Analysing the motor sport ecosystem and why coronavirus could cripple it

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting motor sport in a way we have never seen before, impacting everyone involved in sport.

Collectively, the entire industry stands to lose a significant sum of money, and what the future holds is unclear. The longer this goes on, the worse the financial situation becomes, notwithstanding the fact that a global recession is likely because of the pandemic.

Who are the key players, and what are their role in the overarching ecosystem that is motor sport? Being a broadcasting site, naturally the focus is on broadcasting, although there is heavy linkage between broadcasting and the wider motor sport economy.

Speaking at the Black Book Motorsport Forum last September, Sky’s Head of Formula 1 Scott Young spoke about the delicacies of the ecosystem in a conversation around over-the-top broadcasting and pay television.

“Our investment is significant as one of the one of the investments that underpins F1, as all our rights do in every sport,” explained Young.

“I think that’s one of the differences between an OTT platform right now and major sporting broadcasters, like Sky and Eurosport, that actually invest a large amount of money that goes into those sports of which they need to help fund the teams to compete.”

“There’s an ecosystem in there that is quite delicate, and if you unravel it too quickly it can have some lasting effects,” he said.

Young quite clearly encapsulates the key themes of the ecosystem: the broadcasters, the rights holder, and the teams. If the system changes too quickly, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Coronavirus creates a gap in the chamber. The flow of money into the sport stops, meaning that money cannot flow back out the other end easily.

Who are the parties involved, and what are their roles? Let the below diagram explain, using Formula 1 and MotoGP as the key examples…

Motor sport ecosystem.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem.

Much of the above is stating the obvious, however it shows how the ecosystem joins up from one segment to another, from the customer paying the pay TV broadcaster their monthly subscription, all the way through to teams paying their staff.

The diagram is, I admit, a simplistic view of the landscape, but hopefully helps to show how some of the basic activities connect. There are many more inputs and outputs, the diagram only covers the main ones (although if you feel there is a major gap, please shout).

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 1).

Branch 1 – Pay TV > Commercial Rights Holder
Pay-TV broadcasters receive income from both their customers monthly, as well as from advertisers / sponsors who want to advertise during their programming. Not all motor sports air on pay-TV, but overall, that is the way.

Some have suggested that UK’s pay-TV broadcasters BT and Sky should refund subscribers of their sports channels during the coronavirus outbreak, however neither are planning to do so currently.

The income pay-TV broadcasters receive allows them to broadcast prestigious events, the broadcaster paying the relevant Commercial Rights Holder an agreed amount each season.

For MotoGP, the Commercial Rights Holder is Dorna, for F1 it is Formula One Management, for World Rally Championship it is WRC Promoter, and so on.

To attract subscribers, pay-TV broadcasters want to utilise the best talent, on and off-screen. For that, they use a hybrid of permanent in-house staff and freelancers.

Both bring their benefits: being a permanent member of staff gives you added security with a regular pay packet, but makes it unlikely that you can work on events not aired on their outlet.

Freelancers on the other hand may work F1 one weekend, MotoGP the next, and then Formula E the weekend after, each paid on a standalone basis. Three different broadcasters and production teams, but not a problem. That approach brings risks: any cancellation will result in a loss of income.

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 2).

Branch 2 – Circuit > Commercial Rights Holder
The second area is simpler. Fans pay money to attend the circuit to watch a race, the circuit pays the Commercial Rights Holder the fee for holding the race. Investors and sponsors may pump money into the circuit to improve facilities, increasing the prospects of holding major events there.

It sounds simple, until someone cancels the race, which is where the legal complications come in. Mark Hughes over on The Race summarises the situation in relation to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix.

In the event of the cancellation of a race, someone will lose money. Opting not to refund the fans is an untenable option. The organisers refund the fans, in which case the organisers lose money. Unless the Commercial Rights Holder waives the fee and takes the financial hit.

The worst-case scenario for a circuit is that they lose so much money, they go into administration and liquidation.

Circuits need money to keep operating outside of the F1 and MotoGP race weekends, they need to pay their own employees (not labelled in the diagram) to give one example. In the UK, the Rockingham Motor Speedway closed in 2018 after financial issues.

Cancelling one race might be okay, but would be enough to disturb the cashflow of the circuit. What happens though, if the Commercial Rights Holder opted to take the hit, saving the circuit, but putting themselves at jeopardy?

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 3).

