Who’s hot, who’s not? Reviewing 2020’s social media metrics

Each race weekend, teams, drivers and riders battle for points and prizes, with the aim of reaching the top of the mountain in their respective series.

Underpinning each entity is a social media team. For the likes of Formula 1 or MotoGP, the social media team may be a genuine business unit. For smaller championships, it may be a single person running the show.

The objective in all cases remains the same: to drive engagement on their social media channels, turning casual fans into passionate fans which, hopefully for the entity in question, turns into a profit further down the line when the fan begins to purchase their products.

Motorsport Broadcasting is an independent website without big backers, and therefore relies on trackable information already in the public domain, such as the number of followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Whilst this may not show who has engaged with individual posts, what it does help to show is who is attracting a newer, fresher fanbase to their platform, therefore becoming more marketable to their team or stakeholders around them or, alternatively, who is struggling to hit the mark.

A note of caution on Facebook: the platform is removing the ability to ‘like’ pages, instead only allowing users to ‘follow’ pages. Facebook notes that the update will “simplify the way people connect with their favourite Pages.”

“Unlike Likes, Followers of a Page represent the people who can receive updates from Pages, which helps give public figures a stronger indication of their fan base,” Facebook adds. This does mean some figures in this piece have increased slightly more than previously.

Championships

Motorsport Broadcasting compares social media data from 15 different championships, from Formula 1 to the new W Series. 2020 was disruptive for those hoping to grow their following, with most series inactive from March to July.

Some ventured down the Esports route to keep fans engaged during last year’s lockdown before the action restarted. Two championships suffered the most because of COVID: the electric Formula E series and the W Series.

Formula E hosted their final 6 races across 9 days in August, whilst W Series cancelled their second season owing to the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the W Series increased its following from 110,000 fans to 154,000 fans, the series no doubt hoping to capitalise on their presence during F1 weekends in 2021. Meanwhile, Formula E’s portfolio grew from 2.44 million fans to 2.63 million fans across 2020, an increase of just 7.7%.

After a period in 2018 where Formula E’s following was rising sharply, the electric series has seen its growth stall in comparison to other series. Whilst COVID has halted any momentum the series had; the reality is that Formula E’s social media platforms have been struggling since early 2019.

In April 2019, 2.19 million fans hooked onto their platforms, meaning that Formula E has only gained half a million fans on social media across the past 22 months.

Whilst Formula E’s slowdown is somewhat explainable, IndyCar’s stagnation cannot. The American series grew its following by just 20,000 fans during 2020, despite holding an Esports series which garnered worldwide attention, followed by a successful 14 race calendar.

Formula 2 continued its social media rise during 2020, doubling its reach from 536,000 followers to an excellent 1.12 million followers.

With Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott both moving on, however, it is difficult to envisage Formula 2 continuing such strong growth during 2021.

Something that, in my view, will likely play against Formula 2 this season is the new championship structure, as the feeder series alternates its slot on the F1 calendar with Formula 3.

If Formula 2 continues to grow strongly during 2021, then it is possible F2 could overtake IndyCar in the social media pecking order later this year.

Out in front, F1 and MotoGP continued to surge unaffected by COVID during 2020, both quickly heading towards 30 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram combined.

F1 teams

1st on track, and 1st in the socials. 2020 was a success on and off track for Mercedes, as they continued to increase their lead over Red Bull in the social media stakes.

Mercedes’ advantage on social media is reflective of their openness across their social media platforms.

Despite Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas being their main players on-track, it is technical director James Allison who plays a key role in Mercedes’ digital output. Allison explains in clear detail the design decisions that his team make during each Grand Prix season, helping put Mercedes a step ahead of the rest both on and off-track.

Whilst Red Bull’s portfolio is still growing strong, arguably the Milton Keynes outfit has slipped back in recent times – a slip that we can trace back to Daniel Ricciardo’s departure at the end of 2018.

Statistics compiled by Motorsport Broadcasting show that Red Bull consistently recorded the strongest growth of any F1 team between 2015 and 2018, but has now not only slipped behind Mercedes, but also Ferrari and McLaren.

