UK MotoGP TV rights: To BT, or not to BT?

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Where British fans will be watching Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi racing in MotoGP next year is about to become clearer, with the hot rumour suggesting the BBC will lose the UK TV rights to the new BT Sport digital channel.

The BBC’s five-year contract expires at the end of 2013 and while lengthy negotiations have taken place over an extension to that deal, it appears BT’s new dedicated sports channel that is scheduled to launch in August, has successfully bid for the UK TV rights.

If a deal is finalised it means that MotoGP may only be available on a pay-per-view basis for British fans from 2014 onwards.

There are no details on the length of the contract Dorna is negotiating with BT Sport, but MCN insiders have said the deal is believed to be worth around £8m.

BT Sport has already snapped up rights to show almost 40 Premier League football matches and close to 70 Premiership rugby union from 2014 onwards.

BT Sport has also signed up ex-BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey and leading sports broadcaster Clare Balding to spearheads its coverage.

In a recent exclusive interview with MCN, Dorna Managing Director Manel Arroyo confirmed that discussions had taken place with BT Sport but Sky have also discussed the MotoGP rights with Dorna.

And he said there was huge interest from the BBC, which has increased its coverage for 2013, to extend its current deal.

The UK market has always been hugely important for Dorna and its long-term investment in young British talent is finally paying big dividends.

Cal Crutchlow is now one of the biggest and most popular names in MotoGP, Bradley Smith has joined him in the premier class in 2013 and Scott Redding is the current leader of the ultra-competitive Moto2 category.

And Arroyo told MCN: “First of all what I want to say is a big thanks to the BBC for everything they have done for MotoGP in these last years. Clearly the popularity of MotoGP in the UK has in many ways been thanks to them and I also want to thank for them for their interest and all the things they are doing to try and extend the deal.

To have the BBC telling us that for them MotoGP is a key element is something very important for Dorna and we are very proud of that. But there are other possibilities in the UK and we are discussing with everybody. I expect that a decision will be taken in a short time and we have to have a final decision soon because there has to be a point where the people involved can begin making their plans for next year.”

A quandary for Dorna has been whether to keep MotoGP on the non-subscription BBC to retain higher audiences or take the much bigger money on offer from companies like BT Sport.

Arroyo stressed that any money from TV rights, sponsors and promoters was invested directly back into the paddock to help the championship grow and prosper in the future.

Arroyo added: “TV has evolved so fast and so radically recently. It is true that a company like the BBC that is free-to-air has an important value but also today the audiences on pay TV is not a negative point at all because the big sporting events are going to pay TV because there are huge audiences following those sports. The difference in the audience figures between free-to-air and pay TV is no longer the key element it once was because nowadays there are many platforms that audiences watch their sport. And plenty of sports have gone this way.

Pay TV in the UK is one of the biggest in Europe and one of the most advanced. Sport is important to terrestrial and digital TV companies because as I explain a lot it is the only content that must be viewed live. Normal TV programmes or the news and movies you can watch when you want and that is something that you can do on all platforms now. But sport you must watch live.”

Arroyo said the impact any decision on the main TV rights for the UK would have on British Eurosport’s current coverage would be discussed once negotiations were completed.

British Eurosport, which features popular commentary duo Julian Ryder and Toby Moody, currently shows the majority of practice and qualifying from all three classes live, with the Moto3 and Moto2 races also screened live. The MotoGP race is then showed delayed, with the BBC currently having the exclusive rights to show MotoGP racing live in the UK.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt