The Ridiculous Price of F1 Tickets

Formula 1 tickets are too expensive. There is nothing new in this, it has been the case for a while. That said, I’d blithely assumed they’d remained fairly static in recent years. It seems I might be wrong.

I buy my WEC tickets via Silverstone’s website so I receive emails from them. This week’s email says they are ‘offering’ the chance of a 0% interest loan, payable in 9 monthly instalments, to cover the cost of two weekend grandstand tickets for the 2015 British Grand Prix. Details here.

That cost? £755. Or to put it another way, for anyone reading in the US, that’s $1215.

Utter lunacy.

You shouldn’t need a loan to buy tickets! They should be a tenth of the price.

The parking pass alone makes up £65 of this. I didn’t know they charged for parking. As far as I am aware they don’t at any other race meeting.

Don’t misunderstand my point here. This isn’t an attack on Silverstone or the BRDC. None of this is the fault of Silverstone, nor any of the other circuits charging extortionate prices. They themselves have been charged eye-watering amounts for the privilege of hosting a Formula 1 race and the only way they can recoup this cost is through ticket sales; their other avenues of revenue – trackside signage, paddock hospitality, TV rights – having long since been redirected towards the F1 empire rather than the host circuit.

Honestly if they had chosen not to renew the British GP I wouldn’t have blamed them, the business model is crazy. They believe, perhaps rightly, that it is unthinkable to not have a British GP at all. And the only option is Silverstone, no other viable option exists without a serious upgrade (ask Donington Park how that went). So the BRDC are stuck in a bind; either lose the prestige of hosting this big halo event promoting and supporting the vast motorsport industry in this country, or keep it and force people to pay ridiculous prices to go and watch.

Somehow, Silverstone still managed to host a full crowd this year. This is more than can be said for Hockenheim, the Hungaroring, and even Monza. Throughout the F1 calendar fan attendances are declining almost across the board.

For a lot of GPs it doesn’t matter, the crowd is an afterthought, just as long as the rich countries in the Middle East and elsewhere continue to stump up their even-larger race hosting fees it doesn’t matter that nobody goes to Abu Dhabi, or that white elephant tracks are springing up in places like Korea and India only to be abandoned when the locals realise they are getting screwed.

The people to blame are the people running F1, the investment group which owns the F1 group who are maximising profit by selling races at ever-increasing fees and selling TV rights to broadcasters that charge people a fortune to watch the races (that’s a post for another day).

Surely the aim must be to make a Grand Prix the place to be. To fill the place with people who look like they want to be there. Silverstone, Melbourne, Montreal and Austin do this well.. at the moment. Price the seats to the market, fill the place, make it look like somewhere sponsors want to be seen. Keep the costs high for either the tickets or the TV package and fans might change their minds, the stands may empty, the sponsors might wonder why they are being invoiced so much for so little an audience.

It is a terrible thing for the world’s biggest and most popular racing series to race in front of empty grandstands. It is even worse to deliberately keep willing people from attending because they can’t afford to go, or under some pretence of ‘exclusivity’.

Anyway, I’ve only ever been to two Grands Prix and neither were at Silverstone. If I’m paying £400 I might as well travel, see other countries, it is more easily justified that way rather than paying £400 to see an airfield outside Northampton.

And I say that as someone who quite likes Silverstone. I go there every year for the WEC and the odd other things and plan to do so for a long time to come.

Spa-Francorchamps – A Fans Perspective

This is a tremendous short video by Will Hussey from this year’s Belgian GP at the fantastic Spa-Francorchamps.

This video captures the crowd, the atmosphere, the feel of the event just perfectly. I attended in 2010 and it was just like this except then it rained heavily, constantly. The only other things missing here are the waffles, the frites et mayo, and the selection of local beers in town. I think it is time to go back.

Author:  Will Hussey @racinghumour

Found via: Will Buxton

MotoGP to BT Sport in 2014 (IndyCar & NASCAR too)

UK TV coverage of MotoGP will be switching to the new BT Sport channels from the 2014 season. IndyCar will also be on those channels later this season. I’ll focus on MotoGP as that is by far the bigger series in terms of fans and ratings.

Err, What?

