“It’s never boring” states MSA director Alan Gow when asked to describe the British Touring Car Championship for which he is ‘commander-in-chief’. Few could disagree with his statement.
The BTCC – and touring car racing as a motorsport subsection in general – is a thrill a minute, bumper-to-bumper, door-handle-to-door-handle spectacle. It is a championship that prioritises the racing over all else. The product is quite remarkable.
The series has refrained from many of the temptations that have led other categories and disciplines down a slippery slope. For starters, BTCC has remained on free-to-air television despite the financial incentives that come with moving to pay-per-view.
An extension to the contract between the BTCC and broadcaster ITV was signed at the end of 2015 to keep the popular partnership together until 2021. The deal demonstrates both the BTCC’ commitment to free-to-air as well as the high regard that ITV holds for the series.
It’s important to recognise that this contract features the longest term of any of ITV’s current sports rights.
This, of course, serves to maintain BTCC audiences into the future as well as making the emergence of new fans all the more likely. Gow’s strategy is unlike many series’ chiefs in the fact that he considers the audience first and revenue later.
“In the mid-90’s, I was made a very good offer by Sky to take the series onto pay-TV,” Gow admitted when speaking with Peter Windsor for MotorsportTV. “I could have done that and laid on a beach in Barbados for the rest of my life because it was a very lucrative offer, but I would have killed the championship by doing it.
“I’ve always been after eyeballs. They’re the thing that drives this championship. It’s what bring the sponsors in, the manufacturers in and it brings TV and trackside audiences in.”
Gow’s logic is difficult to fault. It is inevitable that less ‘eyeballs’ will be fixed on your sport if it is parked behind a pay-wall. Loyal fans would unquestionably make the switch, but the BTCC would lose the channel hoppers and casual viewers who are the key audience to capture. It is here where your category finds its growth potential.
For F1, the scenario is admittedly different. The sport has a wider fan base, increased marketability and ultimately has far more revenue within. However, some of Gow’s hugely successful ideas are transferable. F1’s new owners Liberty Media would do well to focus on ‘eyeballs’ and simply showcasing the sport to a wider audience.
F1 isn’t about to return to free-to-air anytime soon. What the category can do, is learn from the BTCC’s accessibility and allow fans to see more of the sport through free outlets such as social media and the internet as a whole.
Fortunately, events such as ‘F1 Live London’ suggest that Liberty are on course to take a leaf out of Gow’s book, intentionally or otherwise.