Exclusive Sky deal a turn-off for viewers, say Formula One team chiefs
‘Get us back on free-to-air TV’: Exclusive Sky deal a turn-off for viewers, say Formula One team chiefs
- Sky pay an estimated £120million a season under a deal, which runs until 2024
- Channel 4 show delayed highlights of all the races plus the Silverstone round
- Terrestrial audience is down an accumulated 4.3million over the first five races
Formula One bosses want the sport to return to live terrestrial TV — a rebuke to Sky and former supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
Speaking on the eve of the showpiece Monaco Grand Prix, commercial director Sean Bratches said the current arrangement, whereby Sky broadcast all but the British Grand Prix exclusively live, is ‘sub-optimal’.
Sky pay an estimated £120million a season under a deal, which runs until 2024, negotiated three years ago by Ecclestone. Sixty eight per cent of the revenue goes to the teams. Channel 4 show delayed highlights of all the races plus the Silverstone round live on July 14.
Commercial director Sean Bratches said the current arrangement is ‘sub-optimal’
Viewing figures are plummeting, with Channel 4’s audience down an accumulated 4.3million over the first five Grands Prix, from 12.4m to 8.1m.
The last round in Spain was watched by 1.75m, a reduction of 791,000 from 2018. Last season, Channel 4 showed 10 races live, including Monaco, prior to Sky’s near-monopoly.
Sky had just under 800,000 TV viewers for the Spain race and some 850,000 when those watching on digital devices are added.
Bratches said of the lack of free-to-air coverage: ‘It concerns us in a pretty material way, not just for Britain but around the world. Our ideal circumstance would be to have 75 per cent of our Grands Prix on free-to-air.
‘From a brand standpoint, Formula One is nowhere near the position where it can lose free-to-air viewership. This is an agreement that was done prior to our arrival. The pay element is very exciting revenue-wise but from a reach standpoint it is sub-optimal.
‘I know Sky have done a parlay with Channel 4 to do the highlights, which we are encouraged about.’
Bratches said Formula One could not insist on any change in the arrangements prior to 2024
Bratches said F1 could not insist on any change in the arrangements prior to 2024. ‘There is no wriggle room in our agreement contractually and Sky would have to initiate anything,’ he confirmed.
Despite the decline in viewership, F1’s figures are remarkably strong, reflecting a loyal following built to a large extent on the live BBC coverage in the 70s and 80s, not least in the 1976 season when Niki Lauda, whose death is being marked at Monaco this weekend, vied with James Hunt for the world title.
This season has hardly been edge-of-the-seat fare so far, with Mercedes dominant. Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have been first and second in all five rounds and were again supremely strong in practice around Monte Carlo’s tight streets on Thursday.
Bratches said: ‘One of the things we are trying to do is create less predictability in the sport. I am enamoured when Lewis wins but I would love to see some of the other brands on the podium.
‘The bottom three teams in the Premier League know they cannot win the title, but they also know when they play Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham they have the opportunity to win or get a point, and that is not the case in Formula One.
‘There is an opportunity to address that. We think the best days are in front of us. We have one of the most capable minds in the world on that in Ross Brawn. We put the fan in the middle of the table.’
Channel 4’s audience is down an accumulated 4.3million over the first five Grands Prix
Friday was the traditional rest day in Monaco, though there was no let-up on the cork-popping on the yachts in the harbour.
Saturday is qualifying — crucial, as the late Mercedes F1 chairman Lauda pointed out in Malcolm Folley’s book Monaco: Inside F1’s Greatest Race. Lauda, who won here in 1975 and 1976, believed pole is a ‘treasure beyond price’.
‘Getting pole is essential,’ he told Folley in his trademark staccato style. ‘There is no room to overtake.
‘If you know what you are doing here, there can be a car behind you that is potentially five seconds a lap faster and he can never pass as long as you accelerate properly past the swimming pool, as long as you come out of the tunnel at top speed and stay in the middle of the road. No one can pass. This is the way it is. Fact.’
Lewis Hamilton has won twice in the principality – a meagre return on his 76 careers victories
Hamilton, like Lauda, has won twice in the principality — a surprisingly meagre return given the 76 victories he has amassed in his career.
The quintuple world champion has kept himself to himself this week, skipping his media engagements on Wednesday because he was too upset to talk about Lauda, who died aged 70 on Monday.
The first public words Hamilton will utter are expected after qualifying , by which time he is likely to be on pole. As Lauda observed, that should be enough to triumph in Sunday’s race, come rain or shine.
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