Esports shine during motor racing’s real-world break

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Andrew Young looks at the virtual motor sport scene, after a flurry of events since the cancellation of real-world activities.

In keeping with Motorsport Broadcasting ethos of looking objectively at the broadcasting element of motorsport, I thought we would take some time to look at the virtual replacement and the offerings so far.

It has become increasingly confusing to know what to watch, when and why, as all things Esports and gaming floods the motor sport world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A history lesson…
Competitive, online racing is not new, and in fact has been around for over 20 years away from the eyes of the wider racing community. Take for instance, Grand Prix Legends, a fiercely difficult game released in 1998 which, internet permitting, you could race others around the world.

Widely considered the first adapters to the online gaming world, Live for Speed followed in 2003, with semi-professional races largely for the German community. The game provided the platform for the first-ever Intel Racing Tour offline series, a collaboration between BMW and Intel during their participation in F1 in 2007.

The biggest platforms, rFactor and iRacing, hit the market in 2005 and 2008 respectively, changing the game. rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa and RaceRoom all followed, with the specific purpose of racing online against others, unlike games that provided accessibility on consoles or computer-controlled competitors (AI), such as TOCA, F1 and Gran Turismo.

Sim competitions are as old as the games itself. Formula Sim Racing, running on rFactor 2 nowadays, crowned their first champion back in 2001, whilst iRacing organisers kickstarted their own World Championship in 2010.

Drivers form teams to help each other set cars up, or indeed run in endurance races where they can swap drivers. Some will simply be engineers, monitoring the rest of the race to decide on strategy and help the drivers or team do the best they can. At the highest level, it is as every bit as professional as the real world it has run in parallel with for so long.

Although some way behind the likes of Fortnite, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in the popularity stakes, online racing has gained momentum in recent years, thanks to an increase in broadcast quality led by the likes of the Gran Turismo Tour, helping bring sim racing into the mainstream fold.

Getting a group of people together to put on a race from a single venue is one thing, and as shiny and impressive as that may sound, COVID-19 has taken the organisation involved to another level. The pandemic has forced organisers to live stream competitions with racers from across the world. A very big challenge, but for some, the norm…

With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of real-world races, the pandemic is forcing fans and championships alike to delve deeper into this virtual world.

The Race gets off the line on top
First out of the blocks was new publication The Race. The outlet, backed by Torque Esports, reacted to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix by getting sim and real-world racers together on rFactor 2 (rF2).

So many real-world drivers and teams are familiar with the feel of rF2 (as used by teams) meaning that this was a wise choice by Torque. BBC’s 5 Live F1 commentary duo Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer flew straight in from Melbourne to add star quality to the broadcast and, despite commentating from “a stranger’s bedroom,” sounded as though they were on 5 Live.

The entry list pulled in Max Verstappen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Broadbent and the race coverage felt professional, with fantastic GFX and replays. Readers not versed in sim racing may wonder why I added ‘Jimmer’ to that list, but with 425,000 followers on YouTube, Jimmy is probably the most famous sim racer out there.

His numbers are staggering considering he only has made 1,500 videos, but Jimmy broadcasts fantastically well, which is the appeal of his channel in high-stake situations. His channel also offers a unique behind the scenes look, which Nicki Thiim and now famously Lando Norris both replicate. The ‘bloke in shed’ vibe gives Broadbent fantastic appeal and a second screen option which can be hugely addictive to watch.

While The Race totally nailed their first offering, Veloce Esports in comparison stumbled. The group replicated what so many people outside of sim racing believe sim racing to be, mates having a laugh with no care for professionalism.

This should have been the stream for F1 fans, but with the first 30 minutes littered with connection, sound, and picture issues, it was very much a miss. They may have had the numbers, thanks to Norris, Broadbent and randomly Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid footballer), and because they chose to use F1 (the business connections placed them on the F1 channels), but it was a mess.

We can excuse Veloce, while many of their individual athletes stream their online battles, this was a separate undertaking, but they did not have the equipment to cope and their ‘in-house’ presenting team struggled.