Branch 3 – Commercial Right Holder > Staff
Like the pay-TV scenario above, the Commercial Rights Holder will pay people to run the World Feed for them all the weekend, both freelancers and permanent staff. The talent varies: from directors, to vision mixers, to replay operators, to camera operators, the list is never ending.

F1 has a mixture of freelance talent and permanent talent, same as above. Same positives, same negatives, same risks.

Motor sport ecosystem - branch 1.png
A simplified view of the motor sport ecosystem (branch 4).

Branch 4 – Commercial Rights Holder > Teams
As well as receiving money off pay-TV broadcasters and circuits, the Commercial Rights Holder will receive money off advertisers, sponsors and investors, the Rolex’s of this world.

Pay-TV broadcasters may want compensation off the Commercial Rights Holder if races fall by the wayside, and the same applies for advertisers, whilst circuits may want their fees lowered.

If organisers cancel one race, most championships would be able to deal with it, however when multiple races disappear, the problem amplifies.

For hypothetical sake, assume the Commercial Rights Holder has buckled in the event of cancellation. They have waived the circuit race fee and given both advertisers and pay-TV companies some compensation. Unlikely, but let us continue the worst-case path.

But, hang on. The Commercial Rights Holder needs to the pay the teams their prize money, right? Well, yes. Oh. But, the Commercial Rights Holder has already lost money? Again, yes.

“Okay then, we will not give teams their prize money.” Good luck with that one.

Teams need to pay their permanent staff and freelancers, as well as suppliers, and need some form of income from both the Commercial Rights Holder and sponsors.

Suppliers are important here. Motor sport relies on thousands of small to medium-sized employers worldwide that rarely gets a mention. If any one of those suppliers go under, that could impact the team’s ability to go racing. Suddenly, we have a major problem…

The likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, Repsol Honda, will survive with minimal disruption. The likes of Williams in F1, and many outfits in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3, all the way down the motor sport pyramid I worry about.

I worry about the freelancers, inside and outside of broadcasting, who are out of work for at least the next month. I worry about championships who struggle to make a profit each year.

I appreciate this is a simplistic view of the world, and does not account for all factors (there are many indirect lines excluded).

The point I am getting at though is that the motor sport ecosystem will be seriously tested over the next few months, and the potential longer-term consequences for this sport do not bear thinking about…


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Scheduling: The 2020 Australian Grand Prix

Update – both F1 and IndyCar have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

An air of uncertainty surrounds motor sport as the Formula 1 paddock beckons on Melbourne, Australia for the start of the 2020 Grand Prix season.

As I write this article, the Australian Grand Prix is still set to take place on Sunday 15th March. However, the coronavirus outbreak means that nothing is certain, and that the details in this article are accurate as of right now, but could change rapidly in the days ahead.

On the broadcasting side, very little has changed in terms of personnel over the winter break, a stark contrast to twelve months ago.

Simon Lazenby continues to lead Sky’s coverage of Formula 1 in Melbourne, alongside the likes of Paul di Resta, Martin Brundle, Jenson Button, Karun Chandhok and David Croft.

Ted Kravitz remains with Sky for 2020, in what Motorsport Broadcasting understands will be a similar arrangement to 2019, with Kravitz part of Sky’s output for most of the 22 races this year.

Meanwhile, Steve Jones continues to steer Channel 4’s ship, with David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Ben Edwards again alongside the Welshman. Over on BBC Radio 5 Live, Jack Nicholls, Jolyon Palmer and Jennie Gow preside over events from Melbourne.

As reported earlier, close sources have indicated to this site that Sky will be presenting their output from Melbourne on-site, however the situation for Channel 4 and BBC is unclear.

On the scheduling front, Sky’s build-up for the 22 races extends to 130 minutes this season, which must be some kind of record. The change means that their live race day shows clock in at five and a half hours when also accounting for the Notebook.

There are other smaller changes to Sky’s schedule, namely Welcome to the Weekend moving from Thursday’s to Friday’s immediately before the first practice session.

Channel 4’s highlights programming also changes for 2020, moving back towards its previous ‘Extended Highlights’ format, as revealed exclusively by this site in January.

The free-to-air broadcaster can now air 60 minutes of the race itself, instead of 45 minutes as was the case last year.

Elsewhere, the IndyCar Series is back for its second season on Sky Sports F1, whilst the World Rally Championship heads to Mexico for round three of 2020.

