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Sky to get a rude awakening from F1?

NEWS STORY
07/10/2011

Pitpass business editor Christian Sylt was at his local recently when a throwaway comment caught his ear. Whilst watching Arsenal getting demolished 2 -1 by Tottenham (Yes!!!! - Ed) one of the regulars swore that he would literally 'give his right arm' if it would bring the team back to its winning ways of 2003 - 2004 when it won the Premier League without losing a single match. It's a common sentiment amongst football fans but what about Formula One fans?

Typically, F1 has aligned itself more with the Olympics than football. From its hospitality programme to overall corporate feel, F1 and the Olympics share more than a passing resemblance. As Pitpass has reported F1 has even styled its sponsorship programme on that of the Olympics and, until relatively recently, the 'special adviser' to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was none other than Michael Payne, former marketing director for the International Olympic Committee.

F1 seems to have made a deliberate decision to model itself on the Olympics and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The Games are widely perceived as being the most prestigious sporting event worldwide and one in which governments invest literally billions - many times more than it costs them to host an F1 race. The Olympic Games' opening ceremony and 100 metre sprint race are two of the few events on television which rival F1's popularity. However, although it makes sense to style F1 on the Olympics, there are consequences of the comparison.

How many times have you heard a follower of the Olympics say he would happily give a limb to ensure a particular athlete wins the 100 metres or the long jump? Most people will have never heard anything like this said in connection with the Olympics. However, it is this kind of feverish devotion which encourages football fans to pay the 470 subscription to watch their team on Sky Sports.

These are the kind of fanatical followers who are so devoted they claim they would give limbs to ensure the success of their team so paying 470 to watch them on TV is nothing in comparison. On the other hand, how many people could say the same about F1? Football is a religion almost the world over but the same could only possibly be said about F1 in Italy. This brings us neatly to the deal signed in July to split F1's broadcast next year between the BBC and Sky Sports. It is a deal dependent on fervent fans in Britain, not Italy.

Sky may believe that its broadcasts can inculcate this kind of devotion in F1 followers but in reality, it doesn't stand a chance of doing so. That would involve undoing Ecclestone's decades of hard work in a matter of years and that certainly isn't going to happen.

The reality is that the average F1 fan doesn't have the kind of mentality where they would willingly give limbs to ensure a team or driver's success. Their passion is the racing, just as the first love of an Olympics fan is the competition between the world's best athletes. However, it is the absolutely devoted fans who are required in these tough economic times to throw caution to the wind and spend 470 on a Sky Sports subscription to watch F1.

This could prove to be a monumental misjudgement from Sky and that's not all. When it comes to driving subscribers through F1, Sky has also got to contend with the backlash caused by the sport's move to pay-per-view. This has created antipathy towards Sky and the phone hacking scandal engulfing News Corporation, the media company which controls the broadcaster, hasn't helped.

And what if Sky's F1 production is rusty around the edges? Whilst there is no evidence it will be, this isn't impossible. Remarkably people would then be paying 470 for worse quality broadcasting than they currently get for free.

So what does this all mean? Well, it would be no surprise if Sky's projections for interest in its F1 coverage are way off beam and this may make it question the blockbuster fee it is believed to be paying to broadcast the sport.

Ecclestone and his business partners will be laughing all the way to the bank regardless and this is why they are in charge of F1 rather than News Corp.

Sky may end up wishing it had done more research before buying the broadcast rights to F1 and it couldn't happen to nicer people.

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