On the same weekend as all the above, iRacing eSports Network ran one of their special events ’12 hours of Sebring’ – a full replication of the famous event, a precursor to the actual race happening the weekend after.

iRacing broadcasts are stunning to watch, with immersive cameras, replays and GFX. At times however, the commentary suffers from inferior quality and, at high octane moments, a lack of discipline as to who reacts and leads the moment. Such is the number of events they do, and the commentators they have, the quality varies.

F1 joins the party with ‘Virtual Grand Prix’
One week later, IMSA streamed their Super Saturday offering, with the Radio Show Limited (better known as Radio Le Mans) commentary team at their disposal, a clear step up from previously. Having BMW Motorsport heavily promote and support it with real engineers working with real drivers helped a lot. The event was exclusive to IMSA competitors, which helped the immersion.

The Race stepped up as well. A studio to show Nicholls’ and Palmer’s faces made it feel super slick and additional real-world drivers took part. Oddly, Verstappen withdrew late on, and a lack of buzz meant that audience figures were down, even if the product was more refined.

Nicholls also popped up again on F1’s official first attempt at filling the void, with their Virtual Grand Prix, partnering Alex Jacques on commentary. Veloce’s event preceded F1’s, in the same way Formula Two precedes F1 in real-life: same track, bigger stars.

The quality of racing in the Virtual Grand Prix fell into two camps: entertaining, or a joke. To take online racing seriously you first need the participants to take it seriously and Johnny Herbert cutting the first corner set the tone for a chaotic race comparable to Destruction Derby.

Unfortunately, the one-dimensional commentary worked as much as it did not, and similarly incorporating shots of the drivers in their rigs gave a small flavour of where some of the guys were situated, although it was out-of-sync. With the largest audience by far, F1 failed to impress on the big stage.

If the first two weekends were busy, the third weekend proved that oversaturation could hit Esports sooner than imagined. IndyCar, MotoGP, NASCAR, and SRO joined Veloce, F1 and The Race on the Esports stage, all trying to get a slice of the (smaller than real-life racing) pie.

The Race introduced a Legends event, in old cars, which was genius, just ask Jimmer who has been doing this for a while on his channel. Unfortunately, social isolation forced Nicholls and Palmer to commentate on the races from their own houses, which created minor technical issues. The pace of the broadcast resulted in a lot of studio chat, both pre-races and in between the heats.

The introduction of Esports personality Sadokist was a welcome addition, although the quality of the direction decreased compared to previous weeks. It just felt like everyone cared a little bit less, with this The Race’s third event in successive weeks.

Veloce switched to iRacing from F1 for the first time. Their partnership with sim racing experts Motorsport Games helped them understand other platforms, also replacing some of the ‘Veloce Athletes’ with a field of real-world racers. The on-screen line-up remained the same as previous weeks, meaning that, even with The Race’s own issues, Veloce’s product was still not as polished as The Race.

IndyCar shows all how to master the game…
A new king soon emerged in the form of IndyCar: a full grid of real-world drivers, combined with an awesome broadcast made for a great night of entertainment. NASCAR did the same the previous week, also on iRacing, but was unavailable to this writer.

IndyCar’s broadcast felt realistic to real-life: the same commentary line-up, a pre-race prayer and national anthem, and within eight minutes, the cars were off the line.

Lead commentator Leigh Diffey and the remainder of the crew treated sim racing with respect rather than a second-tier inferior product. On-screen interviews with retired drivers featured throughout, a nice addition to the broadcast.

It did not go quite as far as NASCAR showing drivers in their rigs, but ultimately it felt like a very slick production, one thinks F1 could learn a lot from the iRacing broadcasts. iRacing has benefited hugely in the US with both NASCAR and IndyCar Esports airing on linear TV.

SRO was next to step-up, using the visually stunning Assetto Corsa Competizione. Turn away, and it would be easy to think that you were watching a real event at Monza. It looked stunning. The racing was spellbinding and, coupled with the graphics, was immersive, but without the basics (such as replays), some of the storytelling disappeared.

…only to go live behind a pay wall one week later
After a successful opening weekend, IndyCar returned one week later at the start of April live on NBC for fans in the US and Sky Sports for fans in the UK. However, there was no live YouTube stream in sight, instead, IndyCar only uploaded a stream post-race to their social channels (see above).

