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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News round-up: F2 documentary release date announced; UK Christmas scheduling details

In the latest Motorsport Broadcasting round-up, news on when fans can get their hands on the new Formula Two documentary, whilst fans of the Formula One season review will be getting double the action in this year’s offering…

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.

ICYMI: Round-Up #7 (November 3rd): F1 to remain on ESPN in US; Eurosport UK to air British Speedway

ICYMI: Round-Up #6 (October 15th): New Brabham film released; MotoGP moves towards HDR resolution

ICYMI: Round-Up #5 (September 12th): Bratches set to exit F1 role; Eurosport executive joins Formula E

ICYMI: Round-Up #4 (July 23rd): New Formula Two documentary coming soon; Facebook touts MotoGP success

The round-up covers from the start of November onwards, so I have mentioned a few points retrospectively for completeness.

Note from Dave – This is the eighth and last round-up of 2019. As we head into 2020, I would be interested to know if you have found the round-ups interesting and informative this year. The point of the round-ups is to cover news snippets that I would not usually mention in a standalone piece.

It is impossible to mention every little detail, otherwise the round-up turns into a long and unwieldy list, which I want to avoid. If you have found these interesting and valuable, a quick comment underneath or over on the social channels would be much appreciated.

Formula 1

  • There are plenty of Christmas specials coming up to keep the pulse racing.
    • Sky Sports’ 60-minute review is already available to watch via Sky’s on demand service.
    • BBC’s 5 Live special premieres on Christmas Eve at 20:00, with a very special presenter. Steve Rider presides over the festivities as Claire Cottingham, Jack Nicholls, Alex Jacques, Andrew Benson, Jennie Gow and Jolyon Palmer take part in an F1 themed quiz.
    • Over on F1 TV Pro, there is a 45-minute special of the Weekend Debrief, aptly titled Season Debrief. UK fans can watch the special on Sky Sports F1 over the festive period.
    • Further afield, Sky aired highlights of the annual Autosport Awards earlier this month. The same 90-minute package can also be found on Autosport’s YouTube channel.
  • 2020 starts with the new Formula Two documentary series landing on F1 TV. As first revealed by Motorsport Broadcasting in July, the series focuses on the stars of tomorrow in a 5 x 25 minute series. Fans worldwide, including the UK, will be able to watch F2: Chasing the Dream from Thursday 2nd January.
  • Series 2 of Drive to Survive is complete from an editorial perspective. Writing on Twitter on Friday, producer Paul Martin noted that Friday was the “last night in the edit.” Box to Box Films or Netflix have yet to confirm a release date for the much-anticipated sequel.
  • The FIA has amended the 2020 Formula One Sporting Regulations to “prevent teams from covering their cars during winter testing, in order to make these events more appealing to the media and fans.”
    • Not only is this good news for fans attending the tests, but it is good news for fans worldwide, as testing airs live across F1 TV and Sky Sports F1 for the second year running.
  • The official 2019 Formula One Season Review will return to a four-hour format when it is released by Duke later this month, after heavy criticism of the 2018 review.
    • The 2018 review was slimmer compared to previous years, and contained live commentary from Sky’s David Croft and Martin Brundle instead of a bespoke voiceover from Ben Edwards. Whilst the running length returns to the 2017 format, fans will continue to hear Sky’s commentary in the 2019 review.
  • 2019 champion Lewis Hamilton appeared on The Graham Norton Show last month following his championship victory in Austin. The episode, which aired on BBC One, is available to watch on BBC iPlayer until the early hours of Boxing Day.
  • An audience of 5.8 million viewers watched the 2019 F1 Esports Series online, according to figures released by Formula 1, surpassing the 5.5 million viewers that watched across online and television last year.
    • In addition, F1 says that 79 percent of all viewers were below 34 years old. “We are really excited about the progress we have made this year with a 65% increase in interest in the series compared to 2018, our highest ever online audience of 5.8 million and 169 million social media impressions,” said Julian Tan, F1’s Head of Digital Business Initiatives and Esports.
    • “The massive growth in viewership and engagement is testament to the strength of our esports proposition. I am confident that Formula 1 Esports will continue to grow and broaden the opportunities for the next generation of motorsport fans and brands to engage and invest in this burgeoning space as we continue to break down borders into our sport through esports and gaming – the growth in viewership and engagement this year is a prime indicator of this,” added Tan.
  • The annual Formula Three race from Macau aired live on Formula 1’s YouTube channel last month. For anyone who needs their motor sport fix over Christmas, the race remains on the channel over here.