BT Sport is a new venture from the telecoms company after it bought ESPN UK & Ireland, which itself grew out of the ashes of Setanta Sports. The line-up will be BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 – each with HD and SD simulcasts – and the existing ESPN channel will be retained, but it’ll be run by BT instead of ESPN. The existing ESPN Classic and ESPN America will be discontinued. MotorsTV has moved on the Sky EPG to make way.

Is this a good thing? The elephant in the room is Sky Sports, the dominant player in subscription-TV sports. If Setanta nor the mighty ESPN could make it work against Sky, could BT, despite little experience operating linear TV? BT already offer an on-demand service via IPTV (it beat Sky to that by a couple of years), could that make the difference?

Given Thursday’s announcements they are certainly giving it a damn good try!

No Free-To-Air MotoGP

Now for the bad news for many – no more BBC or Eurosport MotoGP coverage.

The free-to0-air* BBC2 airs all races live, and Moto2 and Moto3 races, and MotoGP qualifying, are live online and on the red button.

* excluding the Licence Fee but since everyone has to pay it anyway it is moot.

British Eurosport – but I believe not many other branches of Eurosport across the continent – air all sessions live for all 3 classes apart from the MotoGP race, which is delayed to give BBC2 the priority. Eurosport only requires a £5 extra fee on Sky (along with a whole host of other channels in the Entertainment Extra pack), and is on a fairly reasonable tier on Virgin Media cable TV, I think? It also has a very affordable web and app presence costing only £2.99/mth which is how I watch it.

The sharing agreement was set up in 2009 specifically to boost ratings by giving priority to the more widely available BBC2. It seems priorities have changed at Dorna!

As of now the only UK TV coverage is exclusive to BT. Sadly this means, unless a highlights deal is announced, MotoGP will no longer be available on free-to-air to the whole population.

This is a huge loss for MotoGP’s UK fans. I am sure Dorna took this option for their own reasons, possibly financial. The BT deal will inevitably result in far lower viewing figures. BBC2 gets about 1 million people per race, this is sometimes higher than F1 races on Sky! BT would be doing extremely well to reach 20% of that and it might be more like 10%.

There are some people who will get it free-to-air, effectively. More on that in a minute.

What MotoGP Will They Air?

Everything. All sessions and races will be covered live. Tthey’ll be covered live from site and from a London studio, perhaps they’ll send one or two pit reporters (and crew) and keep the presenting team at home? That’s a backwards step, the interaction you get from Matt Roberts, and previously Suzi Perry, is very much worth the investment. Talking heads sitting in a remote studio is not interesting to me.

What is interesting is the promise of extra programming between races, they’ve not given specifics but I imagine that might include profiles of legends of the sport, insights into GP history, a tour of a team HQ.

How.. And How Much?

First things first – the hook:  If you have BT Broadband you will be able to get BT Sport’s channels as a free extra. I’m a BT Broadband subscriber so this makes me quite happy! Effectively MotoGP remains ‘free-to-air’ if you are already with BT.

There are those who complain it isn’t “free” but that is only valid if you are now with a competitor at a lower rate – you’ll end up paying more by switching. That’s fair enough. For those of us already paying BT’s higher rates, this offer makes those prices better value. I’m paying them anyway so anything extra is a bonus. Ok it isn’t ‘free’, it is a new feature that makes my higher cost more bearable. Believe me I was seriously considering switching away at the end of my contract and this deal will heavily influence my decision.

Don’t have BT Broadband? A subscription costs £12 per month or £15 for HD but at the moment you can only get it on Sky.

Here are the four options. They say three but there are four, I consider the web player to be separate from the app. There’s a possible fifth.

Option 1)  Sky. If you have Sky you can ring up BT and give them your viewing card number. You DO NOT have to be an existing BT customer – the difference is only in cost. If you are with BTB you’ll get Sport free, if you’re not you’ll be charged £12 or £15. Seemingly you can only get it direct from BT (don’t call Sky), I bet this is to check you’re a broadband customer which Sky wouldn’t know.

Option 2) BT TV. BT have a couple of TV options of their own. You’ll need their broadband to get either.

They want you to get YouView but that requires some hoops to be jumped: You need to have BT Infinity (“superfast broadband” as they call it), their fibre-optic system which is slowly rolling out across the country.