And, despite Ricciardo not being in a race winning car at Renault / Alpine, his growth on social media during 2020 was still bigger than his former team-mate Max Verstappen (see the chart below), showing how popular he is amongst the motor sport fan base.

Has Red Bull’s revolving second seat turned potential new fans off the team? Of course, we should note that Red Bull still has a combined 18 million followers across the three major social media platforms, an excellent number and only behind the black cars.

Red Bull’s figures will be one to watch this season as Sergio Perez brings his Mexican contingent with him from Racing Point, now rebranded as Aston Martin.

Fuelled by Perez’s shock win in Bahrain, Aston Martin ended up best of the rest on social media in 2020, meaning that they are highly likely to overtake both AlphaTauri and Williams in total followers as 2021 gets underway.

Both Ferrari and McLaren maintained strong growth despite their on-track misfortune in recent years (although the latter is now firmly on the road to recovery), showing how important it is to have a strong brand name behind you during tough times.

F1 drivers

If social media was a championship, then Hamilton, Ricciardo and McLaren’s Lando Norris were 2020’s winners.

The gulf between Hamilton and the rest of the F1 continues to get larger and larger, as Hamilton’s activism off the circuit cuts through to a wider audience that transcends the sporting world.

Hamilton’s combined social media following of 33 million fans is over 4 times the next best in F1, with Ricciardo in 2nd on a combined 7.56 million followers. On Instagram alone, Hamilton has 21.6 million followers, the highest for any motor sport driver by some margin.

Behind Hamilton and Ricciardo, 2020 was the year of the Twitchers, with Norris, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell all reaping the rewards, building a strong following during the first lockdown in spring.

Norris attracted further attention during the lockdown by participating in IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge, even if it did not necessarily help the latter in the social media standings.

Russell’s growth was one of the strongest during 2020. Helped by his Mercedes drive in Sakhir, his following surged from 551,000 fans at the end of 2019 to 2.55 million fans across the three main social platforms, a rise of 362% in 14 months!

To put that into context, current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas grew his following by just 841,000 fans, considerably lower than his Twitch counterparts, including Alex Albon. If this was a qualifying session, both Bottas and Albon would be out in Q2.

The figures show how important the UK territory is to Formula 1, with 3 of the top 6 ‘growers’ during 2020 consisting of the British contingent.

In addition to the Grand Prix field, Motorsport Broadcasting also tracked Mick Schumacher’s following through his second season in Formula 2.

Schumacher’s growth across the year is remarkable for a driver who was, at that point, in the feeder series, reflecting the name and the weight that he carries on his shoulders with him into F1.

The 2021 season, for both MotoGP and F1, begins on Sunday 28th March, with live coverage of F1 testing beginning of Friday 12th March.

Coverage of testing for UK viewers airs live on Sky Sports F1, with coverage also available via F1 TV Pro for those territories with access to the series.

All the figures above compare the number of followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram between November 29th, 2019 and January 30th, 2021, therefore encompassing the whole of the 2020 motor racing season.

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Scheduling: The 2020 Eifel Grand Prix

Formula 1 returns to the Nürburgring for the first time in seven years this weekend, for the inaugural Eifel Grand Prix!

Live coverage of the race weekend airs on Sky Sports with Ted Kravitz and Simon Lazenby re-joining the team. It is unclear if Martin Brundle is also back with the line-up as of writing.

Elsewhere, with Triumph’s visitor experience centre in Hinkley reopening to the public, BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage is moving.

The crew are relocating to the BT Tower in central London for the remainder of 2020.

The main races for F1 and MotoGP this weekend both begin an hour earlier. F1’s change is driven by the earlier sunset times as the European season concludes later than usual, dictating a change for MotoGP to avoid a head to head clash.