VLN and the Porsche Supercup entered the fray to kickstart April, the latter aired on Eurosport, a first for sim racing. Both broadcasts were professional and clean, following the same iRacing model of broadcast.

The Race once again did their thing, needing to tweak the format due to competitor numbers, as well as getting some great competitors on-board. The addition of a proper functioning ‘on-board’ camera in Jenson Button’s house a treat. The Race refined their post-race visual interviews, however their numbers were again poor, by far their lowest of the four weekends so far.

Guess where the most entertainment came from? Testing! Yup, Saturday evening entertainment was joining 140,000 others with Jimmy Broadbent in a practice lobby with six Formula 1 drivers practicing in the virtual world, all having banter and a laugh with one another. “Can we just do this race on our own, it would be way more fun,” was one quote from Red Bull racer Alex Albon.

The F1 stream increased in quality massively compared to the first outing two weeks earlier, with more real-world drivers involved and much better wheel-to-wheel racing. However, continuing to host on-site from their Fulham studios with Alex Jacques, Jack Nicholls, Tom Deacon and Matt Gallagher is an extremely poor decision considering the lockdown restrictions currently in force in the UK.

Although Charles Leclerc winning generated some good PR, the evening was not without its faults. The F1 2019 game kicked Norris out before the race even started, leading to an amusing phone call from Verstappen, broadcast over Norris’s Twitch stream. “You should throw the game in the bin, that’s why I will never join that,” Verstappen said to Norris. Ouch…

With COVID-19 expected to last a while and F1 toying with cancelling July events, Esports is our new norm, for the moment, and providing us all with a lot of entertainment in this difficult hour. Here is hoping we don’t get overwhelmed by it all just yet…

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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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News round-up: F1 overtakes MotoGP on Instagram; BBC to air Extreme E

In the coronavirus-free round-up, Formula 1 jumps ahead of MotoGP in the Instagram stakes, whilst the BBC have increased their motor sport portfolio with the acquisition of another electric series.

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All of the round-ups to date can be found here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1 – contractual arrangements

  • Austria – Red Bull broadcaster Servus TV is looking to snatch television rights off ORF when the latter’s contract with F1 expires at the end of 2020, according to an article on the Osterreich website.
    • Osterreich expects an announcement following this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
  • Canada – F1 will continue to air on TSN and RDS after the parties agreed a new deal until the end of the 2024 season.
    • As part of the new deal, fans can access additional feeds via the TSN and RDS app. F1 says that last year was the most-watched season ever on TSN, which coverage reaching “nearly 5.3 million Canadian viewers” across the two networks.
    • It should be noted that Canadian fans can also watch F1 live through F1’s over-the-top service F1 TV Pro.
  • Portugal – Eleven Sports has created an annual pass to allow motor sport fans to watch all of their motor sport content, as well as other sports.
    • The pass covers Formula 1, their feeder championships Formula Two and Formula Three, as well as the Porsche Supercup and TCR touring car series.
    • The pass costs Portuguese fans just €49.99 across the year, or €4.17 per month. In UK pounds, that works out at £43.79 across the year, or £3.65 per month.
  • USA – Mothers Polish will continue to sponsor ESPN’s coverage of Formula 1 until the end of 2022, meaning that American viewers can continue to enjoy F1 without commercial breaks.
    • As in 2018 and 2019, ESPN will take Sky Sports F1’s UK offering this season, extended in length on race day because of Sky’s own scheduling changes for UK fans.

