Robin Miller: A Sky MotoGP deal could cause Dorna headaches

Picture: Bonnie Lane

For anyone interested in the business of sport, the negotiations in which Dorna is currently engaged to licence the television rights for MotoGP mirrors the dilemma faced by many sports promoters.

Television broadcasters love live events and, pay per view in particular, are prepared to pay highly for the rights to televise big ones. Guaranteed money, and lots of it, is very attractive to promoters and that is why many of the major sporting events are now covered by Sky, BT or Eurosport where viewers pay for the privilege of watching.

But the audiences are, relatively, small and counted in thousands rather than millions. There are exceptions, of course, but if MotoGP or British Superbikes attracted 250,000 paying viewers that would be seen as a result. But not for sponsors. And without sponsorship revenue, sport as we know it - especially motorsport - would not survive.

To get round this, promoters often insist that event highlights on non-pay channels like BBC or ITV are included in the deal. That delivers an audience several times the size, although not live, and keeps the sponsors not unhappy. For example, BSB gets a very big audience on ITV4’s Monday evening show.

An interesting twist to this is in the latest football deal, where BTSport has paid £1.2bn but it is for absolute exclusivity and ITV has been cut out. The bigger audience is now going to be obtained by ‘streaming’ via the internet. The only problem is that a lot of it seems to be illegal.

The battle for sponsorship money, whether it be promoters or teams, is intense. And with football on its own taking half, then even the mighty F1 is struggling in the face of lower TV audiences. Not all to do with pay TV but the sheer boredom of the product which has the Red Bull team chief Christian Horner speaking publicly about his admiration for MotoGP.

But Dorna faces its own challenges. It is said that Spanish fuel company Repsol, long time supporter and sponsor of Honda, has expressed unhappiness at declining audiences. Keeping sponsorship of that nature on board is absolutely critical because who knows how long the energy drink train is going to survive before, like cigarettes, it disappears due to being deemed unhealthy.

So Carmelo Ezpeleta and his chums are ndeed on the horns of a dilemma in current TV rights negotiations. Sky is spending a fortune on F1, which up to now it has shared with the BBC, and it does a great job. But Sky also controls pay TV in Germany and Italy as well as the UK, and so a deal with them might see further contraction of European audiences.

BT is shelling out fortunes elsewhere as it takes on Sky in the battle for football and its enthusiasm for motorbike racing - covering MotoGP is not cheap - is probably waning along with the audiences.

Eurosport, now backed by the mighty Discovery, could be the dark horse. It has traditionally been seen as the cheap-as-chips channel but the parent company is not short of dollars. And it is worth noting that its main shareholder is American media mogul John Malone - described by one writer as the Darth Vader of cable TV and equally as fearsome as Rupert Murdoch - who just happens to control another media company called Liberty, the new owners of Formula One…

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