Catastrophic further collapse in Cardiff Speedway Grand Prix viewing figures contributes to dramatic further decline in overall British SGP audience

The catastrophic 2009 loss of 104,000 Sky Sports Cardiff Speedway Grand Prix speedway viewers – or a reduction in the British television audience of 39% – should, surely, give even the most complacent ‘businessman’ pause for thought about the format and ongoing appeal of this event? Luckily, the Managing Director of BSI/IMG speedway franchise, Paul Bellamy doesn’t lack belief or usually bother with anything so inconvenient as doubts or meaningful analysis. Instead, with his trademark strategic vision allied to his usual scrupulous adherence to facts and figures, Paul bangs on about the alleged increasing worldwide popularity of the Speedway Grand Prix series * and other invariably unrequited series extension ambitions unaware the SGP has jumped the shark.

Selling the watered down simulacra of world championship speedway that is the notionally competitive SGP circus to greater and greater numbers of viewers who know almost nothing about the sport is an achievement of sorts. However, given the product quality issues that continues to drive away interest and audiences in the comparatively more sophisticated developed speedway nations (like Britain), the long term growth potential of the SGP doesn’t look that exciting or sustainable once these so-called ‘new’ markets have been colonised.

This impending problem appears yet more significant after the newly released – verifiable – BARB viewing figures for the Cardiff Speedway Grand Prix 2010 show that the British television audience again completely off the cliff – down an incredible 53% or 87,000 viewers! This further dramatic fall – and it’s nice to have some drama in a Speedway Grand Prix meeting – must, surely, be sobering information for even the most befuddled executive team? Maybe it requires a P45 rather than a bonus for their glorious leader Paul Bellamy? The BARB figures for the Cardiff GP over recent years are:

2004            150,000

2005            142,000                        down 8,000 (-5%)

2006            146,000                        up 4,000 (+2.8%)

2007            229,000                        up 83,000(+57%)

2008            268,000                       up 39,000 (+17%)

2009            164,000                        down 104,000 (-39%)

2010            77,000                           down 87,000 (-57%)

The usual BSI Speedway – An IMG Company approach is usually to talk airily of their own professionalism, allege continued unrivalled growth in distant markets or quote various unsubstantiated numbers – usually characterised by their legendary approximateness. Alternatively, they roll out the big guns: keenly willing ‘tame’ journalists (or press officers) happy to corroborate-cum-parrot the company line talking up the ‘success’. Sadly for BSI Speedway, some facts occasionally intrude since BARB is independent, authoritative and unbiddable. (It would be interesting to have authentic viewing figures for these other much-vaunted countries/markets)

Whatever the real reasons are for this dramatic year on year decline in Sky Sports viewers isn’t so easy to quantify since sincerely held opinions vary and little corroborating factual information exists. Even if we set aside the extenuating factor of the ‘brave’ – hardly bright, anyway – decision by the local management team to choose to stage the showpiece major revenue generating event in the SGP calendar against the Football World Cup third place play off [btw couldn’t the expertise parent company IMG likes to claim it has about almost every sports event in the world have been brought to bear?]. Losing such a chunk of a dwindling British audience isn’t going to have the usual cabal of advertisers with mediocre wares to sell – who supposedly love the SGP series – flocking back panting to get some more ‘exposure’ for their dull ‘brands’ is it? In fact, 2010 saw the first time the British television audience could actually fit completely within the capacity of the Millennium Stadium itself! Well, just so long as some of them stand on the centre green (or, in the aisles, like the determined flag wavers and drunks).

Doubtless reading from a script or looking towards his next contract renewal but failing his ad hoc audition to become the next Inception architect, Kelvin Tatum likes to grandiosely claim, “you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Cardiff”. However, despite Elite League Sky Sports speedway audiences also declining in 2010, various run of the mill weekly EL meetings nonetheless still instil much greater enthusiasm amongst the speedway armchair public than the chance to watch the paint dry racing of the Cardiff SGP. It would be seen as totally laughable if Kelvin said, “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Eastbourne versus Peterborough”. These latest figures now blatantly expose the ridiculousness of Kelvin’s hyperbole about the Cardiff SGP.

Even if we accept the ‘good news’ of the organisers unaudited attendance figures for the 2010 Cardiff SGP event – this would be a bold assumption given the past laissez faire attitude shown by BSI Speedway to such usually straightforward administrative matters (let alone the that mix of paying/non-paying customers again isn’t identified) – the reported 44,150 fans effectively means at best only 1,150 additional punters (+2.67%) turned up! While, elsewhere, 87,000 didn’t even bother to switch on. This is a net loss of 85,850 people from the British audience for the 2010 version of the Cardiff SGP! Even more interestingly, the Sunday Times reports the 2010 attendance as a “disappointing” 32,000. Perhaps, this figure is completely wrong or, maybe, reflects the number of paying fans? Who knows? BSI Speedway isn’t telling either. Whatever the answer, alarm bells continue to ring about the long-term strategic development and popularity of the present format of the Speedway Grand Prix. It’s a situation that – when the dust settles disastrously – leaves regular, loyal fans wondering if the last decade of the SGP series effectively bastardising and hollowing out our top tier of British speedway is a price worth having paid?

