Speedway World Cup viewing figures: ongoing decline of television audience on Sky Sports
The reverse Midas touch BSI repeatedly show via the ongoing decline of their Speedway Grand Prix television audience on Sky Sports looks like an outlandish success story in contrast to the rapid collapse of viewer interest in the Speedway World Cup. Looking at the publicly available figures for 2006-2011, popularity has gone from robust to disastrous.
Even if they’re in denial, it’s definitely not pretty news for the organisers and their sponsors alike. Average UK viewer numbers on Sky Sports are down by over half. The rained off 2009 Speedway World Cup Final – with absolutely no racing – actually attracted a bigger audience than the 2011 SWC Race-Off. Indeed, the least watched SWC rounds in both the 2006 & 2008 series still both attracted higher UK audience-viewing figures than saw Team Great Britain compete at Norfolk Arena round in 2011. You have to wonder if anyone bothered to bring up the declining popularity on Sky Sports of the Speedway Grand Prix and Speedway World Cup with Monster Energy prior to their sponsorship?
So, given this context, is it probable audience figures will improve for the 2012 FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup? It looks unlikely, especially after the organisers decided to tinker with the format and reduce team sizes from five to four riders. (This is so innovative that, if such changes were adopted in sports elsewhere, the World Cup 2014 would feature only nine players per team) Some observers claim this move is simultaneously designed to weaken Poland while it also helps ensure the USA team qualify and, thereby, possibly get to race at least once possibly twice during the FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup. It’s definitely a format tweak without any real speedway racing justification. Whatever happens, it does ensure some happy commercial possibilities, namely, SWC sponsors Monster Energy can relentless big up speedway as a ‘sport’ in their key North American market. Even better, BSI/IMG can use this ‘enhanced profile’ and notionally burgeoning ‘interest’ levels stateside to further cement/confirm their ambition to (eventually) stage a Speedway Grand Prix round in the USA.
However, the ultimate piece of cynical gerrymandering to the event format – undermining completely whatever limited credibility remained for this annual event – is the decision to seed the country staging the final (Sweden in the 2012 #MonsterEnergySWC) through to the final. This ensures that in future Team Great Britain will actually occasionally ‘qualify’ when chosen to host the final. It’s a decision that arguably also reduces the ‘spectacle’ of the Race-Off.
Further diluting the product on show at the FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup in 2012, the organisers decreed teams are to race without reserves (“for cost reasons” according to Paul Burbidge on Twitter). Team Great Britain manager Neil Middleditch quickly identified to Paul Burbidge – should injury strike during any FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup meeting – then the lack of any facility to track a reserve is potential trouble for both spectacle and competitiveness. “It’s no good if you have to run a meeting with three riders. We’ve got four riders in the team, whereas traditionally we’ve had five. Why not have four and a reserve? It seems to make sense.” Also saving money (and simultaneously making any use of “the joker” more outlandishly significant) is the decsion to stage each event over 20 races rather than the usual 25 heats.
A strong performance by Team Great Britain might boost UK television audiences but, with an outright win unlikely, they’ll still fall far short of the levels of audience popularity enjoyed by this competition on Sky Sports only a few short years ago.
With usual thanks to Charles McKay for the statistics! How BARB compile these official figures used by every TV programme in Britain (as well as advertisers, programme makers, broadcasters etc) is explained here.