It is fair to say that the biggest news heading into 2014 was the announcement that BT Sport would be broadcasting MotoGP, along with feeder series’ Moto2 and Moto3, exclusively live, ending BBC’s and British Eurosport’s commitment to the sport. The move was controversial for several reasons, as has been discussed before on this blog.
The first half of 2014 has not been the smoothest for BT, however is filled with both positive and negatives. Starting off with the positives, I think we can all agree that BT Sport’s coverage is in general the most expansive that any broadcaster has ever provided to UK viewers. From classic MotoGP races, to Moto3 practice and onto MotoGP Tonight on the Tuesday following the race, the channel has it covered. Admittedly, the weekend coverage is not too different to what Eurosport provided before them aside from the fact that BT are providing a bit more ‘colour’ to the coverage. Strangely, the one thing that they don’t cover is the warm-ups for all three classes, but apart from that, they show every other session live. Alongside this, the channel has also produced documentaries, such as the Mike Hailwood documentary that aired a few months back, to positive praise from those in the motorcycling world.
One other positive from me has to be the commentary line-up of Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder. I did admit back in February to being sceptical to Huewen being brought back into the fold, especially as it meant that they chose not to go for Toby Moody. In a poll on this site before the start of the year, results were mixed in relation to BT’s team: only 10 percent of readers thought the line-up was good with nearly 50 percent disappointed in the line-up. However, I’ve been happy with the commentary team, and they have been a joy to listen to throughout the first half of 2014, Huewen quickly settling back in I feel. That’s not to say that they were right to make the change, but at least it has not backfired on them. I’ve enjoyed too the contributions of Matt Birt and Gavin Emmett, BT definitely made the right decision in bringing both men on board.
Whilst there have been some aspects that BT Sport have got right, there are very well publicised negatives, which the poll before the start of the season appears to foreshadow. If I’m going to review the coverage objectively, then I cannot sweep the terrible decision making of who they appointed as presenter under the mat. On February 14th, the channel announced Melanie Sykes as their MotoGP presenter, a move which surprised many at the time. It was clear early on that Sykes was out of her depth, and not suited to presenting live sport. Why BT chose Sykes as their presenter is anyone’s guess. After four rounds, the two parties posted company. Whether it was to do with her personal issues or not, we will never know (although she has since presented several weeks worth of Let’s Do Lunch on ITV, a live daytime programme), but either way I think we can say that this was BT’s biggest mistake of the season so far. Why did they hire a presenter who had no experience presenting live sport? Apparently Sykes was supposed to bring a new audience to MotoGP, obviously that never happened.
Since then, Craig Doyle and Abi Griffiths, their rugby and Motorsport Tonight presenters respectively, have taken over presenting duties. What is unclear is whether Sykes’s departure has had any knock on effect. Qatar aside, every race has had some studio presence. Was that the intention from the get-go? If so, one has to consider if going down this route was a second mistake from BT Sport. Jake Humphrey, BT Sport’s lead football presenter and former BBC F1 presenter blogged this week, and noted that “This job is all about being at the centre of the story, which is where the real thrill lies with being a sports broadcaster. It’s why I always press to be next to the pitch, track or court when I’m working. For me, studios can’t convey an atmosphere the same.” The same applies for MotoGP.
The picture a few paragraphs up show the balcony position that BT Sport used in Qatar. It was unique. It was different. It was something that neither BBC and Sky had used before in their Formula 1 coverage. So why did it disappear after Qatar? Again, maybe it was the intention for Qatar to be the only race fully on site (along with potentially Britain and Valencia, we shall see), but it seems like a completely wasted opportunity. The balcony position could have been fantastic at showing off the atmosphere in places like Barcelona and Mugello where grandstands are rammed on race day. I assume BT Sport will be looking for a permanent MotoGP presenter for 2015 onwards, and, as they’ve done with the Premier League coverage for this season, hopefully the coverage in 2015 will be fully on-site. What they are currently doing on-site is great, it just needs a fully uniformed approach, with the studio aspects being removed from their live coverage.
As the motto goes, “you learn from your mistakes”, and I hope BT Sport learn from what has gone wrong with the MotoGP coverage so far as we head into the latter stages of the year.