IndyCar On Sky Sports For 2019

The NTT IndyCar Series will air in the UK exclusively on Sky Sports F1 for 2019 and beyond, in a deal announced just over a week before the first race.

This is exciting news if you get Sky Sports F1. And possibly good news for the series to get in front of more eyeballs. This is not so good if you were watching on BT TV.

I’ll get on to the future in a little while. First some context.

History With Sky

The old IRL had long been aired on Sky Sports. Eurosport aired the rival CART / Champ Car. When the series merged, Sky aired the unified IndyCar Series as a continuation of the IRL deal.

At the time Sky gave IndyCar little promotion and audiences were tiny. But they gave it some attention by providing a London studio which filled in the gaps.

US TV is allowed to take far more advert breaks per hour than British TV. This causes a headache for UK channels when they take live American sport. How do you fill the gaps? This is trickier if the host doesn’t show the action while US TV is away.

Sky Sports provided a studio for Keith Heuwen and a regular guest. Keith, the former 500cc Grand Prix motorbike racer and now MotoGP lead commentator for BT Sport. The guests were often former Indy Lights racer and long-time sportscar driver Johnny Mowlem, or British IndyCar engineer Andy Brown who had worked for teams in F1, CART and IRL with success.

Pre-race would be a discussion in London which joined the US broadcast just before the green flag. We rarely saw the packages from the host broadcast. Mid-race, when they didn’t go to break themselves they’d talk through the action we’d seen and show replays again, always a benefit. It was a good compromise.

Unfortunately it could also be dry which is just a function of the format. I’m never a fan of going to a studio during a live event. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be racing, football, athletics, whatever. I find it detaches you from the event and sucks the life and atmosphere away. I’d rather see the event I’m tuning in to see and have the remote analysts talk over it. I get the sense I’m missing something when they cut away. Unfortunately it is common practice in UK sports broadcasting.

Sky Sports F1 launched in 2012. There was a bit of cross-pollination with 2 or 3 IndyCar races on the channel, but mostly IndyCar was on Sky Sports 4 and the two didn’t interact very much.

History With BT Sport

IndyCar TV rights outside America were held by ESPN International. ESPN had been trying to get into the UK market for a while and set up their own channel in 2009. IndyCar moved to ESPN UK in 2013. But by Summer 2013, BT, the telecoms giant, set up BT Sport as a big-money rival to Sky Sports with the intention of poaching some of the Premier League rights. They succeeded. BT Sport also purchased ESPN UK and repositioned and rebranded it to focus on American sport.

BT Sport ESPN

IndyCar on BT was basic to start with, just taking the raw feed from the US and I’m sure they even showed UK commercials for every US break.

After a while the US broadcaster provided a continuous feed during US ad breaks. This allowed BT Sport to employ their own team in London, again filling in the gaps, but this time with no formal studio. It would be audio only, over the pictures from the US. Perfect! The team included Keith Collantine of RaceFans.net (formerly F1 Fanatic), Ben Evans who commentates for BT on other series such as GT Open, and freelance Tom Gaymor who you will have heard at Eurosport on basically any racing they show. Usually it would be a pair from this three.

It was the best of both worlds. You never lost sight of the action. It settled into a routine whereby if US TV took a break while the race was green BT would stay with it with British commentary, but if the race was under Safety Car BT Sport would take a commercial break. This worked well – especially when the number of yellows decreased significantly in the last couple of years!

Occasionally this too could be dry, especially when they exchanged statistics rather than talked about the racing – the lone race where the BT team covered Road America in its entirety was particularly bad for this. But in general the team illuminated the coverage from a British perspective and kept it moving, even including fans’ comments via Twitter and running Q&As for people new to IndyCar. It was a very positive step.

There was moment when a different production team on the UK side covered Indy. The theory was good, big fanfare and explainers for newbies, but they made the same mistake as Sky with a UK studio. It meant UK fans watching for the first time were denied the pomp and ceremony preceding the race, which are as much part of the Indy 500 as the race itself. Instead we watched an incredibly dry discussion about how Fernando Alonso might do. The usual knowledgeable UK team were sidelined which was very unhelpful in explaining to potential new fans.