Formula 1 – other news

  • Over on social media, Formula 1 is now the most popular series on Instagram in terms of the number of followers, overtaking MotoGP towards the end of February. F1 now has 9.00 million followers, whilst the bike series has 8.90 million followers.
  • There was recognition for three familiar faces in the broadcasting world at the 2019 British Sports Journalism Awards, held last month.
    • Channel 4’s F1 presenter Steve Jones won the award for Sports Presenter of the Year.
    • F1 commentator Alex Jacques received the Silver Award for the Broadcast Ones to Watch (on-air).
    • Former presenter of ITV’s F1 coverage Jim Rosenthal received the Doug Gardner Award for Services to Sports Journalism and the SJA. Writing on Twitter, Rosenthal said he “never saw it coming,” and that he was “blown away by the reaction.”
  • F1 are relaunching their official F1 magazine after a 16-year hiatus. The first iteration of the magazine closed in 2004, but is now being relaunched by owners Liberty Media, with ex-associate editor of F1 Racing magazine James Roberts at the helm.
    • The magazine brings together a range of motor racing correspondents including Rebecca Clancy (The Times) and Giles Richards (The Guardian), as well as Oliver Owen (previously The Observer).
    • The magazine aims to offer “unrivalled access to the heroes of the sport, with in-depth interviews, exclusives, strong opinion and intelligent summaries.”
    • An interesting sub-plot to this is that Lifestyle Media House Limited are publishers of the new magazine. Lifestyle Media were originally meant to be purchasing F1 Racing magazine off Motorsport Network. That deal fell through, and coincidentally, Motorsport Network have since renamed F1 Racing magazine to GP Racing. Read into that what you will…
  • Alex Brundle is to join Alex Jacques in the Formula Two commentary box for five weekends this season, he has announced.
    • Writing on his Twitter, Brundle says he will partner Jacques for the Bahrain, Dutch, Belgium, Russian and Abu Dhabi rounds this year.

Elsewhere…

  • The BBC is to air live coverage of the new Extreme E series in a “multi-year deal.” The series, which begins in January 2021 sees all-electric SUV cars compete in remote locations around the world.
    • Ali Russell, Extreme E’s chief marketing officer, said: “The UK has an insatiable appetite for world-class motor racing and a groundswell of backing for sustainable technologies – particularly pertinent given the government’s plans to bring forward the transition to fully-electric motoring to 2035.”
  • James Hinchcliffe is to join NBC’s on-air team for their coverage of the IndyCar Series this year. Hinchcliffe will commentate on ten races this season, the first of which is this weekend in St Petersburg.
  • A new look and feel greeted MotoGP fans over the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, with a new graphics set.
    • Keep an eye on Motorsport Broadcasting over forthcoming weeks for in-depth analysis on the new package.
    • Also on the MotoGP front, the series has teamed up with Facebook, bringing exclusive content to the social media platform. MotoGP says that there will be “original and exclusive” content available on Facebook Watch, and will be between “three and seven minutes in length.”
  • The recent series of Top Gear featured an excellent 20-minute segment celebrating 25 years since Colin McRae won the World Rally Championship in his Subaru Impreza 555.
    • The segment is available to watch on BBC iPlayer here until March 2021.
  • Sky Sports F1 is to air highlights of the inaugural Ultimate Karting Championship. The series kicks off in April, with Jake Sanson providing commentary on the seven events.
  • Paul O’Neill will no longer be part of ITV Sport’s BTCC “Social Saturdays” segments across social media, he has confirmed.
    • The segments, which were uploaded to ITV Motorsport’s Facebook and Twitter channels, saw O’Neill roam the paddock, bringing fans closer to the sport prior to the main event on Sunday.
    • It is unclear if the social segments are continuing with a different host, or if ITV and TOCA have dropped the segment for 2020.

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that is worth a mention, drop a line in the comments section below.


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

Free-to-air is “the right way forward” for the electric Formula E championship in the short to medium-term, according to one of the leading figures in the series.

This weekend, the Marrakesh E-Prix airs live on free-to-air television for fans in the UK on BBC Two, with presenter Jennie Gow reporting live on-site for the first time.

Only one other race has aired live on BBC’s linear television channels before now: the Hong Kong E-Prix in March 2019, where Gow presented live from their studios in Salford.

Since its inception in 2014, Formula E has struggled to find a stable home, moving from one free-to-air station to another in relatively quick succession.

The series started life on ITV4 for Formula E’s first two seasons, before moving to Channel 5 for a further two seasons. The series landed on the BBC for the start of season five in December 2018.

However, the potential for more money has not tempted organisers to move the championship exclusively to pay television.

And speaking exclusively to Motorsport Broadcasting ahead of the E-Prix this weekend, Formula E’s Head of Content Sebastian Tiffert believes that free-to-air remains is the way forward for the championship.

“I think wherever we have the largest audience is the right way forward, and you still get that through free-to-air broadcasters, and this is where we want to see Formula E in the future,” Tiffert said.

