Ten years ago, the landscape of MotoGP for fans in the UK changed when it was announced that the series would be moving behind a paywall to BT Sport for the 2014 season and onwards.
Since then, the premier bike series has undergone changes both on and off the circuit. The stars of yesteryear have retired, making way for a new fresh breed of talented riders at the forefront of the field.
Over the same time period, the way fans consume sports has evolved, with rights holders seeking to attract a more diverse audience across a plethora of different platforms: linear and live, vertical viewing, highlights, YouTube, TikTok, and feeds tailored to the fans of tomorrow.
Some sports have adapted to the changing landscape better than others, while some have found themselves left behind.
Although MotoGP managed to navigate the pandemic successfully, the series is faced with a fresh set of challenges if it is to thrive into the future. As Motorsport Broadcasting explores, the sport needs to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to changing fan expectations and media consumption habits.
Understanding why MotoGP moved to pay television
MotoGP enjoyed a long period of live free-to-air coverage in the UK, with a passionate fan base watching the likes of Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo through the 2000s.
The MotoGP era we know and love today began in 2002, with coverage of the series airing for UK fans on Channel 5, and a more extensive offering available via Eurosport. Free-to-air coverage moved to the BBC from 2003, initially on a two-year agreement.
At the time, MotoGP joined both the British Superbikes and World Superbikes on the Beeb, making the broadcaster the home of bikes for a short period until both Superbikes championships moved to pastures new.
MotoGP’s presence on the BBC expanded year-on-year, from just three races airing live in 2003 (Donington, Motegi, and Valencia), to every race airing live in 2006 via either the BBC’s Red Button service or BBC Two.
The demise of Sunday Grandstand led to MotoGP coverage airing in a standalone 90-minute slot on BBC Two, with further coverage available on the Red Button.
Suzi Perry, Jennie Gow, and Matt Roberts led the BBC’s on-site team through the years, steering viewers through every twist and turn. Their coverage attracted an audience of around one million viewers per race. Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish provided commentary for every race, giving new fans a gateway into the sport.
For fans who wanted more, Eurosport was the place to be.
The trio of Toby Moody, Julian Ryder, and Randy Mamola rank among this writer’s all-time favourite commentary teams, bringing their own raw style to Eurosport’s offering.
Eurosport’s involvement in MotoGP faded thanks to a deal that granted BBC more exclusivity from 2009, with the broadcaster’s offering increasing to include Moto2 and Moto3 via the Red Button, as well as exclusive coverage of the MotoGP race.
Soon after, the financial crisis hit MotoGP, and Dorna opted to prioritise money over reach, as BT Group’s pay TV proposition, attached with it a significant amount of money, was too good to refuse for Dorna. BT Group was prepared to pay far more than what both the BBC and Eurosport were able to at the time for MotoGP.
Instead of taking a step-change approach to let audiences adjust, like what happened with F1 (forced by the BBC’s and Sky’s hand in the matter or not) from 2012 onwards, Dorna went ‘all-in’ on the pay TV approach in the UK.
The story that this writer has heard on multiple occasions is that, without pay TV money, several outfits further down the grid in Moto2 and Moto3 would have struggled to survive. Put simply, the teams needed the money to keep the show on the road, and in some cases still do.
Since 2014, every race has aired live on BT Sport, with free-to-air highlights airing on either ITV4, Channel 5, or Quest on Monday nights.
Marquez shines on social media
Since moving to BT, MotoGP’s viewership in the UK has declined. Under a quarter of the BBC’s MotoGP audience made the jump, with a typical race attracting 200,000 to 250,000 viewers on average.
The free-to-air highlights package has made up some of the deficit, but even this has shrunk over the past decade, due to changes in broadcasters and scheduling, making it difficult for the casual fan to catch-up with the sport.
On-track factors have impacted the sport too. The stars of yesterday – Rossi, Stoner, Hayden, Pedrosa, Lorenzo – have all retired, with their replacements struggling to break through into the mainstream, partly thanks to the subscription model used in countries like the UK and Spain.
Spanish rider and Repsol Honda star Marc Marquez is the exception. Marquez lit up the track as soon as he entered the sport, and since 2013, Marquez has won 6 of the 10 possible MotoGP championships.
