UK’s Coverage Of IndyCar Switches To ESPN

Following several seasons with Sky Sports, in 2013 the IZOD IndyCar Series’ UK coverage will switch to ESPN.

It seems ESPN were taken by surprise after the news was made public on the Sky Sports Facebook page! (The page also confirms there is currently no deal to air NASCAR Sprint Cup highlights, as they have before). After requests from Twitter users ESPN issued this confirmation:

Understandably, details are thin at the moment so we don’t yet know which ESPN channel/s will show IndyCar – whether it’ll be the main ESPN station available across multiple platforms, or the niche ‘ESPN America’ station. Given IndyCar’s lowly status in the Sky Sports structure, languishing down on Sky Sports 4 I would have to guess it will appear on ESPN America, perhaps with the 500 on the main channel. Hopefully ESPN will instead choose to give it a push on their primary channel.

Right now we don’t even know if the coverage will be live or delayed, in full or highlights. ESPN UK covers the DTM but has a habit of airing it on a delayed basis – DTM races happen at 1pm UK time but sometimes aren’t aired until 11pm. Hopefully IndyCar’s schedule will help rather than hinder it.

Previously the UK’s coverage of ‘North American Open Wheel’ was served by Sky Sports (IRL, then post-merger IndyCar) and Eurosport (CART, Champ Car).

While it did have fans, I’ve been quite vocal at my dislike of the Sky Sports studio coverage, there was good discussion at times but I often felt it was very dry and stale compared to the American presentation and even compared to other studio-based analyst formats in this country. I fully realise this was due to the low budget limiting their options, and I very much appreciated the cut to the studio during the interminable US ad-breaks!

What Is ESPN UK?

I’m sure you’re all aware of the American sports giant ESPN, even if you don’t watch sport it features in enough films and TV shows that most should know it! The UK operation is relatively recent addition to the portfolio, only about 4 years old, when ESPN bought the remnants of the folded Setanta Sports operation.

Soon after entering the UK market they went aggressive on rights acquisitions and took some notable properties from the hugely dominant Sky Sports. The way to get attention in the UK market is to get the rights for football (soccer) and they went for a shared deal for top line (English) Premier League, and the FA Cup (split deal with ITV), but also games from the UEFA Europa League, Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), SPL (Scotland), and MLS (United States). They also took Premiership Rugby Union, boxing and some golf.
In addition they also show a lot of North American sports across ESPN and a dedicated network for US & Canadian sports, called ESPN America. ESPNA shows things like NBA and NCAA basketball, MLB baseball, hockey, and since you can’t have a US-focussed network without American Football and Sky has most of the NFL sewn up, ESPN picked up college football (and I think the CFL, too).

This isn’t meant as an advert for ESPN, I’m lifting this stuff from their own website, but as you can see, IndyCar is actually a pretty good fit among all of this, if there aren’t too many clashing events.

The catch:  You have to pay extra. More details on that below.

What Does This Mean For British IndyCar Fans?

Details are thin so we don’t know yet but one thing is clear:

A change was necessary. The excellent F1 Broadcasting blog conducted a ratings analysis of IndyCar in the UK and the results were utterly dire – more people watch GP3. A series as good as IndyCar has no business having such diabolical ratings. There is no way it could stay on Sky Sports 4 for another year. Either Sky had to bump it up to SSF1 or IndyCar had to take it elsewhere. Even if figures stay the same they have to try something.

The difficulty here is not knowing whether IndyCar will appear on ESPN or ESPN America. The former has a wider reach: ESPN is available on Sky satellite, Virgin cable, and the digital terrestrial services BT Vision and Top Up TV. ESPN America is available on Sky and Virgin but not terrestrial – exactly the same as Sky Sports 4, the former home of IndyCar.

How Do You Get ESPN UK And What Does It Cost?

As with anything the cost you pay depends what package you currently have. There are usually discounts available for new customers. As a reference please see the ESPN UK website.

Sky

ESPN is an additonal £13 per month over your usual subscription. This isn’t a tier-system. For £13 you get ESPN + ESPN America in HD and SD, and the option of watching via the Sky Go web service.

If you subscribe to the Sky Sports Pack (Sky Sports 1, 2, 3 & 4) then ESPN drops from £13 to £10 per month.

The absolute minimum cost with Sky is £21.50/mth. Add the £13.00/mth for ESPN = £34.50 per month. This does not include the £10.25/mth  HD pack which you will need in order to see Sky Sports F1. It also doesn’t include the £5/mth Entertainment Plus pack including Eurosport 1 & 2 and ESPN Classic.

Again, if you are a new customer – or an existing customer in a renewal period – you might be able to get this cheaper.

