Live MotoGP will return to free-to-air television in the UK this season, Motorsport Broadcasting can exclusively confirm.
ITV, which currently airs highlights of every MotoGP race on ITV4, will air live race day coverage from two rounds in 2021.
The first, from Le Mans on Sunday 16th May, will see ITV4 air all three classes, Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP itself live from 09:45 to 14:10.
In addition, the British MotoGP round, currently scheduled for Sunday 29th August, will air live on ITV’s main channel.
ITV will take MotoGP’s World Feed offering for their live coverage, with Steve Day and Matt Birt on commentary, and Simon Crafar down in pit lane.
It is the first time that MotoGP has aired live on free-to-air television since the BBC’s coverage ended following the 2013 season, and the first time ever that MotoGP has aired live on one of ITV’s television channels.
Since then, coverage has aired exclusively live on pay TV outlet BT Sport, with free-to-air highlights switching between ITV4, Channel 5 and Quest over the years.
Motorsport Broadcasting has reached out to ITV for comment.
A surprising development…
The news that live coverage of MotoGP is heading to ITV and ITV4 caught many fans off guard, as well as this writer, but as they say, everything happens for a reason.
As mentioned, BT Sport have aired live coverage of MotoGP since 2014, and while there is no doubt that their coverage is excellent, audience figures have not changed in the 7 years since.
According to audience data from BARB, around 200,000 viewers tune in to each MotoGP race on BT, fluctuating between 150,000 and 250,00 viewers depending on the competition.
An average of 236,000 viewers tuned in to watch Ducati’s Jack Miller win in Jerez on Sunday 2nd May on BT Sport 2, the race likely peaking with around 300,000 viewers.
Outside of live Premier League and UFA Champions League football, BT’s MotoGP audience was their biggest during that week across their portfolio of channels.
BT’s figures are more impressive when you consider that there are no British riders on the grid for the first time since 2010, with neither Bradley Smith or Cal Crutchlow competing this year.
So, why bring ITV into the live fold now? Clearly MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna believe that BT’s audience is extremely loyal, and unlikely to drop if a handful of races air on ITV or ITV4. They have 7 years of audience evidence to back up that point.
However, Dorna also have the same data to prove that airing live on BT alone is not going to bring long-term audience growth to the UK market. If anything, BT’s audience is stagnant, and needs a refresh.
While we can debate all day whether Formula 1 moving to Sky has harmed the sport in the long-term, what we cannot argue is that F1’s audiences on Sky are increasing, and the evidence to support that statement is clear.
…and one that may benefit BT’s MotoGP coverage
What Dorna will be hoping for is that, by airing some races live on ITV or ITV4 in a much more attractive EPG slot, BT’s audience figures for the remaining races will benefit indirectly, helping to bring a fresher, potentially younger, audience to the BT product.
ITV can promote live MotoGP round their other motor sport programming, such as the British Touring Car Championship, which will only help. At this stage though, we are only talking about two race days airing free-to-air live, the picture for 2022 and beyond is unknown.
Some of you may be wondering how ITV or ITV4 are able to air the series live when BT Sport’s contract with Dorna is for ‘exclusively live’ coverage of MotoGP.
One industry insider has suggested that BT’s deal with Dorna only covers exclusivity across the pay TV spectrum.
In other words, no other pay TV broadcaster can air MotoGP live, but a free-to-air broadcaster could if Dorna offered the rights package out.
It is not in Dorna’s interest to do the latter on a full season basis, because it devalues the existing BT contract, and would inevitably result in BT walking away from the sport.
At the end of the day, BT brings a lot of money into the MotoGP paddock, and Dorna will want to keep them ‘on side’ throughout this whole process.
So, while a handful of races may air live on free-to-air television moving forward (if this is indeed part of a new strategy from Dorna), do not expect every race to suddenly air live, free-to-air.
BT are in MotoGP for the long haul: they recently extended their contract to cover MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season.
But this development is a welcome one for MotoGP fans as Dorna looks to expand the reach of the sport through both traditional and over-the-top methods moving forward.
Updated on May 14th to reflect the fact that the British Grand Prix will air on ITV and not ITV4.
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