TV Rights (And Wrongs)
Recently the World Rally Championship (WRC) announced a new deal with TV Channel ESPN who are now set to provide coverage of the Championships. The news announced on the web states that ESPN will provide more coverage of the WRC for UK fans than even before. Hang on a minute, I’m a fan of WRC and rallying in general. It is motorsport after all! But I, like many other fans won’t be able to see any of the coverage at all. Why? Because I do not have Sky TV. So the one hour’s worth of highlights and additional programming which was shown on terrestrial TV, has now been replaced, for many of us, with nothing. WRC is now bringing the spectacle of the sport to a smaller audience and therefore reducing the possible fan base and income that fan base brings to the sport.
It seems that greed has set in and money is driving force behind this decision. It also seems that it doesn’t matter about the fans as long as the powers that be have their pockets filled with money. I unfortunately cannot afford a Sky TV subscription, and to get the sports channels, you have to pay for the most expensive Sky package. Very Crafty, as no doubt, the sports channels is what most Sky customers want. So I will be going without and missing a truly magnificent form of motorsport. To say I am disappointed is quite an understatement.
I remember in the nineties as a child, the BBC sports programme Grandstand would provide live, yes LIVE coverage of the Network Q RAC Rally of Great Britain. Hosted by the likes of Tony Mason and Steve Rider I used to love watching Juha Kankkunen, Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol and a very young looking Colin McRae powering around the muddy stages in great cars like the Toyota Celica and Ford Escort Cosworth. It facinated me and I was gripped by it. Unsurprisingly, it was coverage like this that boosted the popularity of the sport by bringing it to the masses.
A casing point on this subject is the British Touring Car Championships (BTCC). The sport was thriving in the nineties with the likes of James Thompson, Alain Menu, Rickard Rydell, Frank Beila and even Nigel Mansell doing battle in works based teams from Audi, Ford, Renault and Honda to name a few. Unsurprisingly, the series was covered live on the BBC with commentary being provided by legend Murray Walker. Unfortunately, the BBC coverage came to an end and so did the BTCC on terrestrial television. The championship hit a slump over the following years and teams began to pull out. Crowds dropped and so did the BTCC’s popularity as only the hardcore fans stayed loyal. At the start of the 2005 season, only 12 cars lined up on the grid, mostly consisting of privateers and independent teams. Disappointing when you consider the popularity only a few years prior.
However, ITV came to the sports rescue. It struck a deal to provide live coverage of all three races at each weekend and now currently shows seven hours of action from not only the BTCC but the support races too on ITV4. In recent years, and no doubt thanks to help from ITV, the series is being revived. Crowds at races have increased and more teams are now taking part. The grids now consist of over 20 cars and is still growing whilst the fan base is becoming ever more increased. Would this have happened if the TV rights were sold to a Sky TV channel who would show an hour’s highlights programme after each round? Probably not.
So shouldnt motorsport be about the fans? Do we have a right to see coverage of the sport on TV? Or is it all about how much money series organisers can get? After all, sponsors want to be seen by as many people as possible so will screening action to smaller audiences have an impact on this? I guess only time will tell.