Channel 4 F1
14/03 – 12:00 to 13:30 – Qualifying Highlights
15/03 – 14:10 to 16:40 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
13/03 – 00:30 to 02:45 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 00:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 01:00 – Practice 1
13/03 – 04:45 to 06:45 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
14/03 – 02:45 to 04:30 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 02:45 – Practice 3
=> 04:10 – Paddock Walkabout
14/03 – 05:00 to 07:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 05:00 – Pre–Show
=> 05:55 – Qualifying
15/03 – 03:00 to 08:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 03:00 – Sunday Social
=> 04:00 – Grand Prix Sunday (also Sky One)
=> 05:05 – Race (also Sky One)
=> 07:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 08:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
12/03 – 05:00 to 05:30 – Drivers’ Press Conference
13/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – The Story so Far (also Sky Sports Main Event)
14/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event)
18/03 – 20:00 to 20:30 – F1 Weekend Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
12/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
13/03 – 00:55 to 02:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13/03 – 04:55 to 06:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/03 – 02:55 to 04:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/03 – 05:55 to 07:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/03 – 04:30 to 07:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

IndyCar Series – St. Petersburg (Sky Sports F1)
14/03 – 18:30 to 20:00 – Qualifying
15/03 – 18:30 to 22:00 – Race

World Rally Championship – Mexico (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
13/03 – 01:15 to 03:00 – Stages 1 and 2 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 02:08 – Stage 1
=> 02:31 – Stage 2
13/03 – 13:45 to 03:00 – Stages 3 to 12 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 15:08 – Stage 3
=> 16:16 – Stage 4
=> 17:14 – Stage 5
=> 18:12 – Stage 6
=> 21:35 – Stage 7
=> 22:43 – Stage 8
=> 23:41 – Stage 9
=> 01:21 – Stages 10 and 11
=> 02:14 – Stage 12
14/03 – 13:45 to 02:30 – Stages 13 to 21 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 14:58 – Stage 13
=> 16:01 – Stage 14
=> 17:08 – Stage 15
=> 20:56 – Stage 16
=> 21:59 – Stage 17
=> 23:08 – Stage 18
=> 00:38 – Stages 19 and 20
=> 01:26 – Stage 21
15/03 – 13:30 to 18:45 – Stages 22 to 24 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 14:38 – Stage 22
=> 15:56 – Stage 23
=> 17:18 – Stage 24

World Rally Championship – Mexico
13/03 (Thursday night) – 02:00 to 03:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 2)
14/03 (Saturday morning) – 06:00 to 06:30 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
14/03 – 17:00 to 18:00 – Stage 15 (BT Sport 3)
15/03 (Saturday night) – 04:30 to 05:00 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
15/03 – 17:00 to 18:30 – Stage 24 [Power Stage] (BT Sport/ESPN)
16/03 (Sunday night) – 03:00 to 03:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
17/03 – 22:30 to 23:30 – Highlights (ITV4)

Of course, the listings above are subject to change, so keep an eye on both this site and the official championship social channels for the latest up to date information.


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Coronavirus and motor sport broadcasting

For many, March normally signals the start of another exciting, exhilarating, and tense motor racing season, with many twists and turns set to greet drivers, teams, and broadcasters.

This year, things are different, thanks to the unknown quantity that motor sport has little to zero control over, as coronavirus is set to wreak havoc over the early phase of the 2020 motor racing season.

The list of events impacted is growing, with the main casualties to date F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and MotoGP’s Qatar and Thailand rounds of the championship.

The impact coronavirus is having on motor sport goes far beyond broadcasting, however this being a broadcasting site, we are going to stick to the subject in hand.

On the broadcasting side, there is not only the financial impact, but also the human impact as events disappear off the calendar. A scenario such as coronavirus impacting the season is unprecedented in the modern era.

Many of the questions posed below are rhetorical, some of which broadcasters will no doubt be thinking about day and night currently.

Compensation for broadcasters?
To air motor sports, broadcasters pay the respective promoters a pre-agreed amount covering each season, which can vary from a few pounds (literally) to £200 million if you are Sky paying F1.

Now, given that parties agree contracts years in advance, the agreement is unlikely to specify a set number of races per year. However, in my view it is likely that the contract states that the commercial rights holder must deliver a minimum of X races per year to deliver the contract.

For example, the F1 contracts may state that the commercial rights holder must deliver at least 16 races per year to fulfil the agreement, otherwise be subject to potential refunds.

Over in MotoGP, the CEO of commercial rights holder Dorna Carmelo Ezpeleta has revealed that a season must have 13 races to constitute a World Championship.

Motor racing is unlike other sporting events, such as the Rugby World Cup, whereby the number of matches in that case is known years in advance. Anyone who follows motor sport knows that calendars can flip from 20 to 19 to 21 races year-on-year-on-year.