That race in 2017 the viewership hit 200,000, some 10 times higher than usual! Again generally IndyCar viewing numbers were terrible, just like with Sky, barely making 30,000 some weeks. There’s no way it should be that low in a country so mad on F1.

Future With Sky Sports F1

Sky Sports F1 has matured since 2012. It found its place and has built a loyal audience of motorsport die-hards willing to pay money to watch racing. So this is a good deal, yes?

Sky Sports F1

Well, I have three concerns. One is promotion. How often do Sky promote the non-F1 series they already have, Formula 2 and GP3 (which will be FIA Formula 3 this year)?

Last year they failed to show a live F2 race, choosing instead to show F1 drivers playing giant Jenga, even though three British F2 drivers would sign to race in F1 this year (Russell, Albon, Norris) and two of them fought for the F2 title. For me this is not forgivable. The future of British talent in F1 was handed to them on a plate and they didn’t take it. Will IndyCar races get pre-empted by a magazine show about F1?

The other concern is those loyal die-hard Formula 1 fans. Judging by internet comments and comments I’ve overheard at racetracks and at Goodwood FoS, many have proven over many years to have a real problem with IndyCar. They jump to conclusions about “just turning left” or being “F1 rejects”, though a lot of IndyCar fans in the US make the second point as well.

It makes no sense to me. IndyCar races are mostly on road and street courses. They are open wheel single seater cars that race at high speed. Oval races often are tactically brilliant while being insanely fast.

Will F1 fans give IndyCar a fair shot? I hope so. It’s a fantastically competitive series. And the depth of talent is higher than ever. The top 5 were always as good as anyone in F1, but now you could extend that to the top 10 or 15. Drop Josef Newgarden or Scott Dixon into a Mercedes with 8 days of testing and they’d run Lewis Hamilton close.

The positives?

If even a portion of these fans can be convinced, there is a ready and waiting audience. 600,000 fans regularly watch Grands Prix on SSF1. Convert even 10% of the audience and you’re already ahead of what BT achieved.

And the Indy 500? Lots of potential there. Could we see 400k? 500k? That would be a record for a UK audience. Will the channel see an uplift in subscriber numbers now F1 is exclusively live?

Costs

This is my third concern and it’s a big one. Sky is very expensive. Even with the deals on offer.

For a full cost analysis of Sky Sports please see Motorsport Broadcasting (the blog is also the source of the viewing figures quoted in this piece). The comparison includes Now TV streaming and the Sky Sports Mobile TV app which is by far the cheapest option.

If you already subscribe to SSF1 this is a win for you.

If you don’t you’ll either have to miss IndyCar – and live F1 – or you’ll have to switch. You will at least have delayed highlights of F1 on Channel 4.

YouTube was another option. Races have been uploaded in full to YouTube within days. I have a smart TV with a YouTube app and this was a great way to catch up on those 2am night races if I forgot to record them on BT.
However in the US there’s a new agreement with streaming and on demand catch up on NBC Sports Gold. It remains to be seen whether the series will continue to upload races to their YouTube channel. I suppose we will find out next week.

Speaking Personally

I have BT fibre broadband and BT TV and will lose IndyCar and F1 in the same year.

I had been resigned to watching F1 with Channel 4’s evening highlights.

To be honest I’d assumed IndyCar would stay on BT Sport and was happy with that because they have MotoGP. Two of the best series in the world justified keeping BT Sport and I got to see some Champions League and Premiership Rugby as well.

Yes I know they have other racing, DTM, GT Open, and so on. But I don’t watch those.

I’ve been an IndyCar fan since 2000 and this year’s series promises so much. SSF1 having live F1 and live IndyCar has me seriously looking at subscribing.

There are deals around which drop the price of Sky significantly, though it is still expensive. I’m trying to justify it to myself. It might mean changing broadband.

I won’t be able to get Sky installed before Round 1 at St. Pete next weekend and probably not before the Australian GP the week after. But to guarantee two of my favourite series for two years… is it worth it?

Is it worth it?

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

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).

Continue reading “UK’s Coverage Of IndyCar Switches To ESPN”

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.

Continue reading “On The Merger of Grand-Am and ALMS”

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]