COVID-19 pandemic

In a guest article, Jack Ainslie (@JackAinslie) looks at the first half of the NASCAR season, and how US broadcaster Fox have handed difficult issues during their coverage…

As readers of this site will be all too painfully aware, the COVID-19 pandemic robbed motor sport of action throughout most of the Spring and early Summer. However, this understandable absence was significantly shorter for one racing series – NASCAR.

The stock car association’s three major series – the top-tier NASCAR Cup Series and its two main feeders – were back to a socially distanced track in May. Unlike series such as Formula 1 and IndyCar, the NASCAR season had already begun back in February, with it running races nearly every week through to December. Yes, it is a lot of races!

Having followed the opening NASCAR races of 2020 to fill the F1 off-season, I decided to stick with the series when it returned in May.

Fans in the UK can access NASCAR through Premier Sports, with an affordable price of £9.99 per month giving you access to their online Premier Player. The channel also covers La Liga, NHL, and Scottish football amongst others.

In terms of NASCAR, the broadcaster covers all Cup Series races live with more limited coverage of the feeder Xfinity and Truck Series.

Premier Sports have little to no input over the coverage with them lifting the US broadcast ‘as-is,’ in a similar vein to how Sky Sports air NBC’s stateside coverage of IndyCar. Fox Sports airs the first half of the NASCAR season for US fans, with NBC taking over for the second half of the year.

The Fox half of the season has just concluded, perfect timing then to reflect on their offering.

Difficult issues covered in detail on-air in a year of change
NASCAR has been in the headlines for more than one controversial reason this year, with its association with Republican politics obvious in February when President Donald Trump visited the flagship Daytona 500 event.

However, in recent weeks the sport hit back at Trump after he criticised the sport’s only black driver Bubba Wallace for perpetrating a ‘hoax,’ an entirely false accusation and it was heartening to see him backed by many within the sport.

The series has engaged in significant discussions around the Black Lives Matter protests and has banned the Confederate flag, which was often visible on television, from its races.

The moves to detoxify NASCAR’s image are much needed and will help bring new fans to a series which provides exciting, unpredictable racing.

Indeed, viewing figures have increased over the past few weeks, reversing years of decline, despite Trump’s claims that figures are at a ‘record low.’ The high broadcast quality and the willingness of the commentators to engage in difficult conversations may have played a role in the audience increase.

Veteran lead commentator Mike Joy delivered some heartfelt words during a recent event. When Wallace’s team found a noose in the garage, later discovered to have been there since the previous race last year, Joy called it a ‘despicable act’ which flew ‘in the face of NASCAR’s efforts to build a culture which is diverse, equal and welcoming.’

Popular ex-driver and co-commentator Jeff Gordon also ensured he was part of the conversation throughout. Both him and Joy defended Wallace against the ridiculous criticisms he faced after the conclusion of the investigation.

Joy and Gordon have also succeeded in terms of their racing commentary during a year of change at the network.

Unusually, for American motorsport, they now commentate as a duo following the retirement of Darrell Waltrip last year. For the last few seasons Waltrip and Gordon had shared co-commentary duties with Joy delivering the play-by-play.

This is a more typical arrangement for American motorsport (Townsend Bell, Paul Tracy, and Leigh Diffey in IndyCar is an example of a current trio), so it was initially surprising to see Fox not replace Waltrip, though it has nevertheless worked.

Waltrip, renowned for his “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, let’s go racin’ boys” start command, had huge respect as an analyst and advocate for driver safety, with the broadcast now having lost some of its more humorous side.

However, Gordon had already been providing far sharper analysis than Waltrip with his much more recent experience as a driver, having last competed in NASCAR full-time in 2015. Joy’s commentary style and Gordon’s sharp analysis make them perfect as a pair.

The pair also lends a more familiar, homely style, especially as Fox does not bounce around analysts as much as NBC’s IndyCar coverage, which has become particularly obvious and irritating this year after their strong performance last season, although things have improved in recent rounds. They also sensitively handled a serious accident involving Ryan Newman earlier in the season.