“Having the Marrakesh E-Prix on BBC Two is great, because we’re bring the race to a wider audience. We hope fans get excited [by what they see] because we believe we have a fantastic racing product with a lot of action on-track involving great drivers and great teams.”

“What the future holds I don’t know, but I think in the short to mid-term, free-to-air broadcasters and big broadcasters are the way forward for us,” he added.

Content teams realigned within Formula E’s structure
Tiffert joined Formula E last September, following a 14-year stint at Eurosport. Whilst at Eurosport, Tiffert moved through the ranks, to eventually becoming their Global Director of Motorsports before joining Formula E.

One of the main changes behind the scenes in recent months at Formula E has involved their content teams, which have all been centralised into one division under the leadership of Tiffert.

“Previously, we had the content team divided between broadcast, social media, and website platforms in different departments across Formula E, we have now centralised into a proper content team for the first time,” Tiffert told Motorsport Broadcasting during a wide-ranging conversation.

“We’ve regrouped under one roof, everything from broadcast to digital (meaning website and app content) and the social media content.”

“The analogy I always use is that we don’t want to tell ten different stories; we’d rather tell the same story, but in ten different ways depending on who we’re talking to.”

“There was the same look and feel I believe before, but you didn’t have everyone sitting together, making sure everybody was going down the same storyline. Sometimes one platform misses a story for one reason or another. The important thing now is that TV is working with social, social is working with TV, for each other, on the same story.”


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A new decade, a new name: reviewing the motor sport journalism landscape

The start of the 2020 motor racing season sees a new name enter the starting grid in the journalism world, following a winter of change for many involved in the sector.

Just how much has the scene changed in the off-season, and what can we expect to see moving forward? Motorsport Broadcasting looks at what 2020 has to offer…

The Race enters the market…
Part of the Torque Esports Group, The Race intends to shake up motor sport journalism with its offering this year across five different content strands (Formula 1, MotoGP, IndyCar, Formula E and E-Sports).

Led by Andrew van de Burgt and Glenn Freeman under the watch of Darren Cox, the trio have brought Edd Straw, Matt Beer and Scott Mitchell in from Autosport to front their F1 offering.

In addition, Sam Smith leads their Formula E coverage, whilst ex-MCN Sport correspondent Simon Patterson leads their MotoGP reporting.

Other familiar names, such as ex-F1 technical director Gary Anderson and broadcaster Toby Moody also shape The Race’s coverage this season.

Limiting The Race’s remit to five pillars to begin with is a good idea in my view. I am always of the viewpoint that it is better to cover several topics brilliantly, rather than many topics shoddily. Let the readers, and the underlying data points, tell you where to go for the next step of your journey.

The Race has followed in The Athletic’s footsteps by bringing in established names from elsewhere in the hope of hooking fans onto their product.

Crucially, I understand that The Race, unlike The Athletic, will remain free for fans to consume, which should allow them to build a solid foundation to begin with.

The way the site covered Haas’ F1 launch was a positive early sign, with plenty of analysis across their platforms.

Websites - The Race.png
The Race’s website homepage as of February 15th, 2020.

Personally, I hope the site does not report day-to-day chatter in substantial detail, otherwise the analytical pieces may be less noticeable amongst the noise.

One might argue that The Race should not run live text feeds for example, instead using that resource to produce distinctive content – otherwise the brand may end up in an identity crisis: trying to be different, but keeping it same-y in tandem.

…presenting opportunity for journalists, young and old…
The Race’s arrival on the scene has created opportunity for a new generation of talent elsewhere.

Respected motor sport journalist Luke Smith arrives into the Motorsport Network fold at Autosport from Crash Media Group, whilst Alex Kalinauckas moves up to join Smith in the F1 paddock this year.

Kalinauckas’ exit from the Formula E paddock means Matt Kew moves into the vacancy left by Kalinauckas.

Unfortunately for the Richmond-based outlet, the exits have not slowed down recently, with Autosport.com international editor Jack Benyon the most recent to announce his departure.

Irrespective of your viewpoint on the wider Motorsport Network decision making, it is imperative for the future of Autosport that they stem the flow quickly, bringing back a sense of stability which they lost late last year.