Elsewhere…

  • The German touring car championship DTM has announced that they are to launch an over-the-top platform ready for the 2020 season. The platform launched in beta mode during last month’s special DTM cross-over event with Super GT.
  • The EV racing site e-racing365 has announced that it is to reduce its Formula E offering from January onwards, citing the current economic environment in the media landscape. e-racing365 has seen record growth, “with a 74 percent increase in unique viewers and a 54 percent increase in page views compared to 2018,” led by editor Sam Smith.
    • Writing on the site, founder John Dagys said “While our editorial coverage has been second-to-none, we’ve fought very hard the last two-and-a-half-years to make it economically viable. It takes significant resources to cover a defacto world championship and without the necessary financial support, we’re unfortunately unable to continue at this level. The motorsports media landscape has continued to change over the last few months and we stand by our principle of being one of the few remaining independent media outlets covering the sport we all love.”
    • “There are a number of exciting all-electric series in the pipeline that we feel will have the necessary interest and support for the site to continue to grow. We’re excited for those opportunities and look forward to helping share the story of the sport’s transition to electrification in the years to come,” Dagys added.
  • The American bike series MotoAmerica is touting record numbers for the 2019 season. The series says that their broadcast audience increased by 134 percent on 2018, largely thanks to a new broadcast relationship with NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 2 instead of beIN Sports. In addition, their social media accounts grew by 33 percent, with impressions up by 229 percent.

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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Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2019 Verdict

The chequered flag has fallen on another year of Formula 1, and with it the end of the 2019 motor racing season.

Despite both MotoGP and F1 having a relatively predictable outcome, the journey to the destination has been enticing throughout. From the thrilling German Grand Prix on four wheels, to Alex Rins beating Marc Marquez at Silverstone by milometers on two wheels, there was something for everyone this year.

Off track, 2019 has been a year of change for fans of F1 in the UK. Live coverage of the sport aired exclusively on Sky Sports for the first time ever, following in the footsteps of MotoGP which moved to BT in 2014. Only the British Grand Prix aired live on free-to-air television.

In the social media space, F1 continues to make excellent strides in an ever-changing world, whilst others have had to rethink their strategy to work out how best to engage with their audience.

Now, Motorsport Broadcasting wants your opinion on the past twelve months. Which personality has shone in 2019 and deserves a bigger presence in 2020? What was the low-light from a broadcasting perspective for you this season? And, if there was one thing you could change next season, what would it be?

As always, the best thoughts will form an article on this site over the festive period.


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Scheduling: The 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Formula 1 heads to Abu Dhabi for the final race of the 2019 season. The championship ends in December for the first time since 1963, when the South African round that year took place on December 28th.

The race as usual airs exclusively live on Sky Sports, although one person who will not be out in Abu Dhabi with Sky is Damon Hill, as mentioned by the man himself during their Brazilian Grand Prix broadcast.

Post Abu Dhabi, Sky are showing live coverage of the final of this year’s F1 Esports Series, which takes place on Wednesday 4th December.

Over on Channel 4, Mark Webber joins Steve Jones and David Coulthard for their final weekend of the year. Channel 4’s relationship with Formula 1 continues into 2020 and beyond, having signed a new contract with Sky Sports to cover the sport until the end of 2022.

As of writing, it is unknown whether Whisper will be producing Channel 4’s coverage in 2020, an answer on that front is due imminently.

Channel 4 F1
30/11 – 17:00 to 18:30 – Qualifying Highlights
01/12 – 18:05 to 20:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
29/11 – 08:45 to 10:45 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
29/11 – 12:45 to 14:55 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/11 – 09:45 to 11:30
=> 09:45 – Practice 3
=> 11:10 – Paddock Walkabout
30/11 – 12:00 to 14:40 – Qualifying
=> 12:00 – Pre-Show
=> 12:55 – Qualifying
01/12 – 11:30 to 16:30 – Race
=> 11:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – On the Grid
=> 13:05 – Race
=> 15:00 – Paddock Live
=> 16:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
28/11 – 13:00 to 13:30 – Drivers’ Press Conference
28/11 – 15:00 to 15:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
29/11 – 12:00 to 12:30 – The Brundles Race the Nordschleife
29/11 – 15:30 to 16:00 – The Story so Far (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/11 – 15:45 to 16:15 – The F1 Show
04/12 – 19:00 to 21:30 – F1 Esports Pro Series Grand Final

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
28/11 – 21:00 to 21:30 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
29/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/11 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/11 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
01/12 – 13:00 to 14:55 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Formula Two – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
29/11 – 07:25 to 08:15 – Practice (also Sky Sports Main Event)
29/11 – 14:55 to 15:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/11 – 14:40 to 15:45 – Race 1
01/12 – 09:20 to 10:20 – Race 2

This article will be updated if schedules change.

Updated on November 28th – Sky are also airing a 30-minute programme throughout the Abu Dhabi weekend as Martin and Alex Brundle tackle the Nordschleife.


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