I mention the Rugby World Cup because last year’s event saw three matches cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, which cost French broadcaster TF1 “more than €1 million,” although Sports Business reported at the time that organisers would “hold talks with affected broadcasters over any possible compensation.”

The point here is that F1 and MotoGP will want to show broadcasters that they have made every possible attempt to hold races, hence why organisers have postponed both the F1 China and MotoGP Thailand rounds until later dates and not cancelled them outright.

MotoGP organisers have already rescheduled Thailand for October, however reorganising the Chinese round is proving to be more difficult for F1 and Liberty Media…

Remote coverage?
As a broadcaster, do you treat races as business as usual, or do you take the more cautious approach and keep your personnel away from the race track?

German F1 free-to-air broadcaster RTL are taking the cautious route, opting to present their shows for Australia, Bahrain, and Vietnam from their base in Cologne, with none of their talent heading overseas.

Writing on their website, RTL’s Sports Director Manfred Loppe said “The spread of the coronavirus, the associated incalculable health risks for all colleagues and, furthermore, a broadcast security that can no longer be guaranteed due to the immediate measures when infected.”

“This only allows for one decision, namely to produce from the Cologne broadcasting centre.” As of writing, RTL are the only broadcaster to declare that they are not travelling to Melbourne.

Closer to home, Motorsport Broadcasting understands from close sources that Sky Sports plan to present their coverage of the Australian Grand Prix from on-site in Melbourne, but that UK government and internal advice is being “closely monitored.”

The BBC’s and Channel 4’s plans for Australia remain unclear as of writing, both keeping their cards close to their chest. BT Sport have opted to present commentary of this weekend’s Qatar Moto2 and Moto3 races off-tube, although arguably Dorna made the decision for them by cancelling the premiere class.

Talent working for those broadcasters will follow the instructions given – whether that is “stay at home” or “fly out,” irrespective of their own personal preferences.

Further afield, Sky have labelled Vietnam, the site of round three of the 2020 Formula One season, as a “high-risk” country. The categorisation means that staff who have returned from Vietnam cannot work on a Sky broadcast for a further 14 days.

For all within broadcasting, working remotely is becoming an ever-present thing, which helps when faced with situations such as this one.

Formula 1’s live coverage of testing last month was delivered remotely from Biggin Hill, with only on-air talent, camera operators and a disaster recovery function present on-site in Barcelona.

If needed as a last resort, F1 could rely on local camera operators for the three early season fly-away races which, whilst not ideal, would keep the show moving.

Working remotely also helps from a logistical perspective, with many within the F1 circus having to change their travel plans for Australia to avoid travelling through Singapore.

The fewer people F1 takes to Australia without impacting their broadcasts, the better.

Human impact
Behind every motor sport broadcast that fans watch worldwide is a team of fantastic producers, directors, camera operators, floor assistants, the list goes on.

Some of those will be employed directly by the broadcasters they are working for; others will be freelance. As an example, a freelancer may work on a football match one weekend, a Grand Prix the next, and then tennis the weekend after to keep the income flowing in.

The moment one Grand Prix disappears is the moment a freelancer loses income. The situation becomes critical if organisers cancel multiple events in quick situation, exactly the situation we currently find ourselves in thanks to coronavirus.

This might sound like an exaggeration, but for many people inside and outside of broadcasting, this is their livelihood at stake, which looks to be uncertain in the immediate short-term future unless coronavirus rapidly disappears.

Whilst no one likes to see sporting events get cancelled, there is not only the financial impact from an organisational perspective, but also the financial impact from a personal perspective to bear in mind.

The Formula 1 season starts in just 10 days’ time, but whether F1 ends up racing in 10 days’ time, is anyone’s guess in an uncertain climate…


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Scheduling: The 2020 Qatar MotoGP

Update on March 4th at 20:40 – The article has been updated with the confirmed BT Sport schedule for the weekend. BT’s presenter Suzi Perry has confirmed on Twitter that BT are not sending any of their personnel out to Qatar for the race weekend, and that there will be no wrap-around presentation from their studios in London.

Commentary will still be provided however by BT’s Keith Huewen. In addition, the free-to-air highlights package will no longer air on Quest on Monday evening.

Update on Match 1st at 19:30 – the MotoGP race has been cancelled due to travel restrictions because of coronavirus. A revised schedule for Moto2 and Moto3 will be posted in due course.