Analysis by Motorsport Broadcasting shows that Marquez is to MotoGP what Lewis Hamilton is to Formula 1 from a social media perspective, across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Marquez has 3.84 times more followers compared to MotoGP’s next best, while Hamilton has 2.92 times more followers than the second most followed F1 driver, showing how their on-track performances have perforated through onto social media.
But this is where the similarities between Marquez and Hamilton, MotoGP and F1, BT Sport and Sky, end. While F1 has built stars around Hamilton, MotoGP has failed to do so.
Across social media, the 2022 MotoGP champion Pecco Bagnaia is the sixth most popular rider on the grid, with 1.83 million followers.
The sixth most followed driver in F1 is Carlos Sainz with 9.5 million followers, and if you look at it from a raw number perspective, 1.83 million followers put Bagnaia alongside Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda.
This is no sight on the riders at all, but rather a criticism of those responsible for not maximising its potential in the digital age.
One factor that hindered Dorna was Marquez’s accident as soon as the series returned to action post-COVID. It meant that organisers had to navigate 2020 minus their star, a challenging task considering his dominance. But it also shows the championship’s inability to prepare for such a scenario unfolding.
Perhaps the most significant moments that have captured widespread attention in MotoGP over the last decade are the controversial Sepang 2015 clash between Marquez and Rossi, and the horror accident that unfolded at the Red Bull Ring in 2020.
A decade ago, compared to F1, MotoGP was on the front foot where its television broadcasts and social media presence was concerned, however the tide has turned over the past five years.
What factors have contributed to F1’s success while MotoGP has struggled to gain momentum?
MotoGP Unlimited given the chop
F1’s new owners Liberty Media have prioritised growth across all platforms, with documentaries such as Netflix’s Drive to Survive launching in 2019.
MotoGP responded to Drive to Survive with their own documentary series. MotoGP Unlimited premiered on Amazon Prime in early 2022. But while Drive to Survive was a hit from early on, teething issues and a lukewarm reception plagued MotoGP Unlimited at launch.
The result was that the series failed to break through in the way that either Dorna or Amazon hoped. Sources close to this site have indicated that the series will not be returning.
As one person told me last year, once you have a failed product like MotoGP Unlimited in the market, it becomes a barrier to enter the market again for the next few years.
F1 has benefited from Drive to Survive across all platforms, helping the series to reach a younger, more diverse audience across social media and linear, with record crowds throughout 2022 as race circuits opened following the pandemic.
In the UK, Sky Sports F1 have seized the opportunity, grabbing some of the lucrative Drive to Survive audience. 2022 was their most watched season ever, recording a higher average audience than 2021’s titanic duel between Verstappen and Hamilton.
In comparison, BT Sport’s MotoGP audience figures have stagnated, while analysis from Crash.net reveals that circuit attendances dropped last season compared to pre-pandemic levels.
With F1 clearly on the front foot and in the limelight, MotoGP has found itself very much in F1’s shadow in recent years.
And, while it is not BT Sport’s fault that Dorna have made some missteps, it is their responsibility to look at how they can broaden their own reach, with Dorna’s support where possible.
After fixing some early issues during their infancy, BT’s coverage of MotoGP has been of high quality. Their coverage, produced by North One Television (also responsible for ITV’s F1 coverage and Formula E’s television feed), gives all three tiers of MotoGP extensive coverage.
The BT team is talented and knowledgeable across the board. Gavin Emmett commentates across all three classes, joined by Michael Laverty, Neil Hodgson, and Sylvain Guintoli, with Suzi Perry and Natalie Quirk on presenting duties.
However, the broadcaster enters a time of change, which may have ramifications for the long-term future of their MotoGP programming, and for fans who watch it. BT Sport’s contract with Dorna finishes at the end of 2024, but before then, the landscape will change radically.
BT Sport and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) agreed to form a 50:50 joint venture last year, and will launch the TNT Sports brand in the UK this Summer. The new TNT brand, led by ex-Sky Sports F1 head Scott Young, will bring down the curtain on both the BT Sport and Eurosport brand names.
On the face of it, this is good news for motor sport fans, as content such as MotoGP, World Superbikes, British Superbikes, the World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship will in the long term be available through TNT. WBD have yet to announce a pricing strategy for the new venture.
