Live broadcast British speedway definitely back on Sky Sports again in 2018

Sky Sports and BT Sport have finally reached agreement to allow open access to all their satellite channels for all their subscribers. Whatever happens in the negotiations with BT Sport over broadcasting Premiership League racing, this definitely means that British Speedway will be broadcast live on Sky Sports next season….albeit that currently the only confirmed meeting is the British Speedway Grand Prix in Cardiff.

Given the combined possible satellite television audience numbers now in play – BT TV’s UK customer base of 1.7 million and Sky’s 12.74 million subscribers in UK & Ireland as well as with the potential of BT Sport availability to over 5 million households – the boost to the national profile of British Speedway that the oxygen of publicity live broadcast grants to the sport, its riders and clubs must surely be much harder for Premiership promoters to justify walking away from now that the powerful showcase of Sky Sports is back in play? Mutual interest allied to BT Sport need to source low cost the summer live sports broadcast hours – something that speedway provides – should see some movement on terms towards agreement rather than the suicide options of terms intransigence (BT) or swallowing the poison pill of outright refusal (SCB/BSPA)?

That said, the signs are not good if judged by the mood music of the stalled negotiations and, on the speedway side, the increasing insistency of the heavy-handed hints dropping from various sources via the pages of the Speedway Star over recent weeks. Though, apparently, Premiership “promoters are pondering a new tv contract” for the 2018 season they are not exactly rushing to accept the [three year] deal without balloon payments that is currently on offer from BT Sport.

Without doubt, the feast days of big balloon payments plus individual meeting staging fees promoters somehow managed to fritter away without anything concrete to show for it in terms of national recognition, robust attendances or home grown rider development are gone. And, in its place, is the pending famine of BT Sport current meeting staging fee offer that for most premiership clubs will only barely cover lost gate receipts.

Compounding the collective failure to invest Sky Sports era monies wisely, the ongoing independently verified collapse of the Speedway television audience in the UK (both Speedway Grand Prix & British League racing) over the past decade or so, surely means that if any commercial broadcaster is brave enough to offer to bear the costs of putting on live coverage without charging British Speedway promotors/clubs for this service (let alone making any payment for doing so) then it would be foolish not to accept even the current ‘derisory’ offer. Unless, of course, there is an alternative development strategy (and serious marketing budget/plan) already on hand and ready to go to take its place.

Though the price of the live broadcast television tail wagging the speedway dog is well known to historically include producing pitiful crowds, rider wage inflation and product perception dilution, this is the strategic road British Speedway embraced. The time to actually sensibly question the real or imagined benefits of the television broadcast deal passed by over a decade ago. Understandably, the reality of reduced fees/revenues has concentrated the promoter hive mind. Just last week, taking an onion from his pocket, Poole Pirates promoter Matt Ford told Speedway stenographer Paul ‘Burbo’ Burbidge, “We’re going into a year where we’re probably going to have no television money”. Whether that is factually true or an exaggeration still remains to be seen. What is certain that the nuclear option of walking away with ‘no deal’ is likely to be exponentially more harmful for the prestige, recognition, prosperity and long term prospects of British Speedway – whatever its future incarnations – than almost any alternative scenario.

Now, with the dashboard warning light flashing, even more than usual, rather than blame others, live in an imaginary parallel universe or play the victim British Speedway needs to play the cards it has dealt itself shrewdly.

 

Postscript 28.12.17

“One PL track is believed to have suggested that banning the cameras will result in an increase of 200 spectators per meeting at his venue. How he arrives at that mind-boggling conclusion is anyone’s guess.” Philip Rising, Speedway Star, 30.12.17

“Speedway’s future is very much on the line because there are few sports that can flourish without the regular exposure a TV contract guarantees.” Peter Oakes, Speedway Star, 30.12.17

“Some have produced statistical evidence that their crowds went DOWN once BT started their coverage last season.” Anonymous,  Talking Point column, Speedway Star, 30.12.17

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