Note from David – Another big development on the commentary front, this time on two wheels.
Keith Huewen has announced that he will stand down from his role as BT Sport’s MotoGP lead commentator with immediate effect.
He is the second high-profile commentator to leave his role in recent weeks, following Ben Edwards’ decision to leave Channel 4’s F1 team. Huewen, 64, has been part of BT’s team covering the sport since the broadcaster took over coverage from the BBC in 2014.
Writing on Twitter, Huewen cites the “unexpected positive effect of the pandemic restrictions” as his main reason for stepping aside.
“At a highpoint in both MotoGP coverage and my commentary career, I have decided after much consideration, and with the agreement of BT Sport, to step away from their brilliant coverage,” he said.
“It is my intention to be trackside again soon, but there has been an unexpected positive effect of the pandemic restrictions – spending more time with my family.”
“This upside helped me to decide to spend more time in the UK in the future, but I’ll echo the words of Julian Ryder not that long ago: ‘I am not retiring'”
Huewen’s broadcasting career, like Edwards, has spanned four different decades, across a variety of different broadcasters. His MotoGP role in recent years has thrown Huewen back into the limelight, after spending most of the 2000s away from the motorcycling paddock in a commentating capacity.
Julian Ryder has partnered Huewen in the commentary box for most of his commentary career, before Ryder himself stepped aside following the 2017 season.
Since then, the likes of Gavin Emmett, Michael Laverty and Neil Hodgson have partnered Huewen to take viewers through the three classes during a race weekend.
“My sincere and heartfelt thanks go to BT, Dorna, IRTA [International Road-Racing Teams Association], North One, Tall Audio, and all my lovely colleagues for their company through the last seven years,” Huewen added.
“They are the best in the business and I’m sure they will continue to bring you outstanding coverage of MotoGP. I’ll now do what we all do – shout at the TV and tell anyone in the room the things the commentators have missed. It’s easy when you’re sat at home on the sofa!”
“Thank you for your support, I’ll see you trackside again soon.”
BT Sport will confirm Huewen’s replacement in due course for the 2021 season, the last year in their current arrangement with Dorna.
The parallels between Huewen and Edwards, and the COVID impact
The decisions by both Huewen and Edwards in recent weeks to leave their respective commentary positions have caught many by surprise, but underneath the surface, their careers have followed very similar paths.
Both started their broadcasting career around 25 to 30 years ago. Edwards quickly became a popular figure leading Eurosport’s Formula 1 offering alongside John Watson, whilst Huewen did likewise as part of Sky’s World Superbikes coverage alongside Ryder.
But both spent most of the 2000s outside of the spotlight comparatively speaking. Huewen fronted most of Sky’s motor sport offering on four wheels from Chiswick. Edwards remained in the commentary both, helping the profile of A1 Grand Prix towards the end of the decade.
It was only during the 2010s, however, when the two returned to their roots. Edwards was a beneficiary of the Sky and BBC split of Formula 1 rights, joining the BBC’s F1 team.
For Huewen, the move of MotoGP from BBC and Eurosport to BT Sport opened the doors for him to return to where he wanted to be: the motorcycling paddock, and the MotoGP commentary booth, reuniting with Ryder.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in both Huewen and Edwards commentating on two and four-wheels respectively from off-site.
And both have reached the same decision after a period of reflection: to step down from their respective duties, spending more time at home with their families.
Whether we are likely to see more changes is unclear, but what is clear is that the pandemic has caused some in the industry to reflect on the current situation, and conclude that they do not want to be part of the travelling circus (at least in a permanent capacity moving forward).
F1’s record-breaking 23 race calendar for 2021 has been the main talking point in recent weekends, but MotoGP too has a record-breaking season scheduled, with 20 race weekends on the agenda.
Whilst broadcasters are adapting behind the camera because of the pandemic, they also need to adapt in front of their camera.
In my view, as discussed previously, broadcasters need to be willing to rotate their on-air talent, keeping not only their programming fresh, but also avoiding the potential of having more talent walk away in the future.
The candidates to replace Huewen
The person Huewen beat to the BT position, Toby Moody is likely to be a front runner to step back into the commentary booth, having led Eurosport’s MotoGP coverage for many years in the 2000s.
Current MotoGP World Feed commentator Steve Day could be another contender for the BT role. Alternatively, BT may decide to look in-house, promoting Gavin Emmett up to the lead commentary position.
If BT Sport and production company North One already know the answer to the question then we may well find out the answer very soon, and knowing my luck, we probably will…
Keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with Keith Huewen when Motorsport Broadcasting re-launches in 2021.