It gives TNT the chance to properly cross-promote their bike properties, something that has already started to happen on both BT and Eurosport ahead of the 2023 season, which should help drive up MotoGP’s viewing figures.
However, one question that Warner Bros. Discovery may ask is whether MotoGP justifies the price tag that BT Sport are currently paying for their investment, considering that their return on investment is low, and viewing figures have failed to move in the past decade.
How do Dorna plan to change the status quo?
Introducing the MotoGP Sprint
Like F1, Dorna has taken steps to make all three days of the race weekend a more attractive proposition for fans and broadcasters alike.
For 2023, a 20-minute sprint race takes place on Saturdays at each of the 21 race weekends, a contrast to F1’s ‘pick and choose’ approach.
While the sprint races have been full of thrills and spills, the distribution method is the same as the feature race for fans in the UK: behind a paywall. If Dorna genuinely wants to attract a new audience, this is not the right approach.
When announcing the decision to add sprint races to the calendar, Dorna said, “The introduction of Sprint Races allows every day of a race weekend to offer fans and broadcasters the best possible experience on track and off, with track action on Friday, Saturday and Sunday focused on maximum spectacle to show off the best of MotoGP.”
“In addition, the new format will provide increased engagement opportunities for fans, broadcasters and media across the event and increase the profile of the MotoGP class without reducing that of Moto2 and Moto3,” they added.
In my view, the sprint races need to be more accessible, whether that is, in the case of the UK, through BT Sport airing the sprints on a ‘free to view’ basis, or streaming via YouTube, Dorna need to think outside of the box rather than sticking with tried and tested methods.
Some may feel that pay broadcasters would not benefit from such a move. However, I would argue that a strong, easily accessible sprint race on Saturdays would entice fans to seek out the main event on Sunday via pay TV, not only benefiting MotoGP but also Moto2 and Moto3.
F1’s pay TV audience has grown in recent years, so why should MotoGP be any different in this regard?
Dorna has adjusted their Saturday schedule so that the sprint is the last event of the day. MotoGP’s final practice session and qualifying have both moved to Saturday mornings, which has caused some broadcasters, such as BT, to change how they cover the day.
|2022’s Saturday schedule (local time)||2023’s Saturday schedule (local time)|
|09:00 to 09:40 – Moto3 Practice||08:40 to 09:10 – Moto3 Practice|
|09:55 to 10:40 – MotoGP Practice||09:25 to 09:55 – Moto2 Practice|
|10:55 to 11:35 – Moto2 Practice||10:10 to 10:40 – MotoGP Practice|
|10:55 to 11:30 – MotoGP Qualifying|
|12:35 to 13:15 – Moto3 Qualifying|
|13:30 to 14:00 – MotoGP Practice||12:50 to 13:30 – Moto3 Qualifying|
|14:10 to 14:50 – MotoGP Qualifying||13:45 to 14:25 – Moto2 Qualifying|
|15:10 to 15:50 – Moto2 Qualifying||15:00 – MotoGP Sprint|
Previously, BT began their Saturday presentation offering at 11:00 UK time (12:00 local time), giving them ample time to discuss all three classes, and analyse the crucial qualifying sessions.
Retaining this structure would have resulted in neither the final MotoGP practice session nor qualifying receiving the full ‘bells and whistles’ treatment as in previous years.
For the first round in Portugal, BT made a few adjustments to their MotoGP broadcasts:
- Friday – Taking the World Feed commentary instead of producing their own commentary.
- Saturday – Extending their presentation offering, coming on-air two hours earlier at 10:00 local time, allowing them to cover MotoGP qualifying through their own presentation team. All three morning practice sessions for the three classes aired via BT Sport 5 (the Red Button for viewers on Sky).
- Sunday – Airing the post-race Chequered Flag programme later in the evening as a standalone show instead of following the MotoGP race.
For BT, covering the MotoGP qualifying session in detail is essential, as it determines the starting grid for both Saturday’s sprint and Sunday’s main event.
A longer show means additional preparation time, not just for the production team, but also for those in front of the camera.
Five minutes of television do not happen by magic, and every segment or feature requires resources: a presenter, a camera operator, and someone to edit it all together to make compelling television.
