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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Live F1 testing coverage performs solidly on Sky Sports F1

Live coverage of the first Formula 1 test of 2020 performed solidly in the UK, consolidated figures released by BARB show.

For the first-time ever, F1 covered all six days of testing live, with Sky Sports acting as co-producers throughout the two tests.

Viewing figures in this article only include those that watch via the TV set, excluding those that watched via other devices such as Sky Go and Now TV.

Audience figures were generally stable during the first test. The first afternoon from Barcelona averaged 49,000 viewers from 13:00 to 17:00, with the post-session wrap-up show averaging 31,200 viewers. The morning session averaged fewer than 21,400 viewers via the TV set.

Action on the second day averaged 29,500 viewers, with 22,200 viewers watching the morning session and 36,800 viewers watching the afternoon segment. 29,200 viewers watched The Story so Far after the chequered flag had fallen.

The final day of test one recorded the highest numbers of the week, with an average of 38,200 viewers watching testing, split 37,500 and 39,100 respectively. The week hit a peak with The Story so Far on Friday, averaging 53,000 viewers.

Year-on-year comparison are difficult given that some of last year’s action also aired on Sky Sports Main Event.

However, we can see the impact of F1 testing through Sky Sports F1’s weekly reach, which surged from 348,000 viewers for the week commencing 10th February to 850,000 viewers for the week commencing 17th February, a jump of 144 percent.

Last year, the weekly reach jumped from 372,000 viewers to 679,000 viewers for the first test, a weaker jump of 82 percent, although this could be because Sky Sports Main Event simulcasted some of the coverage.

During February 2018, when testing did not air live, Sky F1 hit a weekly reach high of 472,000 viewers, and the jump back then was a result of the annual Race of Champions event. All other weeks in that month averaged under 300,000 viewers.

In comparison, a typical race week reaches just over two million viewers, showing that, although the testing figures are naturally lower, there is appetite for it.

The reason for the huge difference between the averages and the channel reach will be because of the ‘dip in, dip out’ nature of testing, meaning different viewers may have viewed different days, and so on.

Formula E increases on Eurosport; WRC starts positively on ITV4
Although figures for the BBC are unavailable, consolidated viewing figures for Eurosport’s coverage of Formula E show a significant jump for season six so far.

The Santiago E-Prix in January averaged 42,400 on Eurosport, whilst the Mexico City E-Prix four weeks later February 15th averaged 61,700 viewers in a 22:00 time slot.

What is unclear is whether these are new viewers to Formula E, or viewers who previously watched the electric series on Channel 5 but opted to migrate to Eurosport instead of pressing the BBC’s Red Button.

Elsewhere, highlights of the first two rounds of the World Rally Championship on ITV4 have averaged 213,900 viewers and 232,900 viewers for Monte Carlo and Finland respectively.

Both numbers are in-line with what the series was averaging when it last aired on ITV4 in 2015.


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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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Scheduling: The 2020 Rally Monte Carlo

All day. All weekend. All live. The World Rally Championship returns in style this weekend with its traditional season opener at the south of France, and for the third year running, all the action airs live.

Every stage will air live via both BT Sport’s Red Button service and WRC’s over-the-top platform for fans to watch. There are several movers and shakers in the presentation line-up to begin the 2020 season.

With Kiri Bloore expecting a baby soon, Abi Stephens steps into the presenting shoes for Monte Carlo, joined by Julian Porter in the WRC paddock.

Becs Williams returns to the commentary booth, joined by a variety of personalities throughout the weekend, whilst Jon Desborough continues to provide commentary for the stages airing live on mainstream television.

Hayley Edmonds replaces Molly Petit, who is on maternity leave, Edmonds providing interviews for the TV live stages.

Meanwhile, both Emyr Penlan and Ben Constanduros will provide interviews for the All Live stages during the rally. One absentee this season is Colin Clark, who announced earlier this week that he is moving to American outlet DirtFish for 2020 after 15 years with WRC.

For those without All Live and BT Sport, highlights of the championship switch from 5Spike to ITV4, with highlights expected to air in a Tuesday evening time slot for most of the season.

With nearly 23 hours of live coverage from Monte Carlo across four days, there is plenty to whet the appetite for rally fans this weekend.

World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo (All Live)
Also airs live on WRC+ (£)
23/01 – 18:00 to 22:30 – Esports, Stages 1 and 2 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 19:30 – Stage 1
=> 21:26 – Stage 2
24/01 – 06:45 to 16:45 – Stages 3 to 8 (BT Sport Extra 1)
=> 07:36 – Stage 3
=> 08:56 – Stage 4
=> 10:21 – Stage 5
=> 12:54 – Stage 6
=> 14:14 – Stage 7
=> 15:39 – Stage 8
25/01 – 07:30 to 16:00 – Stages 9 to 12 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 08:30 – Stage 9
=> 09:56 – Stage 10
=> 13:00 – Stage 11
=> 14:26 – Stage 12
26/01 – 06:45 to 12:45 – Stages 13 to 16 (BT Sport Extra 2)
=> 07:17 – Stage 13
=> 08:00 – Stage 14
=> 09:55 – Stage 15
=> 11:00 – Stage 16

World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo
23/01 – 19:30 to 20:30 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 3)
24/01 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
25/01 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Stage 11 (BT Sport 1)
25/01 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
26/01 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Stage 14 (BT Sport 2)
26/01 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 16 [Power Stage] (BT Sport 2)
26/01 – 19:00 to 19:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
28/01 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)


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