Friday, 26 February 2010

UK NASCAR Coverage Proves We Matter

It has been a worrying winter to be a NASCAR fan living in the UK.

The Murdoch family owned Sky TV had carried live coverage of a vast majority of races for the previous two years. They had a trio of a presenter and two experts in a dedicated studio which they would cut to during many of the American breaks.

It was, as those of you who have read anything on NASCAR by me over the last two years, far from perfect broadcasting.

However, it was better than nothing.

It was better than doing damage to my eyes by squinting at slightly fuzzy streamed images on computer.

But this year we were faced with nothing. The presenter Sky used – Kieth Huewen – broke the news on his own website that Sky had not picked up live coverage for 2010.

Unfortunately I am only able to speculate as to why. It may have something to do with the fact that when they picked up the coverage ahead of the 2008 season Scot Dario Franchitti was looking to move to the series, as were other names more familiar to a UK audience – most notably Jacques Villeneuve.

However, given that 2010 sees Juan Montoya further forward than ever, Danica Patrick on NASCAR’s doorstep and ex-F1 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. making steps in the series I doubt that was ever the real reason.

The problem is I don’t know how much Sky were paying for the rights, and I don’t know how many people were watching the coverage – though there are claims that the number never bettered 50,000.

The fact the coverage was sponsored by Current TV – another channel carried by Sky – smacked of subsidy and an inability to find an actual product to sponsor the coverage – compare that to Sky’s live NFL shows which are sponsored by Dominoes Pizza.

We were faced with no live coverage of the Daytona 500 with only the NASCAR edited highlights package on Monday night.

An edit which is legendarily appalling.

If Sky’s 2008-09 coverage wasn’t perfect the highlight package makes you want to hurl your TV out the window in frustration of deep-fry your own eye-balls as the coverage jumps to a restart without any mention of ever being under caution.

But then on the Friday before Daytona (Feb. 12) stories emerged that there would, after all, be coverage of the Daytona 500.


On Sky.

Why, had this happened?

Had Sky bowed to a slew of angry emails from NASCAR lovers about the dropped coverage? Probably not, given the rumoured viewing figures they probably got about the same number of emails about NASCAR as they do complaining about the lack of coverage of the Estonian National Lesbian Mud Wrestling Championships. In fact with that description, NASCAR probably generated less emails.

What had happened, I will bet my left hand, is that NASCAR were so desperate to get their big showpiece event to the biggest possible audience that they lowered the price to a level where Sky simply couldn’t refuse.

We were back with the normal trio in the normal studio, not that they cost much as only one of the three – one time Craftsman Truck driver John Mickel – only appears on their NASCAR coverage.

We got the 500. We got all of it – it having overrun by some two hours by the time the brief post race interviews had been completed.

Then nothing. We were back to the ham-fisted highlights for Fontana.

However, the latest twist came yesterday when a channel called ‘Open Access 3’ declared it would be showing live NASCAR, starting this weekend.

This backs up the idea that NASCAR are desperate to get their coverage in the UK. There is no way OA3 would be able to do battle with the bids of Sky, ESPN UK or anyone else. Put simply this deal must have been dirt cheap or come with a massive sweetener from somewhere.

Just so you get an idea OA3 is channel no.190 on Sky Digital, only a few ‘+ channel’ buttons from the delights of programs trying to covert you to one cause or another, including the delightfully named ‘Contraversial TV’ and ‘Unexplained’.

Now, I am a little sceptical about the coverage we’ll see on Sunday. From the times the channel boasts it looks like we have a full hour of pre-race material and the full race, the total program running from 7pm UK time to 1am.

This is doubtless going to be a direct taking of the American coverage, who knows we might even get your ads.

There will be no studio team in the UK.

The will be no studio in the UK.

But it proves that someone is listening to NASCAR fans in the UK.

Monday, 1 February 2010

How to Launch an F1 car.

It’s February, the beginning of a motorsports season (unless of course you’re A1GP, which you’re not, because you actually exist) and it’s F1 car launch and test season, and this year more than ever the strategies for launching a car are many and varied.

If you’re an F1 fan, or a general racing fan, you’ll be familiar with launches.

They generally consist of drivers, and more occasionally team principal, pulling back a cover, normally of a colour corresponding to the car beneath or the sponsors there on, and revealing a car that looks like it’s been polished to the point just before the paint gets rubbed off.

We get treated to a tidal wave of stories and press releases about how the whole team has been locked in the factory over the winter, designers forced to spend Christmas poring over the front wing design, engine technicians fighting surviving on Pro Plus as they squeeze that extra horsepower out of an old block, simply to get the car finished on time.

Drivers will all tell us that they are looking forward to a successful season, no matter how badly they or their team did the previous season.

Then there’s the second part of the two pronged attack – pictures. We will get to see the car from every angle, every photographer will take pictures of what they deem important and doesn’t have a security guard, or the omnipotent blanket of secrecy, obscuring it from view.

Normally these take place in some swanky setting infront of a crowd of those deemed worthy to witness the birth of a new F1 car.

But this year is a little different.

Yes, McLaren and Ferrari’s efforts stayed within the normal template, as did Mercedes’ unveiling of last year’s Brawn GP car with some new paint on it, but soon the fact that F1 2010 is a little different reared is ugly, tightly budgeted head.

Sauber’s launch, if I’m going to labour (every single pun intended) the analogy of birthing, was the equivalent of a child being delivered in the car park of Lidl. The car abandoned in the middle of the Valencia track, drivers in plain white sponsorless fire suits, the car looking like a de-logoed BMW Sauber and initially grainy pictures.

The new Renault was simply wheeled out into the pitlane infront of some cameras while the Williams, Toro Rosso and Mercedes (the actual car, not just a paint job) were launched on the first day of testing with only the briefest of photo calls.

Then there are the new kind.

The online launch.

These are tending to be used by the new teams, like teenagers rebelling against the accepted ways of doing things. The first will come on Wednesday when we will log onto the internet to see a new Virgin under the covers (again, every single pun intended).

Online launches look to bring normal people into the same league as the invited great and good. Now what you think of this is all part of the constant debate as to how the internet, facebook, twitter, youtube and the ilk as part of modern businesses, but at face value it only seems to be a good idea.

The cost is surely less that the pomp and circumstance of the traditional launch (undoubtedly why it’s the new teams that are favouring them), while you still get the same end result.

You can direct what is broadcast to show your new car from the best angle (something that was sorely lacking from Sauber’s Lidl carpark launch) and hide the bits you don’t want anyone to see, either because their really good, or really bad.

And you connect with fans, rather than journalists, (probably another reason why it’s the new teams that re doing them).

But in the end, what is the point of launches?

Do they actually matter?

Can you honestly tell me the launch date of last year’s Brawn (not when it was masquerading as a Mercedes) last year, or the first picture you saw of the 2009 Force India, or what Felipe Massa said in the launch press conference at Ferrari?

Do you even think that sponsors choose who to put their money behind on the strength of who can pull a sheet off a car in the most photogenic manner?

Nope, what really matters is how fast the car goes compared to everyone else.

And don’t even get me started on testing......