Channel 4 F1
10/10 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying Highlights
11/10 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
09/10 – 09:30 to 11:50
=> 09:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 10:00 – Practice 1
09/10 – 13:45 to 15:45 – Practice 2
10/10 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
10/10 – 13:00 to 15:35 – Qualifying
11/10 – 11:30 to 16:30 – Race
=> 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:05 – Race
=> 15:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 16:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
09/10 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far
09/10 – 17:00 to 18:30 – F1 Pro Series Draft
10/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Race to Perfection
14/10 – 19:30 to 21:00 – F1 Pro Series Race 1 and 2
14/10 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief
15/10 – 19:30 to 21:00 – F1 Pro Series Race 3

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
09/10 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
09/10 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
10/10 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/10 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race Updates (BBC Radio 5 Live)

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

MotoGP – France (Quest)
12/10 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

British Touring Car Championship – Croft (ITV4)
11/10 – 11:30 to 18:05 – Races

World Rally Championship – Italy (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
09/10 – 06:45 to 16:45 – Stages 1 to 6 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 06:50 – Stage 1
=> 07:44 – Stage 2
=> 09:40 – Stage 3
=> 10:34 – Stage 4
=> 15:14 – Stage 5
=> 15:59 – Stage 6
10/10 – 06:00 to 17:45 – Stages 7 to 12 (BT Sport Extra 3)
=> 06:38 – Stage 7
=> 07:30 – Stage 8
=> 09:07 – Stage 9
=> 10:00 – Stage 10
=> 15:00 – Stage 11
=> 16:02 – Stage 12
11/10 – 06:15 to 12:45 – Stages 13 to 16 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 07:15 – Stage 13
=> 08:00 – Stage 14
=> 10:10 – Stage 15
=> 11:00 – Stage 16

World Rally Championship – Italy
10/10 – 00:30 to 01:00 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
10/10 – 07:30 to 08:30 – Stage 8 (BT Sport 3)
10/10 – 10:00 to 11:00 – Stage 10 (BT Sport 3)
10/10 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Stage 11 (BT Sport 3)
11/10 – 02:00 to 02:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
11/10 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Stage 14 (BT Sport 1)
11/10 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 16 [Power Stage] (BT Sport 1)
11/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
TBA – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – Slovakia (Eurosport)
11/10 – 07:55 to 12:00 – Race 1
11/10 – 11:30 to 12:30 – Race 2

This article will be updated if schedules change.


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Scheduling: The 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans

Delayed by three months due to COVID-19, the spectacular 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place this weekend!

As usual, live coverage of the race for UK fans airs on Eurosport, with the official World Feed commentary available via the World Endurance Championship app.

A congested weekend of action, also involving the Tour de France, British Superbikes and World Superbikes, means that their free-to-air station Quest acts as Eurosport’s overflow channel for the Superbikes.

The consequence of that means that Le Mans is not available to UK fans via any free-to-air outlet this year.

Martin Haven, Graham Goodwin and Allan McNish lead the World Feed offering, with Ben Constanduros, Peter Dumbreck, Jamie Campbell-Walter rotating in and out of commentary for the 24 hours.

Down in pit lane, Hayley Duncan and Alexandra Legouix will be grabbing all the interview snippets throughout.

We choose the best action and the best angle, thanks to some 40 cameras along the track and in the pits. It is also possible to put on-air one of the 14 cars equipped with 3 or 4 on-board cameras.

Two ‘cinéflex’, one onboard a helicopter and the other below an airship, a travelling on a 400-meter cable along the pits as well as a mobile ‘hyper-slowmo’, allows us to include exceptional footage.

Brand new motion graphics (already used during the World Endurance Championships) add a significant number of important information to ensure a better understanding of the race.

A selection of radio communication from the teams and the race director will be on-air, to explain and humanize the race.

Day and night over 300 people, who work in shifts during the 30 hours we produce, run this technical set-up to ensure that each broadcaster may offer their viewers all over the world a full coverage of the race.

Producing at the 24H Le Mans means bearing in mind that anything can happen, at any moment. This is why we continuously record from over 75 different image sources to be able to use this on air slightly offline. – 24 Hours of Le Mans

Over on Eurosport, Tom Gaymor leads the commentary line-up from off-site in the UK, joined by Mark Cole, Louise Beckett, Damien Faulkner, Sam Hancock and Chris Parsons.

Supplementing Eurosport’s coverage from on-site are Jennie Gow, Guenaelle Longy and Toby Moody who will be reporting from pit lane.

As always, Radio Le Mans will be doing their thing throughout the Le Mans festival, with John Hindhaugh leading the crew.