* Apparently without irony but simultaneously discarding any vestigal possibility he could be taken seriously as a thoughtful businessman, in the Speedway Star Paul Bellamy recently claimed, “This [Cardiff] meeting was being broadcast to 160 countries”. Leaving aside that the phrase “being broadcast” implies 160 countries receiving live (rather than packaged & edited) broadcasts, this is truly amazing worldwide penetration given there are officially only 195 countries exist in the world! Such success is either an amazing tribute to the sheer spectacle and drawing power of the BSI/IMG run Speedway Grand Prix series (as well as testament to the brilliance of their rights sales staff) or an exaggeration! Was the Cardiff SGP really shown in Benin, Bhutan, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Vatican City, Vanuatu, Yemen and the like? Or are these some of the 35 remaining countries still to be conquered by the incomparable magic of the SGP series format and spectacle?

The comment below by Martin about SKY+ doesn’t stand up to cursory analysis as a likely explanation for this continuing and massive decline in popularity. It is NOT a plausible explanation as time shift viewing using SKY+ (& the like) is included in these figures. To check the BARB methodology, perhaps, actually visit their website? In the helpful FAQs, BARB state: “Non-live viewing from PVRs like Sky+ and other recording devices such as DVDRs are measured and included in the viewing figures as timeshift viewing. If a programme has been viewed on the same day as the original broadcast the viewing will be included in the overnight files as VOSDAL data (see ‘What is VOSDAL data?’), otherwise, if it has been viewed in the 7 days after the original broadcast it will be included in the consolidated data.” More info is here too.

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4 Responses to Catastrophic further collapse in Cardiff Speedway Grand Prix viewing figures contributes to dramatic further decline in overall British SGP audience

  1. August 8, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Another interesting post Jeff, which raises many important questions. Although the BARB figures are often questioned, due to the supposedly small sample group, they still offer the only widely available set of stats. If the actual viewing figures are wildly different, then they should be made public within the sport.

    On a slightly different note, I am slowly but surely making my way through your latest epic publication (Shale Trek) and as always, it is a thoroughly entertaining read. The details of the ongoing spats with the likes of Mike Bennett are very funny, but I do miss your run-ins with the old Belle Vue trackshop bloke, which were hilarious!

    Keep the faith and keep turning left,

    Dave C

  2. Martin W
    August 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    On what exactly do the BARB base their figures? The reason I ask is that if they are choosing to measure only those who watch the actual live transmission then they are, I think, missing a huge point which is the growth in popularity of time-delay technologies such as Sky+.

    In 2010 the start time of the Cardiff GP was the earliest in its history to (supposedly) make life easier for those wanting to attend the event. But for the armchair fan perhaps a 5pm start was a tad too early in the evening – Sky+ (or equivalent) providing the perfect solution to put this back an hour or two and still allow the GP to be viewed ‘as live’ without knowing the outcome.

    If this is taken into account then we have a right to be concerned – however I suspect that plotting the growth in the popularity of time-delay usage over the past few years against the ‘decline’ in viewing figures might just provide an explanation.

    Great books, by the way!

  3. John Starley
    September 11, 2010 at 10:49 am

    The early start time for the 2010 SWP was perhaps a mistake. We struggled to get the day sorted in time to watch the start and I can imagine many people, especially with small children not bothering to watch because the can`t concentrate on Speedway and keep their little ones ammused.
    What sort of a place is Cardif if you can not get a meal or a drink after 10-30pm – the reason giver by BSI I beleive for making an early start. Why was a stadium like the Millenium built in a place that can not support the people that will use it. What would happen if 800000 fans for any sport turned up a the Millenium Stadium and then wanted a drink or a meal late in the evening.
    Whilst the all weather properties of the Cardiff covered track are obvious perhaps another more user friendly venue shoule be sought.

  4. September 11, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I personally feel that SKY is its own worst enemy; changing channels midway through a Grand Prix and failing to keep its website up to date with up to the minute information.

    When matches are rescheduled due to bad weather they still get the channel information wrong. How is that possible in today’s magical era of the internet?

    Let’s take today’s Grand Prix in Sweden: the red button is not available to Virgin and other viewers so they are bound to lose numbers.

    Why not treat the speedway fans as human beings instead of using the meetings as a fill up?

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