It is said that “tradition is an experiment which worked’.
This evening on Facebook there is an experiment taking place which will be eagerly watched by sponsors, rights holders and broadcasters and, if it works, could have a significant role to play in the way F1 media is consumed in the future.
Budweiser, the sponsor of the FA Cup competition, is streaming the opening round of the FA Cup live tonight at 7-45pm on its Facebook page, taking the content live and direct to its consumers. It expects around 100,000 of Facebook’s 700 million audience to watch and may show other live games if it works.
The teams involved are not significant; Ascot United and Wembley FC will not be heard of in the later stages of the competition when the bigger clubs join in, but the idea of a sponsor being able to present live unique content direct to fans, who already buy in to their brand, has many possible applications in Formula 1 and attractions to sponsors.
Up to now the model of F1 has been mass-market free to air TV with sponsors paying large sums of money to teams and to Ecclestone for track signage in order to get a ‘share of voice’ on the TV – ie camera time and exposure.
But we are now starting to see F1’s model change in a number of ways; Bernie Ecclestone has started diluting the model by selling the rights to Pay TV companies like Sky, turning the F1 armchair fan from a consumer to a customer, paying up to £400 a year for their pleasure.
The internet and mobile phones offer new opportunities to the sport too and tonight’s Facebook premiere of a live football match, which incidentally is all Budweiser’s work, not Facebook’s, shows how simply and effectively a sponsor can showcase its involvement in the sport.
That said, we are a long way from Ecclestone selling rights directly to sponsors, indeed one imagines that he would hate the idea of one sponsor getting so much prominence. But you can begin to see possible new models where a mixture of pay TV and free events like tonights game, might work in future and certainly he has many possible content streams he could sell to sponsors in this way beyond the simple live race feed, such as qualifying, practice, live cameras in the paddock or leading team garages and much, much more. There is so much untapped content and a significant market for all of this.
Certainly the freeing up of rights for teams and sponsors to activate online will be a key area of negotiation between the teams, FIA and Ecclestone later this year when they start talking about the post 2013 Concorde Agreement.
Speaking of football, Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes has completed the acquisition of Queens Park Rangers football club, which is now playing the the top flight Premier League in the UK. He bought Ecclestone’s controlling stake in the team, while Indian steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal still owns 30% of the club. Fernandes attended the team’s opening game last weekend with Flavio Briatore, who previously partnered with Ecclestone in buying the club.
Meanwhile Ecclestone told the Mirror newspaper in the UK this week that it was the BBC who brought Sky to the table, in a deal to save their involvement in F1 and extend it beyond the original 2014 deadline, to 2018.
They [the BBC] got to grips with Sky themselves,” he said. “I spoke with ITV too, and came up with the same problem as Channel 4 had. We had a contract with the BBC which didn’t run out until 2014.”
Ecclestone said that the BBC’s contract meant that it held the whip hand in the negotiations. Channel 4 put together quite a sophisticated bid for F1 based on
“If they [Channel 4] had said they wanted to sign a contract today to start broadcasting for 45 million pounds a year, then we would have probably done it.
“But that’s the problem. We couldn’t deal with them, even if they had wanted to.”
Ecclestone still believes that with the BBC showing half the races live and the other half on a highlights programme going out in prime time 6pm Sunday night slots, F1 will be seen by more people next year than it is at the moment.
“In the short-term, I think that collectively taking in the amount of broadcasting that’s going to be scheduled between the two of them next year, there will be more eyeballs watching than we have now,” he said.