Belfast Telegraph

Television deal is pie in the Sky, says F1 boss

 

Main attraction: Lewis Hamilton signs autographs for fans in the pitlane in Monaco
Main attraction: Lewis Hamilton signs autographs for fans in the pitlane in Monaco
Sean Bratches, Formula One's commercial boss

By Philip Duncan

Formula One bosses are keen for the sport to return to free-to-air television - describing Sky Sports' exclusive deal as "sub-optimal".

The Monaco Grand Prix, one of the world's grandest sporting events, will be broadcast behind the paywall tomorrow.

Sky Sports brokered a £600million six-year contract with F1's former supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, in 2016, to gain the live television rights in the United Kingdom.

This season is the first year of that deal, with Channel 4, who screened 10 live rounds in 2018 including the race in Monaco, reduced to showing a highlights package - 1.7million watched its coverage of the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this month.

The British Grand Prix in July will be the only race on the 21-round calendar which will be screened live by Channel 4 this season.

"It concerns us in a pretty material way," said Sean Bratches, Formula One's commercial boss.

"From a brand standpoint, F1 is nowhere near the position to lose free-to-air viewership.

"The revenue element from pay television is exciting and attractive to us, but from a reach standpoint it is sub-optimal.

"Our ideal circumstance would be to have 75% on free-to-air, and 25% on pay TV.

"There is no wriggle-room in our agreement, contractually. That would have to be something Sky would initiate and agree with us."

F1 lies second only to football as delivering the biggest audience numbers for Sky, with more than two million people tuned in to watch Lewis Hamilton win his fifth world championship in Mexico last season.

Hamilton, who is yet to speak publicly since Niki Lauda's death on Monday, is bidding to win for a third time on the streets of his adopted home to extend his seven-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the championship.

The Silver Arrows have dominated the new campaign, beginning the season with an unprecedented five one-two finishes from the opening five rubbers.

Hamilton, 34, was also quickest in both practice sessions at the principality on Thursday.

"One of the things we are trying to do is create less predictability in the sport," said Bratches.

"I am enamoured when Lewis wins the race but I would love to see some of the other brands on the podium.

"The bottom-three teams in the Premier League know they cannot win the title, but they also know that when they play Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham, that they have the opportunity to win or get a point - that is not the case in Formula One.

"There is a chance to address that. We think the best days are in front of us and we have a lot of plans to make that happen.

"Every conversation we have, we put the fan in the middle of the table and if what we are doing does not affect the fan in a positive way, then we orient back to that north star."

British teenager Lando Norris says only a big pay day would lure him to Monaco's millionaire paradise - insisting he would rather play Top Golf with his friends in Guildford.

The 19-year-old McLaren driver will compete in his first Formula One race in Monte Carlo tomorrow following an encouraging start to his grand prix career.

But Norris has no plans to follow in the footsteps of predecessors, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and David Coulthard by moving to the tax haven.

"If it saves money I guess it is something I would have to consider, but I am far from earning £30million," said Norris.

"A lot of the drivers here earn a decent amount of money and that is the benefit of living in Monaco.

"But the environment does not get me excited. None of my friends are here, so I wouldn't know many people. It is not as open or as free as where I live in Guildford, too.

"Back home, I can go to the McLaren factory in Woking, I can have fun with my mates. Here, I don't know what I would do.

"I played Top Golf the other day. I am not any good at it, but I can go and have fun, and that is not something I would necessarily be able to do in Monaco."

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