In a change to tradition, the race itself starts at 14:30 local time instead of the usual 15:00 local time. In addition, WEC’s cameras are not covering practice one, with coverage kicking in from practice two onwards.

Below are all the details you need, including MotoGP’s second Misano race, and World Rally Championship’s visit to Turkey…

World Endurance Championship – 24 Hours of Le Mans
Also airs live on WEC’s App (£)
17/09 – 13:00 to 17:00 (Eurosport 2)
=> 13:00 – Practice 2
=> 16:00 – Qualifying
17/09 – 19:00 to 23:15 – Practice 3 (Eurosport 2)
18/09 – 09:00 to 10:00 – Practice 4 (Eurosport 2)
18/09 – 10:30 to 11:00 – Hyperpole (Eurosport 2)
19/09 – 09:30 to 11:00 (Eurosport)
=> 09:30 – Warm-Up
=> 10:00 – Road to Le Mans
19/09 – 12:30 to 13:15 – Preview (Eurosport)
19/09 – 13:15 – Race (Eurosport)
=> live coverage continues until 14:00 on 20/09

MotoGP – Emilia Romagna (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pas (£)
18/09 – 08:00 to 10:45 – Practice 1
18/09 – 12:00 to 15:00 – Practice 2
19/09 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
20/09 – 07:15 to 14:30
=> 07:15 – Warm Ups
=> 08:45 – MotoE
=> 09:30 – Moto3
=> 11:00 – Moto2
=> 12:30 – MotoGP
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Emilia Romagna (Quest)
21/09 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

British Superbikes – Oulton Park / World Superbikes – Catalunya
World Superbikes airs live on WSB’s Video Pass (£)
18/09 – 13:25 to 14:55 – WSB: Practice (Eurosport 2)
19/09 – 09:45 to 18:00
=> 09:45 (Eurosport 2)
=> 11:45 (Quest)
20/09 – 12:15 to 18:00 (Quest)
22/09 – 20:00 to 21:00 – WSB: Highlights (ITV4)
23/09 – 19:30 to 21:00 – BSB: Highlights (ITV4)

British Touring Car Championship – Thruxton (ITV2)
20/09 – 11:00 to 18:45 – Races

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland
18/09 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races (BT Sport 3)
19/09 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races (BT Sport 2)

Virgin Australia Supercars – The Bend (BT Sport 3)
Also airs live on SuperView (£)
19/09 – 06:30 to 08:00 – Race 1
20/09 – 03:15 to 04:45 – Race 2
20/09 – 05:45 to 07:15 – Race 2

World Rally Championship – Turkey (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
18/09 – 14:15 to 18:15 – Stages 1 and 2 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 15:00 – Stage 1
=> 16:18 – Stage 2
19/09 – 06:00 to 16:45 – Stages 3 to 8 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 06:47 – Stage 3
=> 08:00 – Stage 4
=> 09:03 – Stage 5
=> 12:47 – Stage 6
=> 14:00 – Stage 7
=> 15:03 – Stage 8
20/09 – 04:15 to 12:45 – Stages 9 to 12 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 05:27 – Stage 9
=> 07:00 – Stage 10
=> 09:07 – Stage 11
=> 11:15 – Stage 12 [Power Stage]

World Rally Championship – Turkey
18/09 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 1)
19/09 – 00:00 to 00:30 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
19/09 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Stage 4 (BT Sport 3)
19/09 – 22:45 to 23:15 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
20/09 – 07:00 to 08:00 – Stage 10 (BT Sport 3)
20/09 – 22:15 to 22:45 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
22/09 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

As always if details change, this article will be updated.


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Scheduling: The 2020 Rally Estonia / Italian Grand Prix

After a six-month hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Rally Championship returns, with the Rally Estonia!

Squeezed into two full days’ worth of action, the weekend promises to be jam packed for rallying fans worldwide. Every stage airs live via WRC’s over-the-top platform, and BT Sport’s Red Button service, with free-to-air highlights airing following the rally on ITV4.

Excluding breaks, the WRC team will be on-air for almost ten hours on Saturday from 04:30 to 17:45 UK time, a mammoth shift.

Despite the COVID restrictions, WRC intend to cover the rally as normally as practically possible, with Molly Pettit and Ben Constanduros interviewing the drivers from a distance at stage end.

