The BT Sport announcement focussing on their MotoGP presentation line-up brings with good news, bad news and also a few questions.
Starting with the positives, and BT have assembled a very strong punditry team with Neil Hodgson and James Toseland. It was important for BT Sport to get well known motorcycle names to be a part of the coverage and, from a British perspective, they’ve done just that. As with any pairing, without seeing them on screen, it is difficult to say how it will play out on screen, but they have got the first step right with who they have managed to get. Another positive is the commentary line-up. The positive being in that it is not Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish. Whilst I am going to critical on some aspects of their coverage later on, I am happy that we don’t have to hear Cox struggling to commentate on what felt like far too many occasions last season.
Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder is an interesting one. I’ll be honest in saying that I have never heard proper commentary from them from back in their heyday in the mid 1990s, you can do the sums if I say that I’m currently 21! What disappoints me is the decision to omit Toby Moody. I accept that BT want to go in a different direction in some aspects, because inevitably they want to evolve the coverage. But I’m unsure how reverting to a commentary team from twenty years ago does that. I also didn’t hear anyone wanting Moody out of the coverage. Again, I’m from am era who has only really watched races with Moody and Ryder commentating, saying that I would be interested to hear where people rank Huewen and Ryder in comparison to Moody and Ryder.
The scheduling of MotoGP Tonight feels like a genius move. Tuesdays at 20:00 on terrestrial television is a ‘dead’ slot and mainly skewed towards female, so this makes perfect sense. One of my criticisms I have with Sky Sports F1 is their insistence to air The F1 Show live on a Friday night when their core, young audience is out. I’m happy BT have learnt a lesson from Sky here and have done some sensible scheduling. I’m looking forward to seeing how MotoGP Tonight plays out, if done correctly it has the potential to be a gem – like The F1 Show was in 2012 before it fell off the rails. The expansive studio should allow them to do some interesting stuff so it will be interesting to see if anything happens there.
With positives, there are negatives. If I made a list of the twenty people most likely to be in the running as potential MotoGP host on BT Sport, I don’t think Melanie Sykes would ever feature in that list. Possibly even top 100. Which makes her announcement even more of a surprise. I assume that Sykes was not BT’s first choice, I would have had Suzi Perry, Jennie Gow, Matt Roberts amongst others above Sykes. In other words, quite a few people must have rejected BT Sport before Sykes became a firm contender. It might be telling that the Sykes rumour only emerged in the last week, even though the commentary line-up has been common knowledge amongst the motorcycling circles for a while. What worries me here is that Sykes has never presented a live sporting event, and I don’t think has done an outside broadcast for years, most of her work has been inside television studios.
Yes, Sykes has bags of experience, but not the right experience. Jake Humphrey and Simon Lazenby both started their respective Formula 1 presenting roles with live sporting experience, the former most notably climbed through BBC’s ranks, made a good impression at the 2008 Olympics and the rest is history. I’m willing to give her a chance, but the ‘Georgie Thompson vibe’ comes to mind here. Thompson left Sky Sports F1 after a year to head to America. Thankfully for Sky, Thompson was a relatively small part of the puzzle and was easily replaced. If Sykes decided after a year that she didn’t want to do the gig any more I don’t think it would be as simple for BT. I hope BT have Sykes locked in for the long term otherwise we could well see the Thompson situation play out again. On a similar subject, having Iwan Thomas regularly on MotoGP Tonight suggests that they are trying to cater for the casual viewer, although in both cases, I do not imagine someone thinking “Melanie Sykes is presenting MotoGP, I must watch it!”.
Aside from Sykes and the omission of Moody, another interesting point is the scheduling. British Eurosport last year were already doing a few hours per day, meaning it is difficult for BT Sport for step up too much from that. Maybe its just me, but ‘five hours of coverage a day’ sounds vague, although it must be noted that the MotoGP weekend schedule is structured differently compared with Formula 1, more for the fan at track rather than strictly conforming to TV viewers at home. I think we will have to wait and see until the schedules come out to see how exactly the coverage forms out, thinking about presentation too at this point given that the press release gives no clue as to whether BT plan to take the World Feed for Moto2 and Moto3.
Overall, I do think the team is good. There’s some aspects I’ve missed out here, and that is deliberate because I don’t know much about them, Matt Birt and Gavin Emmett being those two. One thing I don’t know is how ‘technical’ either of them are in comparison to Neil Spalding and previously Randy Mamola, which is why I have not touched that above. The only mainly negative aspect is Sykes, and I hope I’m proven wrong where she is concerned. I think it is a risk BT taking someone on without a proven track record, but it won’t be long before we find out whether it was a risk worth taking.