‘Wahoo…LOOK NO BRAKES’ article riddled with inaccuracies
An almost immutable law of the Rupert Murdoch Empire is that one part of his media kingdom will invariably but spontaneously chose to promote the products of another, particularly if they hold exclusive rights. For example, it’s not unusual to find The Times, The Sun or the Sunday Times using the Sky Sports invented catchphrase “Super Sunday” when reporting on a day of Premier League fixtures that features Arsenal v Man U and Chelsea v Liverpool. Equally, the Sun football pages never seem happier than when criticising the BBC for their choice of FA Cup ties without revealing their vested interest or similarly critiquing the duff football matches that Sky so often show. You can safely bet that almost all sports events that air on Sky will get saturation coverage in the News International print outlets – just think of the recent
Ricky Hatton fight or one of the darts competitions.
Luckily to prove the so-called ‘independence’ of the various Murdoch companies, speedway has bucked this strategy since it benefits from pretty well zero cross-promotion and pollination in the rest of the Murdoch media empire. Obviously, this is due partly to the comparative ineptitude (if contrasted to the highly visible marketing of other Sky exclusively broadcast sports) of the respective BSPA, BSI (or whatever they’re called nowadays) and Sky publicity departments who keep themselves busy preaching to the converted or looking for synergies with other motorcycle disciplines, despite the lessons of history that indicate that these respective codes don’t really mix. Even worse, given that every Murdoch owned UK newspaper (and all the other too) each produces a ‘Sports Calendar’ to giveaway to the readers, you’d think that the predictability of the need for news of major sports events to fill these pages would (surely) ensure that at least the blue riband event of the Cardiff GP in June might get a mention? Don’t bet on it in the hands of the BSPA & BSI media publicity gurus – cos there’s a long-standing track record of silent mystery to maintain. Things are so bad that the briefest, passing mention or bastardization of the sport into the two-wheeled equivalent of giant tractor racing is seen as cause for ecstatic celebration. Half the time, even the Sky magazine that subscribers to the epynonomous satellite channel get tortured with as junk mail every month barely mentions the sport it owns exclusive broadcast rights for beyond a miniscule nodding acquaintance towards the fixtures in the TV listings.
Set against this background, it was a delight to find that the Sky Sports Match magazine for March mentions speedway on the cover and actually includes some coverage inside on the start of the new season. In fact, wow, the sport is given a whole page and a third (in a 44 page magazine) with an article headed ‘Wahoo…LOOK NO BRAKES’
Even the most hard-hearted critic of our print and broadcast media coverage would have to admit that some phrases in the article elegantly sum up the sport and its appeal. For example, we learn the sport exists, is exciting to watch and still exists (this will be news to some people). However, in an article of 207 words (including the headline and subsequent strapline “The ‘people’s motorsport’ careers back to rude health at an exciting pace”), there are a truly astonishing number of inaccuracies or unproven claims that do the sport or its advocates no real credit in the harsh light of day. Lets have a look at some of these statements to reality check their veracity.
1.“The 2008 domestic speedway season will be the tenth on Sky Sports.” Not disputable, though with Jonathan ‘both teams really want to win this’ Green at the helm it often feels like the twentieth.
2.“During that period [1999-2008] the sport has enjoyed improved attendances at tracks, rising viewing figures and increased media interest” Well, attendance and viewing figures aren’t published. So which tracks can we all agree have consistently shown an upward trend in the last decade? Well, recently King’s Lynn and possibly a few others spring to mind but, excluding openings and closures, I always understood the long-term trend was downwards? Also when the Sky cameras arrive attendances usually plummet dramatically with exceptions only for the Play-offs or when Lakeside let everyone in for free. If you exclude Sky (the nature of whose exclusive ensures that it remains on a minority subscription channel and that the terrestrial channels – with many more viewers – ignore it), where on earth has this increased coverage been?