Former crew chief Larry McReynolds intervenes to provide analysis on strategy from Fox HQ in Charlotte, North Carolina, keeping some of the zaniness that Fox lost with Waltrip’s retirement. I can only imagine the madness when McReynolds, Joy and Waltrip used to be the commentary trio, until Gordon took McReynolds microphone following his racing retirement.

Fox’s pre-race coverage appears to be slimmer owing to the pandemic, with Joy and Gordon sometimes fronting the coverage rather than a studio host, although ex-driver Jamie McMurray also joins as an additional analyst at times.

Some races also include a build-up show called NASCAR Hub, presented by Shannon Spake with McReynolds and McMurray offering analysis, although this element is currently unavailable to UK fans.

Coverage benefits from excellent access level…
Fox’s on-air personnel access to drivers and strategists during races which an F1 journalist could only dream of, putting their coverage ahead of the field.

Reporters can interview crew chiefs during the race, whilst commentators can chat to drivers live during stage breaks (one of NASCAR’s many complications) and formation laps, both speaking to a wider positive relationship between the media and drivers.

Whilst I do not watch the Xfinity Series, Cup Series drivers often serve as analysts and commentators for the second tier of NASCAR.

Fox has also had driver-only broadcasts for the feeder series on occasion, with current Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick serving as lead commentator.

In addition to the incredible access to drivers and teams, Fox utilises an excellent array of camera angles. Drone cameras, helmet cameras and traditional onboards are just some of the options available to the television director.

The production team places the most impressive angles on the oval catch fencing, in my view truly showing the speed of the race cars as they skirt perilously close to the walls. I have also enjoyed the cockpit cameras which show the drivers wrestling with their cars, occasionally including their heart rate, revealing the true physical strength required to drive the machinery.

Unfortunately, the Premier Sports feed omits some of the standalone graphics which pair up with individual camera angles (e.g. telemetry), leading to a disjointed experience from one angle to the next.

…but the less said about adverts, the better
Despite the excellent qualities of Fox’s on-air personnel, as well as the fantastic racing, there are weaknesses to the product.

As is par for the course with American sport, it is frequently punctuated by ad breaks. Whilst Premier Sport do not cut to the ads, it does leave us Brits with no commentary for their duration. The inconsistent graphics also afflicts the breaks as the live leaderboard sometimes stays and sometimes goes.

Those who dedicate themselves to following every twist and turn may find themselves having to take multiple Monday’s off work.

Although most races air at around 20:00 UK time, races are frequently delayed by rain and thunderstorms. Oval racing cannot take place in the rain and thunderstorms are obviously a major safety concern.

The mid-afternoon start times in the US are peak storm time in many states and can result in hours long delays, or races moved to the Monday. Even the flagship Daytona 500 failed to miss the storm, moving to Monday after multiple rain delays which presumably hit Fox and NASCAR’s audience, not to mention revenues.

One area in which NASCAR does perform well is social media with their Twitter account having 3.4 million followers, significantly more than IndyCar, although NASCAR’s following has not increased to the level seen elsewhere recently.

Their channels have a nice mixture of content, with lots of video clips uploaded during the race. YouTube also offers plethora of highlights and other content, located on both the sport’s own channel as well as separate channels which the two main US broadcasters run.

Those who want to go even more in depth into the sport can find content such as Dale Earnhardt Jr’s (NBC co-commentator and ex-driver) podcast as well as highlights from the Xfinity and Truck series.

NASCAR is a difficult one to get into, as it does not follow the traditional motor racing championship system: NASCAR has stage points, playoff points and points for leading laps, making it all a tad confusing for the newbie.

It is also a sharp culture shock for British viewers where drivers are much more up front in blaming others, with the media playing up long running feuds between certain contenders. However, it has exciting racing and that is the main thing, right? Just enjoying the races on their own has worked for me. Do not be an oval snob!

Fox has done an admirable job in tough times in being able to put together a quality broadcast. Whilst I might not follow NASCAR as closely as I did during the F1 sabbatical I will certainly stick with the series as NBC take the reins for the back half of the 2020 season.

Have you watched NASCAR this year? What have you enjoyed or not enjoyed? Have your say in the comments below.

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