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Frankly, if you are a dedicated petrolhead who had Sky Sports for IndyCar alone, it’ll be worth cancelling it. You’re probably paying £21/mth now so you’d save £8 each month! Remember you had to subscribe to both SS1 + SS2 just to get access to IndyCar on SS4. You only need the HD pack to get Sky F1, you don’t need another Sky Sports channel.

The winners here are those already with ESPN, and those who’ll cancel SS to switch to ESPN. Everyone else is going to have to find money. I don’t know if you can start it in March and stop it in October.. if not that’s £156 for a year.

Restrictions:  You need to be allowed to put a satellite dish on the wall! If you are renting a property, as I am, this might not be an option. If you’re allowed now you might not be in your next place, makes it tricky to sign up to their 18-month minimum. If you aren’t with Sky already £31.50 is a lot of money to find.

Virgin Media

Virgin also has ESPN in HD and a ‘go anywhere’ mobile option.

Unlike Sky, Virgin already includes the suite of 3 ESPN channels within their highest price tier, ‘XL’, so if you have that already you are in luck! If you can cancel Sky Sports on Virgin now IndyCar has moved away, you might even make a saving!

If you aren’t on XL already, an upgrade from the L tier to XL looks like it’ll cost you an extra £8/mth over what you pay now.

You don’t have to upgrade to XL, the ESPN website says you can pay £6/mth to get just the 3 ESPN channels. I struggle to find any mention of this on the Virgin site. Bear in mind XL includes MotorsTV which airs WEC, ALMS, V8 Supercar and all sorts. If ESPN is £6 of the £8 upgrade, if you get XL you basically get MotorsTV for £2 – bargain!

The absolute minimum to get the XL package on Virgin Media is £24.50/mth with a V HD box, but you’d need to switch your phone line to Virgin as well else it’ll jump to £32. There is the option to get a TiVo box instead for £29.50/mth. New subscribers get a discount for the first 6 months.
It might be possible to get the L pack with ESPN for £18.50/mth and the M for even less, but as I say, I can’t see that ESPN offer on the VM website.

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Trouble is, this is only available on cable.

Restrictions:  Virgin Media’s TV offering is for cabled-areas only, you can’t just hook up with your phone line. Cable is available in many large towns and cities but a lot of people don’t have the option.

BT Vision

BTV is a box combining Freeview (digital over-the-air), PVR, and on-demand streaming over ADSL.

This is a very attractive option because of the price:

ESPN is a £10 one-off fee. There are two tiers on BTV:  Essential and Unlimited. The Unlimited tier includes ESPN for no extra monthly fee, just like Virgin, you just need to pay a £10 fee to get a viewing card to slotinto the box.

There is only one option to get ESPN on BTV:  pay £12.50/mth for Unlimited and a one-off fee of £10 for the card.

But there are a few catches, and some hoops to jump:

- You need to be with BT Broadband.

- You need to be in a BT Infinity-enabled area, even if you choose not to take Infinity. This is a recent development.

- There may be a hefty activation fee (£49 on one page I looked at).

- ESPN is not in HD on Freeview, and you don’t get ESPN America, but you do get content in the On-Demand area (potentially in HD).

- For the IndyCar fan wanting to watch Fontana or Texas live, or Motegi if it comes back, on Freeview ESPN shuts down at 4am! Could miss the last few laps!

- If your Freeview has 30+ TV channels and a heap of radio stations you’re good. But if you’re stuck on a relay transmitter, like I am, and can only get 15 TV channels and just BBC radio only, you will NOT be able to get ESPN. Check yours here – if you get ITV3 you’re good for ESPN.

Read More – note BT are trying to push people on to YouView which is a new service. YouView does not include ESPN. Be careful to look for “BT Vision + Sport” which is getting quite hard to find.

That price though… if you can get it, get it!

Restrictions:  You need BT Broadband and you need to be an area enabled for BT Infinity, even if you don’t take Infinity. You also need to make sure you get the channel on your Freeview signal.

Top Up TV

This is a box you can buy for your Freeview, like BT Vision without the on-demand content.

ESPN here is £11.99 per month. That’s almost as much as Sky’s price and it isn’t in HD – but you won’t need to buy a whole Sky or Virgin or BT setup.

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As I said in the BTV section ESPN isn’t in HD here, it shuts down at 4am, and availability depends what signal you have. If your Freeview has 30+ TV channels and a heap of radio stations you’re good. But if you’re stuck on a relay transmitter, like I am, and can only get 15 TV channels and just BBC radio only, you will NOT be able to get ESPN. Check yours here – if you get ITV3 you’re good for ESPN.

Restrictions:  You need to make sure you get the channel on your Freeview signal.

Reaction

What do you think about these changes? Is this good for you, or are you no longer able to see IndyCar now?