If like many people you currently can’t get Infinity you can have BT Vision instead. For that you will need normal BT Broadband, or ADSL as most of us may know it. There appear to be no other restrictions on getting Vision. (Annoyingly there’s also a Vision-branded section on YouView – don’t confuse the two).

BT Sport will be delivered by encrypted Freeview channel needing a viewing card in exactly the same way ESPN is currently, but it’ll be the SD channels only and there’s a £10 fee for the card.

Update – more details here.

Both systems are focused on ‘On Demand’ services so I hope BT Sport content will appear there for free.

Option 3) Web Player. Seems to be BT subs only. Go to btsport.com and login with a MyBT username (the one you use to look bills). A big concern here is the use of unreliable Microsoft Silverlight which is my main bugbear with ITV Player.

Option 4) App for tablet or smartphone again needing a BT login.

I hope options 3 and 4 become available to non-subscribers. If BT are serious about bringing sport to the masses at lower rates than Sky, they would surely allow people to subscribe only to the web player and/or the app.

Potential Option 5) Virgin Media cable TV. No deal has been agreed right now but you can bet they are working on it.

Away from BT, another option for fans is the VideoPass on MotoGP.com – real diehards only though, a standard pass costs £85 per year or £21/month! A ‘MultiScreen’ pass is £30/mth.

Existing ESPN subscriber? I’m pretty sure I saw that your subscription will only run until ESPN changes hands at the end of July. If that means you have unused months I suggest you ask ESPN for a refund.

The Takeaway

Depends on what you have already.

++ for anybody with BT broadband and a Sky dish or YouView. Just ring BT and get all this stuff for free. If you currently pay for ESPN you’ll save £10-15 per month.

+ for anybody with BT broadband but no Sky dish. You (and I) will get the web player and the app for no extra fee. Most of us are perfectly used to watching BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Eurosport Player so this is a very good thing for us.

~ for people with Sky but not BT. £12-£15 isn’t going to break the bank if you only want BT Sport, but if you want Sky Sports too it’ll soon mount up. If you pay for Sky Sports and ESPN right now nothing will really change, a sport or two will have moved from one place to another as they do every year.

- for those who can and would pay for BT and/or Sky but are currently with other providers – switching is a hassle.

– if you can only afford one set of premium sports channels, do you choose Sky for F1, or BT for MotoGP & IndyCar? It’ll fall on your preference of racing and other sports.

— for anybody without BT or Sky and are unwilling or unable to switch for whatever reason. Cost is likely the main reason as both BT and Sky are expensive. There are a lot of people who just can’t afford it.

MotoGP’s ratings are going to drop substantially in 2014. ESPN’s ratings at the moment are dire and that will not change for a while. Even Sky Sports, the market leader in subscription sport, usually has poor ratings compared to Free-To-Air.

The increase in shoulder programming is a good thing – will anybody watch it?

I applaud BT for not only allowing their current customers access for no further fee – remember how often people complain the sweet deals are only for new customers – and also for keeping the monthly cost at a minimal level for non-broadband customers.

On a Personal Level

I have BT Broadband with BT Vision TV – unfortunately the Freeview part is broken so I can’t get ESPN, but even if the box worked I live in a transmission blackspot – if you pick up a main transmitter you see all Freeview channels but if you use a local repeater transmitter you only see half of them. Guess where I live! I must get an engineer to move the aerial.

I should be able to see a lot On Demand for free with Vision which is good. Anything I want live I can see on my PC or iPad for no extra charge, also brilliant.

Alternatives? I’m in a rented property so I can’t have a Sky dish – I might be allowed at this address but who’s to say how long I’ll be here and if my next landlord would let me? I also live well outside Virgin’s cabled area. These are the reasons I went for BTV in the first place.

Is this deal any good for you? Let me know! It certainly feels better than the Sky F1 deal but is that because I’m now used to that idea, is it because I know I’m getting availability for no extra cost?

Other Racing

IndyCar – BT seem to have taken over ESPN’s current IndyCar deal right off the bat, from channel launch this August. Good news. IndyCar fans were faced with having no coverage at all so it is a very different position to MotoGP which is reducing viewers. I’m *VERY* happy to finally be able to watch one of my favourite series completely legally for the first time since 2002!

NASCAR – There has been mention of NASCAR which I presume to be the 1-hour highlights show of the Sprint Cup. Time will tell. If so it might even mean I’ll stay with Cup for a season for the first time.

