Keep calm and carry on
So, F1 has finally sold out – Sky it is for all 20 races next season, with the BBC getting only half in what looks like the beginning of the end for the sport on free to air TV. And I think people are overreacting a tad. I’m not happy either but some of the reactions I’ve seen on various forums have been truly hysterical – “this will ruin my life”, “this is one of the most tragic days for the sport”, “F1 was supposed to be a sport for the people” (I mean what?). It’s only F1, for god’s sake – no one’s died.
For a start, I just don’t see how anyone can automatically assume Sky’s coverage will be awful. Yes, it’s a damn shame Murdoch’s got his grubby hands on F1. But I don’t think that’s a reason to assume we’ll automatically go back to ITV levels of coverage. Sky are going to be competing against the BBC for half the races, so they have to do a good job. If you compare Sky’s football coverage to ITV’s, where they compete for the Champions League final, Sky’s is generally better.
I think Sky are actually more likely to give us what we’ve been crying out for for years – Ben Edwards as commentator, neutral experienced pundits, and balanced professional coverage. It’s the BBC I’m worried about – they are the ones who could both cut back on expense further (coverage from a broom cupboard again?) and/or become ever more sensationalist as they try to get as many viewers as they can for the races they’ve got. Quite a few people have already noticed this year that they’ve been focusing more on the guys at the front and especially McLaren and Red Bull than in previous years. Lotus are the only ones getting a look in at the back. As with Eurosport back in the day, Sky could well become the coverage of choice for the hardcore fan.
But it’s still Sky, which does hurt. I’m lucky enough to have my parents paying for Sky already and I set up Sky Go a few weeks ago so it’s no skin off my nose (if I choose to continue following F1), and I think you have to take all the “I’m not going to get Sky” comments with a pinch of salt as there will be plenty of people who will give in and get it because they “can’t live without it”. But viewing figures will be lower, for both Sky and the BBC. Sky can cope because they make their money from subscriptions, and they’ve now got one of the biggest rivals to football under their control, but I think in a few years the BBC will ditch it completely, once everyone gets used to it being on Sky. As long as Bernie continues to milk his cash cow, they, along with ITV, simply cannot afford F1 any more.
And the thing is this was always going to happen. Take away tradition and the truth is such an expensive, elitist sport shouldn’t really be on FTA anyway, especially when sports like cricket, golf and tennis have all gone the same way. Regardless of its following, F1 always has been and always will be a minority sport for the middle classes and the rich – maybe it’s a sign of my changing interests, but I’d much rather the BBC and ITV spent its budget on the true sport for the people, football.