This post is now available at IndyCar UK – click here and be sure to follow @IndyCarUK on Twitter.

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10 Comments

Filed under 2013, broadcasting, fans, IndyCar

10 responses to “UK’s Coverage Of IndyCar Switches To ESPN

  1. Mr C

    fab write-up pat. am curious what route you’re planning to take, if any?

  2. Thanks, I hope it made sense.

    I have BT Vision but I have three problems.

    The aerial on the roof of my flat is pointing at the local relay station with only half the Freeview channels, no ESPN. I’m going to badger the landlord / management company to get someone to fiddle with the aerial and try the main transmitter which has all the Freeview channels including ESPN. I used to live in a flat half a mile away which could get this. Chances? Slim.

    Secondly, the aerial cable at that previous flat let some water in.. straight into the back of my BT Vision box. It works as an On Demand service but the aerial socket is bust. I called them to get a new one but they wanted to charge me £150 – so I still have it! I’ll need to persuade them to give me a free new one or a huge discount, or learn how to solder in a new socket…

    And then thirdly, I live in a small town that doesn’t have BT Infinity yet. But they’re adding more exchanges all the time so I should get the other problems fixed to be ready for it.

    Last year I watched using someone’s unused device slot on Sky Go, but I don’t know if he subscibes to ESPN – if he does I’ll do that again. If he doesn’t I’ll do what I used to do: stream, torrent, or not watch at all. IndyCar do post the races to YouTube but that can take days if not weeks, and they’re often geoblocked.

  3. Mr C

    if infinity fibre comes to you, you should get a freebie youview box, which in theory would replace your current box, live sports streaming and all.

  4. ESPN isn’t avaiable on YouView and neither is Sky Sports, that’s the crazy thing. Why couldn’t they stick a card slot in it and offer them on YouView, and ‘retire’ BTV?

  5. *Sigh*

    I don’t really understand why Sky F1 didn’t get involved? Surely they have to assess their ROI and given IndyCar is going to be a fraction of their F1 contract, I’m sure if they devoted just a little bit of time and effort to it we’d have could have had excellent coverage.

    I hate to say it but you have to look at IndyCar themselves for this mess. It appears they are so concerned with their lack of viewers in the US that all other broadcast nations are being looked upon as an afterthought, which whilst I understand, does little if anything to actually promote their failing tv numbers. Do they not have someone in their commercial division responsible for negotiating international TV contracts? If they do, whilst I understand they have a reasonably difficult product to sell (might be an understatement) I would have hoped/thought they could do better than ESPN….unless this is all tied in with their USA deal – which I guess it could be.

    Nevertheless, with the ugliest cars on the TV (I happen to know even the drivers don’t like them), poor TV coverage and little-to-no media interest in anything other than one event in May, it really does not look positive for IndyCar, given we’ve a Brit at the top of his game, and a 3-time champion I would have hoped for more in the UK…..
    :-(
    Rgds.
    KMc.

    PS Thanks for the heads-up Pat, I’ll pay the £13.00 a month if the coverage is Live, if not I might just find it online somewhere.

  6. Mr C

    ESPN isn’t avaiable on YouView and neither is Sky Sports

    isn’t available… yet.

    sky sports is coming soon (@ £9.99 a day). not sure about espn.

  7. Kenny, I understand the rights are sold to ESPN International based in the US who then sell them on in each market, that’s been the case for many years.
    (sidenote, that’s why every race on Sky has the ESPN scoring ticker instead of the NBC ticker at NBC races – compare the domestic US feed to ours)
    I reckon Sky Sports F1 might be locked in to some extent by Bernie/FOM to only show races at F1 events: F1, GP2, GP3, Supercup Maybe the deal is, ‘you get to use the F1 name for a channel but for that I want exclusivity to the F1 universe’.

    Maybe Sky saw no reason to pay the rights since they’ve got F1 now, Or maybe ESPNI thought their UK operation could actually bother advertising it to people. Remember also ESPN UK lost a LOT of rights recently so they need content.

  8. But yes it is completely mad that Sky F1 didn’t push it very hard indeed during and after F1 races with so much British interest in the series.

    Mr C, that’s interesting I hadn’t seen that, the BT website doesn’t make that clear at all. I’d assumed the £9.99 per day was a website-only thing.

  9. Mr C

    it’s not been promoted well, but the @nowtv twitter feed has confirmed it to people asking: https://twitter.com/NOWTV/status/296987732687855616

  10. Gren Nation

    I suppose I’ll have to continue with the ESPN subscription, I see that they are also taking over Sky’s NASCAR highlights programmes, useful to me when I don’t have time to watch the full races on Premier Sports, either live or recorded. At the moment I am paying £3.99 a month for Premier on a three-month rolling (verbal) agreement.

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