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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Scheduling: The 2020 Marrakesh E-Prix

Formula E heads to Morocco in Africa next weekend for round five of the 2019-20 season.

Jaguar’s Mitch Evans leads the way after winning last time out in Mexico, with BMW’s Alexander Sims just a point behind in second.

The event airs live on BBC Two as part of the BBC’s commitment to air two races this season via their linear television channels. Jennie Gow presents their coverage, with inaugural W Series champion Jamie Chadwick alongside her.

As in Hong Kong last year, the BBC are providing their own bespoke build-up and post-race wrap-up, dipping in and out of the World Feed throughout both parts, although it is unclear as of writing whether Gow and Chadwick will be in Salford or on-site in Morocco.

The cancellation of the Sanya round on March 21st means that the BBC are airing two races in a row live on BBC Two, with the next round in Rome on April 4th set to air on the same channel.

Elsewhere, the World Superbikes season kicks off down under in Australia. As revealed last month, Eurosport have retained the rights to the season, whilst free-to-air highlights also remain on ITV4.

Looking for the schedule for the second F1 Barcelona test? Head over here

Formula E – Marrakesh
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying air live on YouTube
28/02 – 15:55 to 16:55 – Practice 1 (BBC’s digital platforms)
29/02 – 07:55 to 08:40 – Practice 2 (BBC’s digital platforms)
29/02 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Qualifying (BBC’s digital platforms)
29/02 – Race
=> 13:30 to 15:15 (BBC Two)
=> 13:45 to 15:00 (Eurosport 2)
29/02 – 23:00 to 00:00 – Highlights (Quest)

World Superbikes – Phillip Island
Also airs live on World Superbikes’ Video Pass (£)
29/02 – 01:00 to 02:30 – Superpole (Eurosport 2)
29/02 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
01/03 – 00:45 to 03:15 – Superpole and Supersport Races (Eurosport 2)
01/03 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
04/03 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

The schedule will be updated if plans change.


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Scheduling: The 2020 Mexico City E-Prix / Rally Sweden

Formula E heads north from Chile to Mexico, for round three of the 2019-20 season.

For UK viewers, the race takes place in prime-time hours, with the main event beginning at 22:00. As always, the action airs live across BBC’s digital platforms and Eurosport, with additional highlights airing on Discovery’s free-to-air channel Quest.

Meanwhile, BT Sport plays host to a depleted Sweden leg of the World Rally Championship, with half of the expected itinerary wiped due to unseasonably warm weather.

As a result, the Swedish rally now has 11 stages, but that could still change further, meaning that the scheduling details below could change further as the week unfolds.

Formula E – Mexico City
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying air live on YouTube
15/02 – Qualifying
=> 17:30 to 19:00 (BBC’s digital platforms)
=> 17:35 to 18:45 (Eurosport 2)
15/02 – Race
=> 22:00 to 23:00 (BBC’s digital platforms)
=> 21:55 to 23:00 (Eurosport 2)
16/02 – 06:00 to 07:00 – Highlights (Quest)

World Rally Championship – Sweden (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
13/02 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
=> 19:08 – Stage 1
14/02 – 05:45 to 15:30 – Stages 2 to 4 and Stage 8 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 07:42 – Stage 2
=> 09:08 – Stage 3
=> 10:00 – Stage 4
=> 14:00 – Stage 8
15/02 – 05:45 to 15:30 – Stages 5 to 7 and Stage 16 (BT Sport Extra 3)
=> 07:42 – Stage 5
=> 09:00 – Stage 6
=> 10:05 – Stage 7
=> 14:00 – Stage 16
16/02 – 07:45 to 12:45 – Stages 17 and 18 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 09:00 – Stage 17
=> 11:10 – Stage 18

World Rally Championship – Sweden
Live stage times on linear BT Sport channels to be confirmed
14/02 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
15/02 – 23:00 to 23:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 23:00 to 23:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
18/02 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

When further revised details about WRC’s Sweden coverage are confirmed for the weekend, this post will be updated.


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