Ad industry insiders are taking a rather cynical view of the new
British Superbikes TV deal with Eurosport following the series being
ditched by ITV1, on the basis it will result in a much smaller target
audience for sponsors and advertisers.
Indeed, assertions by Jonathan Palmer, chief executive of BSB
commercial rights holder MotorSport Vision, that Eurosport ‘is
recognised as the logical and natural home for bike racing’ and that
‘we are in a new era in which the digital channels will be the home
of virtually all sport’ don’t stand up to serious scrutiny.
During the 2006 season - the most recent for which audited viewing
figures are available - ITV1’s BSB coverage attracted an average UK
adult audience of 962,000 per round with a peak audience of more than
1.5 million for the cliff-hanger final leg at Brands Hatch -
impressive when compared with the British Touring Cars average of
Similar cross-over terrestrial/digital coverage of MotoGP by the BBC
also attracts UK audiences easily above the million mark - as it also
achieved when it was broadcasting recorded BSB highlights in the
past. The BBC’s best MotoGP audience in 2007 was for the US Laguna
Seca round with 1.7 million. The British round at Donington Park
pulled 1.4 million viewers. By contrast, British Eurosport MotoGP
coverage gets only a fraction of the BBC’s UK audience volume -
typically fewer than 250,000 with a 2007 peak at Donington of 355,000
- and its BSB audience delivery is unlikely to be a lot better.
This is attributable to the stronger branding and far higher
production values of the mainstream channels. In MotoGP, for
instance, the BBC adds its own live on-location grid/pitlane cameras
and presentation to the Dorna TV race feed, apart from its commentary
team - as ITV1 did with BSB. Eurosport, on the other hand, relies
purely on sound-only commentary teams for its MotoGP and World
Superbikes offerings, backed up by a fat bloke on a sofa in a studio
somewhere in the Home Counties.
On a commercial level, this is unlikely to pull sponsorship, course
signage and other involvement such as hospitality from high-street
brands outside of the bike business ghetto - the sort of big money
that the budget-starved BSB series promoters and leading BSB teams
are looking for - because the key UK or European audience volume
won’t be there.
Media buyers aren’t impressed with Palmer’s boast that ‘Eurosport's
global coverage will play a major role’ either, pointing out that big
brands want quality of viewer not just the quantity typically found
in developing countries in Asia and the Far East. They see the socio-
demographic profile of the audience as a major issue - in other
words, consumers with credible cash to spend.
Big-league brands and their ad agencies are not run by fools. And to
put it crudely, almost nobody’s interested in ragged-trousered
coolies watching satellite bike racing feeds somewhere in a swamp in
the Mekong Delta apart from the tobacco companies - and they are now
forbidden fruit, of course.
As Palmer quite rightly says, ‘television coverage is vital to the
future development of BSB’, but you have to suspect that he’s
actually putting a brave face on the only deal he could get.