Original article below

MotoGP heads to the Middle East for the first race of the 2020 season, as Marc Marquez looks to keep hold of the crown that he has held since 2016, in what MotoGP are billing as the start of a new era, on and off-air.

The coronavirus outbreak means that a question mark hangs over many sporting events currently, however, MotoGP’s governing bodies say that the Qatar race weekend will go ahead as scheduled.

All the action from Qatar takes place earlier in the day than previous years, with the MotoGP race itself taking place at 18:00 local time instead of 20:00 or 21:00 local time as before.

BT Sport continue as lead MotoGP broadcaster for UK fans, in what is their seventh year covering the sport.

Although the broadcaster has not formally announced their coverage plans for 2020, schedules show that fans should expect more of the same this year – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Suzi Perry continues in her role as presenter of BT’s output, alongside the likes of Gavin Emmett, Neil Hodgson, and Colin Edwards, whilst Keith Huewen remains BT’s lead MotoGP commentator.

Quest will air free-to-air highlights of the series on Monday evenings, as part of a two-year deal signed between themselves and Dorna prior to the 2019 season.

Fans watching MotoGP via any outlet next weekend will notice changes from the get-go to kickstart the new era, with Dorna rolling out a new brand identity for MotoGP across all platforms, including a new look for their on-air graphics package.

MotoGP – Qatar (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (£)
06/03 – 08:30 to 16:15 – Practice 1 and 2
06/03 – 10:00 to 12:15 – Practice 1
06/03 – 14:00 to 15:45 – Practice 2
07/03 – 08:30 to 16:15
=> 08:30 – Practice 3
=> 11:30 – Asia Talent Cup Race 1
=> 12:00 – Qualifying
07/03 – 09:45 to 11:45 – Practice 3
07/03 – 13:00 to 16:00
=> 13:00 – Asia Talent Cup Race 1
=> 14:00 – Qualifying
08/03 – 08:30 to 17:00
=> 08:30 – Asia Talent Cup Race 2
=> 09:30 – Warm Ups
=> 11:15 – Moto3
=> 13:00 – Moto2
=> 14:30 – MotoGP
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
08/03 – 10:00 to 11:15 – Warm Ups
08/03 – 11:45 to 12:45 – Asia Talent Cup Race 2
08/03 – 13:00 to 16:15
=> 13:00 – Moto3
=> 14:30 – Moto2

MotoGP – Qatar (Quest)
09/03 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

Next weekend’s schedule is subject to change, so keep an eye on the MotoGP website for any potential alterations to the event.


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Scheduling: The 2020 Mexico City E-Prix / Rally Sweden

Formula E heads north from Chile to Mexico, for round three of the 2019-20 season.

For UK viewers, the race takes place in prime-time hours, with the main event beginning at 22:00. As always, the action airs live across BBC’s digital platforms and Eurosport, with additional highlights airing on Discovery’s free-to-air channel Quest.

Meanwhile, BT Sport plays host to a depleted Sweden leg of the World Rally Championship, with half of the expected itinerary wiped due to unseasonably warm weather.

As a result, the Swedish rally now has 11 stages, but that could still change further, meaning that the scheduling details below could change further as the week unfolds.

Formula E – Mexico City
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying air live on YouTube
15/02 – Qualifying
=> 17:30 to 19:00 (BBC’s digital platforms)
=> 17:35 to 18:45 (Eurosport 2)
15/02 – Race
=> 22:00 to 23:00 (BBC’s digital platforms)
=> 21:55 to 23:00 (Eurosport 2)
16/02 – 06:00 to 07:00 – Highlights (Quest)

World Rally Championship – Sweden (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
13/02 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
=> 19:08 – Stage 1
14/02 – 05:45 to 15:30 – Stages 2 to 4 and Stage 8 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 07:42 – Stage 2
=> 09:08 – Stage 3
=> 10:00 – Stage 4
=> 14:00 – Stage 8
15/02 – 05:45 to 15:30 – Stages 5 to 7 and Stage 16 (BT Sport Extra 3)
=> 07:42 – Stage 5
=> 09:00 – Stage 6
=> 10:05 – Stage 7
=> 14:00 – Stage 16
16/02 – 07:45 to 12:45 – Stages 17 and 18 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 09:00 – Stage 17
=> 11:10 – Stage 18

World Rally Championship – Sweden
Live stage times on linear BT Sport channels to be confirmed
14/02 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
15/02 – 23:00 to 23:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 23:00 to 23:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
18/02 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

When further revised details about WRC’s Sweden coverage are confirmed for the weekend, this post will be updated.


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