At the moment that seems it for motorsport but anything could change between now and the 2014 season.

Other Sport

Football, football, and more football: English Premier League, Scottish Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, MLS, English Women’s League.
English Premiership Rugby. WTA tennis. Red Bull ‘extreme sports’ (interestingly including Red Bull Crashed Ice!). UFC. And these from the head of digital production: “Our confirmed list of US sports: college basketball, Indy car, NASCAR, college football, MLB, Red Bull, MLS.”

It seems like a very decent line-up if you like those sorts of things. I’m not too into the different types of football so I wouldn’t pay for the channels, but since they are free-to-me I might dip into a few things to see if I like them!

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).

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On The Merger of Grand-Am and ALMS

Exciting things are happening in sportscar racing at the moment. A succession of changes in outlo0ks is reshaping top line series everywhere.

Globally this is no better seen than in the reintroduction of a long-overdue World Championship for those competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours. On a regional scale the Blancpain Endurance Series is going from strength to strength in Europe, and although sadly FIA World GT1 had to be scaled back and relaunched next year as a Europe-only GT Sprint series perhaps that is the best format for it.

The biggest change at a regional level, and one which may have far-reaching implications, was the announcement that IMSA’s American Le Mans Series by Tequila Patron, and Grand-Am’s Rolex Series would be merging by means of a buyout. At long last!

The Reaction

The unexpected news was greeted with universal praise – just four and a bit years after Indy unity, ‘the other’ two warring American series were coming together. It was as if a big weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. Just one thing.. how DID they keep it a secret?

Almost immediately after that came the worries. Grand-Am was making a purchase and Grand-Am is owned by NASCAR – does that mean the independent spirit of the ALMS will be lost? Are we going to get yellow flags for light debris, lucky dogs and green/white/checker finishes? Will they cut the link to Le Mans and lose those cars?

We are told repeatedly that this is NOT a takeover. We’re told this is definitely and defiantly not the same as the IndyCar purchase of ChampCar, in which anything related to the latter was mostly rubbed out, where just a few teams, drivers and events remained, and very few series staff and other assets. Some would later find their way in and others headed elsewhere (particularly to either sportscar series) but altogether it was a messy business.

Positivity

This time it is very much an integration. The companies have ALREADY merged. They call themselves ‘ISCAR’. No, me neither, but they can change it later. ISCAR has both Grand-Am and IMSA/ALMS figureheads at the helm, with equal say, and a mantra of ‘open dialogue’ being the order of business: They are listening. To fans. To teams. To drivers. To manufacturers. And to each other.

We’ve witnessed the united approach for some months now and do you know what? I believe them. They really are considering the best – and worst – of both existing series and organisations. The biggest card in their favour is time. There is no rush for 2014.
IndyCar’s hand was forced by having to get it all done in a matter of weeks. Had the IndyCar deal happened a year ahead of the actual series merge it would’ve come out of it very differently indeed. Lessons have been learned that experience (and some now in sportscar racing were involved in the IndyCar ‘merger’ – they know what they are talking about), it isn’t an experience anyone wants to see repeated.

That said, there is a hell of a lot of work to do to merge two different organisations and philosophies. A year isn’t very long in that context. Indeed the teams and drivers need to have an idea of class structure fairly swiftly – and I mean very, very soon – so they can make their purchasing decisions for 2013, if they buy now can they keep their cars for the new series or will they have to buy again?

ISCAR also specifically state they want to keep the link to Le Mans. I’d like to see how that manifests itself. I reckon that means keeping at least two ACO-compliant categories and leaving a gap in the calendar for teams to go over, or allowing them to skip a round.

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Enjoying A Summer Break

I owe this blog an explanation. As many racing series took (or are still taking) a long summer break, I took the opportunity to do the same thing. Having saved up my work’s holiday allocation for the summer and taking several days off during the warm sunny weather, I could really get used to it!

You can get a bit of burnout just from watching and reading about racing from February to July, let alone blogging about it which I do all too sparsely anyway, lacking anything of note to say. I’ve been more interested in off-the-cuff Tweeting. Mind you, sometimes it is nice to switch Twitter off, put on some music and open the wine and do some writing. I’ve missed that a little.