Can Autosport bounce back? Yes. Will Autosport bounce back? The verdict is out, but I really hope it does. It is important for motor sport journalism that The Race succeeds, however it is equally important that Autosport remains in its current form.

More opportunities for budding journalists can only be a good thing, as the three vacancies that Autosport currently have online show (here, here, and here).

For all the talk about The Race over the past few weeks, it is Autosport that has the brand name and a large following attached to it that The Race does not yet possess, which is to be expected when comparing a start-up with a 70-year old brand.

That helps when you look at this from a search engine perspective rather than a social media perspective: the bigger reach of Autosport will undoubtedly help them compared with The Race in the short to medium-term.

Websites - Autosport.png
Autosport’s website homepage as of February 15th, 2020.

Alongside Autosport is Motorsport.com under the Motorsport Network banner, where the likes of Jonathan Noble remain.

…whilst some try to break into the upper echelons…
The Race’s competition is not just Motorsport Network, and to think that is a foolish statement to make.

The likes of Crash Media Group, RaceFans and Motorsport Week are all trying to break into Motorsport Network’s monopoly, some succeeding more than others.

Outside of F1, there are websites that specialise in other forms of motor sport.

Most recently, Inside Electric has established itself as an independent Formula E website, whilst DirtFish has expanded on its World Rally Championship offering, taking esteemed journalist David Evans with them in the process.

Number of followers on Twitter as of February 15th
323k – Autosport (Feb 2009)
152k – WTF1 (Nov 2019)
139k – Motorsport.com (Apr 2009)
98k – RaceFans (Feb 2008)
60k – Motor Sport Magazine (Mar 2009)
34k – Motorsport Week (Mar 2009)
34k – Crash.net (Jan 2009)
15k – Touring Car Times (Jul 2009)
14k – Motorsport Broadcasting (Feb 2012)
12k – DirtFish (Dec 2010)
10k – The Race (Jan 2020)
10k – Dailysportscar News (Jun 2015)
4k – e-racing.net (Mar 2014)
4k – e-racing365 (Oct 2016)
1k – Inside Electric (Sep 2019)

There are only a limited number of hours in the day, and there is a limited pool of passionate motor sport fans, so The Race’s arrival is likely to negatively impact the above sites in my opinion. How quickly The Race grows will dictate the impact it has elsewhere.

If you are a site which has small profit margins, a difference of 5 to 10 percent in your audience year-on-year could be the difference between another year online or closure.

Whilst The Race may succeed in driving up the quality of motor sport journalism, there could (regrettably) be casualties elsewhere. However, sites should only feel threatened by the emergence of The Race if they themselves fear extinction in the first place.

In just over a month, The Race has amassed 10,000 followers on Twitter. In isolation, the figure is relatively small, but consider that the likes of Crash.net and Motorsport Week have 34,000 followers built up over a ten-year period!

That is not a dig at either site, merely a reflection on why The Race opted to bring in the people they did instead of plucking for unknown talent.

Websites - WTF1.png
WTF1’s website homepage as of February 15th, 2020.

It would be amiss to not mention F1 themselves, who have in-house journalists working for their website. Yes, F1 competing against journalists that they accredit to their own events. No, that is not a mistake, nor a typo…

…and others exist to entertain
One name referenced above is WTF1, which Dennis Publishing acquired last year.

WTF1 may exist primarily to entertain rather than to break news stories, however, the site now regularly reports news to a much younger audience thanks to the brand that the team have built over the past ten years.

Arguably, WTF1 is a bigger brand to the younger generation of motor sport fans than what Autosport currently is.

Despite scooping the exclusive story with the Haas livery unveil, WTF1 received far more engagement across social media than The Race, thanks to their loyal audience.

If The Race wants to be a successful player in the long-term and become an attractive proposition to potential future buyers outside of the Torque stable, it needs to establish a middle ground between Motorsport Network’s audience base (Autosport / Motorsport) and WTF1.

How it does that is not an easy task given that The Race wants to give readers a more analytical view of the world. Although they exist on opposite ends of the Richter scale, both entities have an interest in the Esports space, which may present opportunities further down the line.

One thing is for certain: the future is all to play for…


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