3.“A switch in 2001 from Brandon Stadium in Coventry to the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff helped attendance figures rise from 6,000 to over 41,000 at the British Grand Prix” This is just plain wrong (!) – bollocks, we technically call it in the trade – and hardly a like-for-like comparison. Based on the official (but suspiciously rounded) F.I.M. attendance figures, the attendances at Coventry were 25% higher than quoted at 8000 and 8500 respectively in 1999-2000. Whereas, the Cardiff GP had it’s best year in 2002 with an attendance of exactly 42000 before going on a four year decline until last year when attendances rose slightly but still failed to match 2002 levels. In anyone’s book, this is not a rise, let alone a continuous one! Indeed the median Cardiff GP attendance figure is 40000 and the average attendance from 2001 is 38,645. Perhaps, this poor grasp of mathematics was accidental? They do say if you repeat a lie often enough people believe it; I’m not sure what they say about persistent untruths.
4.“With a new generation of viewers enjoying the sport” Given the veracity and truthfulness of previous claims, we’ll give Sky a ‘mulligan’ when it comes to stories of increased viewing figures that they never corroborate by officially publishing. However, given the attendance success story at the tracks is similarly unclassified and unquantified, while the numbers at the Cardiff GP has mainly gone backwards, it’s hard to figure out where the “new generation” exists or actually goes to watch its speedway?
5.“Although primarily a local sport for local people” True enough, most fans only watch their team at home and speedway isn’t renowned for its travelling away support, except where local derbies really are relatively ‘local’.
6.“With pockets of support dotted round the UK in East Anglia, the South Coast and West Midlands.” This statement is a truly shocking display of ignorance, even if we assume (though the article implies otherwise) that we’re only talking Elite League here. Whoops – Belle Vue go missing and Lakeside, Swindon and Peterborough have to fit themselves into the limited number of geographic areas named. So, if we’ve now noticed that the Sky magazine article writer has a faulty calculator, then their map of the British Isles has definitely gone missing from their office! (Let alone we’ll have to ignore their ignorance of the reality of British speedway as a whole – namely that it covers every UK region except Ireland)
7.Peter Toogood is quoted as saying “Sky Sports has enhanced speedway to a level we simply couldn’t have envisaged” Leaving aside the examples of the dynamic growth in the popularity, coverage and advertising revenues enjoyed as a consequence of the continued growth of televised coverage of Premier League football or Twenty-Twenty Cricket or Rugby Union, then “enhanced” might just be an apposite choice of descriptive word. Like many others, I relish watching the Sky Speedway coverage every week because it invariably entertains me – and I really wouldn’t want to consider how bad things would be without weekly television coverage – but even a junior sports marketer wouldn’t claim the sport as a whole (or even just the Elite League) had really capitalised on the golden opportunity provided.
8.Peter Toogood continues, “it has encouraged promoters” The new breed of promoters like Mr. Sandhu, John Postlethwaite and Bob Brimson have arrived and fallen by the wayside in a short period with decidedly mixed fortunes. Club ownership by experienced promoters like Terry Russell and Colin Horton has reduced and, arguably, the treatment dished out to Mr. Sandhu creates a worrying impression of insularity for independent businessmen (outsiders) who wish to invest in the future in our sport.
9.We’re then told in the article Rosco’s “profile has never been higher”. Be still my beating heart will be the reaction of speedway fans everywhere and Rosco confirms, “you get recognised in the street now for a start! People talk about speedway in the town again.”
So, there we have it – an article that omits Swindon from its own map of speedway geography sounds the clarion call of resurgence for the sport primarily based on fallacious statements and the fact that some people recognise Rosco in Swindon! The real proof of the pudding surely remains that world champion Nicki Pedersen can still walk down practically any High Street completely unnoticed (including Stevenage). Undoubtedly speedway is friendly and local community based, never mind that it inspires dedication and passion in its loyal followers, but is this really a sign of “rude health” and the boosted national profile claimed?