You may have briefly caught this story on this week’s Motorsport101 in the “Keepin’ It 101” finale, but it was interesting to see some comments on the state of F1 and specifically paddock passes from one Bernie Ecclestone:
“In F1, we have been running a five-star Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint. They [Liberty] have an American culture and at an American race, everyone is in the paddock and the pits. But maybe now the cuisine will be more accessible. Maybe it’ll even have a better taste”
See, it would be easy to throw Bernie under a moving truck here – I mean, this is the guy who openly wrote letters telling teams to only give paddock passes to really glamorous women not too long ago, but to be completely honest, this has been one of the more rational things he’s said lately, even if it’s more a backhanded compliment than anything else when Liberty has already admitted they’re trying to make F1 more accessible;
“We want people to experience the thrill of this exhilarating sport and that is what the program will deliver”, said Sean Bratches, Liberty’s F1 commercial chief, with Ross Brawn adding: “”It’s a fact that people need to get more for their money.”
Formula 1 as long as I can remember has been a sport of high class and money. I mean, why do you think every TV crew shoves Monaco’s glamour down our throat. It’s classic aspirational TV. I get that when Bernie was around, they wanted to sport to uphold this image, but I fear in today’s modern day world, a different approach is needed.
Today’s economy isn’t booming like it used to. More than ever, we gotta make cutbacks, and luxuries like a friggin F1 paddock pass are maybe once a year deals now, at best. How much of the European calendar did we often mock as fans for being ludicrously expensive? The former German Grand Prix @ Hockenheim and Silverstone (Which barely breaks even as a facility), had obscene ticket prices. Germany could never get enough fans in to justify the costs, and Silverstone isn’t profitable. And being real here, them charging up to £600 for weekend tickets makes me never want to go.
Then you compare that to the American approach – IndyCar Paddock passes are dirt cheap, often around the £50 mark, and IndyCar embraces the people in the paddock and the pit lane. You can get in the garages, touch the cars, meet the crews and the drivers. You can basically be as much a part of the experience without dressing up in a race suit. Unless you’re Francesco Dracone, where you pretty much WERE a fan who got to drive.
Having become an IndyCar fan in recent years and enjoying the product more than F1 at the moment, it was actually refreshing to see relatable fans in a paddock setting and not those Rolex and Johnnie Walker corporate folk that Bernie was trying so hard to get. I look at it and I get inspired because I could actually imagine myself being there one day. That’s neat… As I look up £1,000 plane tickets to Texas. Anywho…
But I hope that Liberty Media takes more of the brunt of sanctioning fees so track promoters can pass it on to the fans. You have to put arses in the seats as your #1 priority. Do that, and get some new fans, and that’s priceless, rather than being priced out.
So if you can’t watch F1 at a track, at least make it more watchable at home right? Well, that’s becoming a struggle too. Channel 4’s rights only last for another two seasons, then it’ll be exclusively on the Pay-TV network of Sky. According to the fine folks over at F1 Broadcasting, that could be £1000 a year for the Ultra HD package. And that’s assuming you have an Ultra HD TV to fully utilise that. That’s a big ask, but also a worrying sign for the future.
The Internet is beginning to rise as a viable platform for sports broadcasting. Twitch and YouTube dominate the eSports scene. Every major American sport has their own streaming service. IndyCar, NASCAR, and IMSA all put full replays on YouTube for free mere days after the event. Sky Go and Now TV are viable add-ons for those who want content on the go. With that rise, I suspect bigger TV networks are trying to monopolise and tie down whatever it can get in order to try and force consumers to overpay for their options.
I’m a MotoGP fan. I’d have to pay an extra £26 a month on top of a Sky subscription to watch it. Or, it’s a 100 euro upfront cost for their live experience. Don’t get me wrong, not a bad deal, but a lot of folks can’t afford to drop the best part of £90 in one sitting either. Want the Champions League? NBA? IndyCar? Gotta have BT Sport now. It wasn’t that long ago that F1 could be watched on every TV in the country via the BBC and ITV. In 2 years time, it’s either Sky or “totally legal sources”.
Combine all that together, and it’s fair to say that Liberty media’s got its work cut out to not only make money but also to change the image of its sport, making it one of accessibility, rather than glamour.