Teams and fans split over BBC/Sky deal

Teams and fans split over BBC/Sky deal

The BBC and Sky chose the Friday of the Hungarian Grand Prix to release the first details of their deal to jointly cover Formula 1 in the UK from 2012.

Negotiations had been kept so quiet that the news came as a surprise to the paddock, and even team bosses first learned about it from the media as they arrived at the track. It was a clumsy piece of PR management, and that was demonstrated by the reaction of the British public. The internet was soon lit up with

fans who were angry either with the BBC for letting them down, or with Bernie Ecclestone for taking the Sky dollar. The timing, with the News of the World hacking scandal having done little for the reputation of Rupert Murdoch and his organisation, could hardly have been worse. The essentials of the deal are thus. From next season the BBC will show 10 out of 20 GPs as it does now, with full live coverage of the race and qualifying and practice sessions shown on the Red

Button service. Silverstone and Monaco will be among that group of races, but it's not yet clear how the others will be chosen. The remaining 10 races will only be available on the BBC in a highlights package, to be shown early on Sunday evening.

Meanwhile all 20 race weekends will be covered in full by Sky Sports, and that will be the only place to see live coverage of the 10 events that the BBC won't be screening as they happen. Fans who want to see those races will have to pay for a full Sky Sports subscription, as they won't be available on a pay-per-view basis. For those who already have access to Sky, the question is one of the cost of getting those 10 races — not a trivial amount, especially

if they have no interest in football or other sports. Equally there are many

people who are simply unable to subscribe because they can't get the Sky service where they live.

The BBC has been getting great numbers for Fl this year, with six million people regularly tuning in. It's clear that Sky's live coverage will attract only a fraction of that audience, and yet Ecclestone insists that overall the sport will gain, because it will be available on two networks. The sponsors who pay to get their names in front of those six million clearly have doubts about that. The UK may be only one market for a global sport, but it's still an important one, and the fear is ▪ that other countries could

take a similar path.

A few hours after hearing the news in Hungary, team bosses met with Ecclestone, who appeared to dazzle them with the potential numbers. Even for the biggest and bestfinanced teams, TV income is important, and they have clearly been told that they will benefit. Publicly they have supported the move. The bottom line is that the BBC was unwilling to continue with its current deal, but its insistence that it has somehow 'saved' the sport for the general viewer by retaining half the races sounds a little hollow. The real concern is that the dilution of live coverage will do little for the popularity of a sport that, helped by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, has enjoyed a boom period in the UK. Adam Cooper For more, see Nigel Roebuck's Reflections, page 22