I had a lovely holiday in the North of Spain (Galicia) especially once it stopped raining. Once home I enjoyed watching the Olympics and going up to Cardiff (women’s football) and then London (3 times!) to enjoy the atmosphere despite not having any tickets for events in London. I did make it to Hyde Park for the men’s triathlon, there were too many people to see through but wow what a crowd.

And what an event the Olympics have been. From that incredible Opening Ceremony, through to the amazing atmosphere of the Games themselves helped in no small part by those amazing volunteers or ‘GamesMakers’, to the party of the ever-so-slightly underwhelming Closing Ceremony. It felt like another holiday, one for the whole country. I don’t know if the rest of the world felt it. I hope so. The entire feeling in the country changed and people who hate sport were found glued to their TV screens.

Will it last? Possibly not, the realities of life have already set in and the post-Games hangover was felt most keenly, but at least we have learned that we can be proud and patriotic without being far-right-wing knuckleheads, without hankering for The Empire, and that we actually can put on the biggest of events without it all going wrong in a cloud of over-spending, incompetence, and ineptitude (security contractors notwithstanding).

Best thing of all: it proved all the doubters wrong. That’s always fun. No gridlock, no tube/train/bus transport meltdowns, a great atmosphere, a friendly London – who’d have imagined!?

I had intended to write about the Games all through the summer on my personal blog, that didn’t happen as I was so wrapped up in the events I couldn’t take my eyes off them! I still plan to write up my thoughts there so check my Twitter feeds for updates, or perhaps if it interests you maybe you could subscribe to that blog. Otherwise I’ll be blogging about racing here again soon.

Is the summer over? Almost. The latter half of August is here so the party is almost over but, in the finest traditions of Columbo, there’s just one more thing.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to Alex Zanardi’s Paralympic handcycle road race. If you weren’t able to get a ticket – and they may still be on sale so do check for the H4 Handcycle Road Race or Time Trial – it turns out you don’t actually need a ticket to attend. The ticket grants access to Brands Hatch Circuit premises but the actual road race course leaves the grounds and uses public roads seemingly open to all spectators. Just get there early. And if you do have a ticket for Brands itself, let me know, we could meet up.

Anyway, aside from my upcoming two-day Paralympic sojourn (I also have ExCel Arena and Stadium tickets for the day before the road race), the break is over and I’m back in business. I plan to write regularly for both this and my personal blog over the next fortnight and beyond.

I’ll also be attending the Silverstone 6 Hours on Sunday and I’ll write a piece tomorrow to tell you why I think you should come along. Are you going?

I hope you’re having a good summer (or winter if you’re upside down), and if you went to any of the Olympic events or are planning to attend the Paralympics do share!

The other things I wanted to share with you were this ad that went up over London toward the end of the Olympics, and this fantastic promo from Channel 4.

The Paralympics are often marginalised. I don’t think that’ll happen this year.

Tooned – Episode 1: Wheel Nuts

This is a brilliant idea. If you are a team with a reputation as being staid, distant, corporate and boring, what do you do to change that external perception and let people know what thteam is really like? There’s little better than starting a cartoon!

These great little shorts are from a new division called McLaren Animation, a partnership with Framestore who I’d honestly never heard of before. They sound like one of those companies who do work you’d recognise but is branded by someone else for their promo so you never really know it is them.

Over the last couple of years we’ve learned of the dynamic between Jenson and Lewis in other videos over the last couple of years, it’s good to see the team get a bit of love too.

Here is the first episode which debuted during the British GP weekend two weeks ago:

[ McLaren Animation / Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (McLaren Racing) ]

This isn’t just a great idea, it is also well-executed. It shows the humour of the team whilst also being sponsor friendly (perhaps still a little too clean and corporate – every team ‘partner’ is clearly on show) and perhaps most importantly it gets across the message that McLaren is a high tech company… even if some of the gadgets are a bit ‘out there’!

Secondly, a quick word for the Lotus F1 Team. Keep an eye on their Twitter account (@Lotus_F1Team) during races, as for some weeks now they’ve been tweeting live drawings produced as the race progresses! Here is an example posted on lap 33 during Sunday’s German GP. Theirs is also one of the most active and funny accounts among all the F1 teams so do give them a follow.

[I've not been contacted by anyone from either team so this isn't a promo piece, I just thought they were cool ideas worth sharing]