The BBC has severed its ties with Formula 1 within six years of it returning. Fans were just starting to become accustomed with ‘The Chain’ theme again and a sense of patriotic nostalgia for the Damon Hill years, with Brit Lewis Hamilton collecting trophies. This was not good enough for the BBC however, who have decided to end their contract three years early. But is it just down to current cost cutting measures?
The BBC made it quite clear what they want us to think was the reasoning behind the decision. The Director of BBC Sport Barbara Slater released a statement saying “A significant chunk of BBC Sport’s savings target will be delivered through the immediate termination of our TV rights agreement for Formula 1,”. This ‘savings target’ is in reference to the well documented pressures coming from the government to make savings across the BBC. £150m is the target for this year across the board and it seems Formula 1 is the first to be deemed surplus to requirements.
The Beeb currently employ 60 staff members, that have found out they are out of a job, just before Christmas. Eddie Jordan the presenter of BBC’s coverage and former team owner has pointed to the harsh treatment he feels the corporation’s executives have given the production team. He said: “People have moved families to new houses and children to new schools and were just about getting settled in Salford and then they get this bomb-shell.” He was also keen to throw doubt on the financial justification for the decision.
The pay out to cancel the contract would run well into the millions and Jordan points to a possible dignified exit, which could have been achieved with a year’s notice. They would have saved cash on any cancellation charge too. If money was really the sole motivation the planning would have been much more logical.
My guess behind the reasons for BBC’s swift decision could be more about the sport itself. Formula 1 will have to be asking themselves that of all the sports shown on BBC, why was theirs the first on a list of things to cut? The answer could be in a survey by the Drivers Association (GPDA). The survey was completed by over 215,000 F1 fans, and was a study into how the sport is perceived by the people who have followed it for over 10 years.
The top three words that fans came up with in reference to Formula 1 was ‘boring’ ‘expensive’ and ‘technological’. Boring is an accusation often levelled at the premier motor sport. The lack of competitiveness and predictability of races has meant enthusiasm for the sport has waned.
The current champion Lewis Hamilton, who is also favourite to win next year’s title too, was also humiliated by the fans in the study who did not include him in a list of their favourite drivers. The entertaining Kimi Raikkonen and charismatic Fernando Alonso topped the list with the currently dominant Hamilton nowhere to be seen.
Formula 1’s answer to criticism has been to suggest making the engines louder or the cars more aesthetically aggressive. This will just be a thin veil over what is really missing. Their suggestion to have less teams but more drivers is a move in the exact opposite of what the fans want. The ’team’ element of the sport is virtually non-existent anyway, but with a sport heavily dominated by a single team for periods of time, is it wise to make these teams even larger?
Channel 4 has picked up the rights to Formula 1, in a bid to keep the sport being televised on public access TV, which is something Bernie Ecclestone was keen to see. The channel will be hoping that the BBC have not jumped a burning ship but offered them an opportunity to show their value, before a prospective sale in the future.
Whatever happens to Formula 1, questions should be asked as why BBC dropped the sport so fast, and why it Is dropping down the pecking order of not only the broadcasters but the fans too!
Lead image by Nick Webb.