While BT adjusted for Argentina and last weekend in America (notably producing their commentary feed for Friday’s and airing MotoGP practice on the main channel), the broadcaster is at the behest of series organisers who dictate the weekend schedules.
From a fan perspective, MotoGP qualifying feels too early in the weekend. From a broadcaster’s perspective, a difficult-to-fill 80-minute filler gap follows the session.
A better approach would be to move MotoGP qualifying to after the lunch break at 12:00 local time, with Moto3 and Moto2 qualifying following, the two series benefiting from having the main class immediately before it.
Some fans criticised the decision to move Moto3 and Moto2 practice off BT Sport 2 on Saturday mornings, which shows the need to strike a balance between appealing to the hardcore fanatic who wants every session live and the new fan who wants to know more about the stories in the main class.
While sympathising with those who do want to watch practice over additional MotoGP content, the fact is that airing the latter has a better chance of increasing the audience than the former.
A source compared the situation to thinking of it in a “multi-screen way,” giving viewers the choice of what they want to watch, like how Discovery treats other significant events, such as the tennis Australian Open tournament.
A similar problem exists on Sunday’s, but for a completely different reason: the Rider’s Parade would be better after Moto3 and Moto2, to benefit from a higher attendance rather than taking place in front of half empty grandstands.
The need to go further
Aside from the sprint, Dorna has made other changes for 2023, notably the introduction of a new signature theme for the series.
Academy Award nominee and Emmy-winning composer Marco Beltrami is the man behind the MotoGP theme. Beltrami approached MotoGP with his idea, saying that the new theme had to be “something simple, rhythmic, heroic.”
Beethoven inspired Beltrami for the theme. “The first place I looked was Beethoven, his ninth symphony, in the second movement you have a really simple rhythmic motif and I thought maybe that’s the starting place for my theme. That’s basically what I did.”
Comparisons with Formula 1’s opening theme are inevitable: Hollywood composers pitch both, with similar structures throughout both sets of titles.
F1’s theme, composed by Brian Tyler, launched in 2018, with F1 working with third parties on new opening titles each year since. Instead of comparing MotoGP’s first version with F1’s sixth, a better comparison would be to compare with MotoGP’s inaugural effort with F1’s 2018 titles.
The cinematography in MotoGP’s effort is superb, arguably better than some of F1’s recent efforts from a visual perspective. The intro does well to introduce the stars of the show, which is Dorna’s main intention.
Unfortunately, what lets the sequence down is that it is pedestrian, ironically the opposite problem to what F1’s first opening sequence encountered, which introduced the 20 drivers at breakneck speed. Shaving ten seconds off the opening titles would still get the message across to newer viewers watching at home.
When F1 launched their new branding, it came at a time of change for the sport, and the sport’s owners wanted to emphasise that across the screen.
MotoGP is not in such a position: there are no new owners, and what we have on-screen this year is a mix between new and old. New sprint, new theme, same owners, same logo, same graphics, same over-the-top platform.
The latter is a sticking point where Dorna was once ahead of F1 but has fallen behind. The Video Pass service uploads sessions as soon as they have finished and has a rich archive dating back to 1992, which should make it a hot commodity for MotoGP fans.
F1’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) proposition is significantly cheaper than MotoGP. The MotoGP service costs €199.99 across a full season compared to roughly €74.99 (territory dependent) for the F1 equivalent. Meanwhile, MotoGP’s YouTube channel is light years behind F1’s channel.
Does MotoGP need an overhaul that goes far and beyond what current owners Dorna have delivered? Maybe that is what Dan Rossomondo, MotoGP’s new Chief Commercial Officer, will help deliver.
Rossomondo joins Dorna with a wealth of experience, having previously been Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships and Media at the NBA.
“Dan’s vision for the commercial future of MotoGP fits perfectly with our views: fresh ideas, increased reach, and commitment to take the sport to new heights,” said Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports.
“At the helm, I’m confident he will provide existing partners with the best possible results and relationships, and at the same time will work to search out new, like-minded media, marketing and licensing partners.”
“We know Dan can bring a lot to Dorna and our biggest property, MotoGP, and on a personal level we’re also very much looking forward to working with him. We’re very excited to begin this new chapter.”
MotoGP has started 2023 off on the right note. Now, it is for the team at Dorna to continue that work so MotoGP can thrive into the future.
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