Becs Williams and Julian Porter remain in the commentary booth, as the series returns to action, with Paul King joining them. Jon Desborough voices the daily highlights programme.

Elsewhere, the Formula 1 paddock takes the eight-hour trip south to the temple of speed, for the Italian Grand Prix from Monza.

Joining the paddock out in Monza is Ted Kravitz, who re-joins the Sky Sports F1 team after missing the past three Grand Prix.

World Rally Championship – Estonia (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
04/09 – 15:30 to 18:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport Extra 1)
05/09 – 04:30 to 17:45 – Stages 2 to 11 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 05:40 – Stage 2
=> 06:20 – Stage 3
=> 07:00 – Stage 4
=> 08:00 – Stage 5
=> 09:19 – Stage 6
=> 12:37 – Stage 7
=> 13:17 – Stage 8
=> 14:00 – Stage 9
=> 15:00 – Stage 10
=> 16:19 – Stage 11
06/09 – 04:00 to 12:45 – Stages 12 to 17 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 05:35 – Stage 12
=> 06:09 – Stage 13
=> 07:00 – Stage 14
=> 08:49 – Stage 15
=> 09:28 – Stage 16
=> 11:00 – Stage 17

World Rally Championship – Estonia
04/09 – 17:00 to 18:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 2)
04/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
05/09 – 07:00 to 08:00 – Stage 4 (BT Sport 1)
05/09 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Stage 9 (BT Sport 3)
05/09 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
06/09 – 07:00 to 08:00 – Stage 14 (BT Sport 2)
06/09 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 17 [Power Stage] (BT Sport 2)
06/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
09/09 – 21:30 to 22:35 – Highlights (ITV4)

Channel 4 F1
05/09 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights
06/09 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
04/09 – 09:30 to 11:50 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 09:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 10:00 – Practice 1
04/09 – 13:45 to 15:45 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
05/09 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
05/09 – 13:00 to 15:35 – Qualifying
06/09 – 12:30 to 17:30 – Race
=> 12:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 14:05 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 17:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
05/09 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far (also Sky Sports Main Event)
06/09 – 17:30 to 18:30 – Jochen Rindt: Uncrowned Champion
09/09 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Midweek Debrief

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
02/09 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
04/09 – 09:55 to 11:55 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
04/09 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05/09 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05/09 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06/09 – 14:00 to 16:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

British Superbikes – Silverstone
05/09 – 12:00 to 12:50 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
05/09 – 16:00 to 18:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
06/09 – 12:15 to 12:55 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
06/09 – 14:00 to 18:00 – Race 3 (Eurosport 2)
09/09 – 20:00 to 21:30 – Highlights (ITV4)

Formula Two – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
04/09 – 11:50 to 12:40 – Practice (also Sky Sports Main Event)
04/09 – 15:55 to 16:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
05/09 – 15:35 to 16:55 – Race 1
06/09 – 10:00 to 11:05 – Race 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)

Formula Three – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
04/09 – 08:30 to 09:20 – Practice (also Sky Sports Main Event)
04/09 – 13:00 to 13:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
05/09 – 09:20 to 10:10 – Race 1
06/09 – 08:35 to 09:35 – Race 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)

Porsche Supercup – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
06/09 – 11:40 to 12:25 – Race

Virgin Australia Supercars – Townsville (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on SuperView (£)
05/09 – 06:30 to 08:00 – Race 1
06/09 – 03:15 to 04:30 – Race 2
06/09 – 05:30 to 07:00 – Race 3

World Superbikes – Aragon
Also airs live on World Superbikes’ Video Pass (£)
04/09 – 09:25 to 10:25 – Practice 1 (Eurosport 2)
04/09 – 13:55 to 14:55 – Practice 2 (Eurosport 2)
05/09 – 09:30 to 12:00 – Superpole (Eurosport 2)
05/09 – 12:50 to 16:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
06/09 – 09:45 to 12:15 – Superpole Race (Eurosport 2)
06/09 – 12:55 to 14:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
08/09 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

As always, this article will be updated if plans change.

Update on September 5th – Sky are airing a special documentary following tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix to mark fifty years since the death of Jochen Rindt.


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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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