THE ANDY WARREN COLUMN: Speedway must stay on our screens
6:00am Wednesday 6th March 2013 in Sport
IT would be a complete disaster for all involved with speedway if the Grand Prix series isn’t screened in this county in 2013.
It’s looking more and more certain Sky Sports will not be renewing their deal to show the series, which expired at the end of last season, with key members of the broadcaster’s team having already been told their services will not be required.
We can’t blame Sky for not wanting to renew their deal, it’s their right to schedule what they want, but the fact more and more rounds of the series were being shown in full or in part behind the red button shows exactly what regard they held it in in Isleworth.
Sky have spent a fortune renewing their football deal and buying the rights to Formula One, which no doubt has taken up the majority of their budget, and speedway faces a vast amount of competition for the Saturday early evening slot with even WWE beating it in the ratings battle on some occasions.
But there are other channels out there, and say what you like about speedway, it remains an attractive proposition for broadcasters and advertisers alike.
The sport has a reasonably large and very loyal fanbase, and while the racing in 2012 was nothing short of remarkable, 2013 could be even better.
There is interest from other broadcasters, and we have to hope for the sake of the sport one of them takes the plunge.
What will the likes of Red Bull and Monster think if Chris Holder, Greg Hancock and Tomasz Gollob were not able to flash their sponsored water battles at the camera and influence viewers in Great Britain? Would they still want to be involved in the sport?
British speedway is the poor relation to the likes of Sweden and Poland, but the Cardiff GP remains the series’ flagship event which makes it invaluable to BSI. Ticket sales will surely be hit if we are unable to watch any of the rounds leading up to the event, and depending on how badly they drop, racing at the Millennium Stadium could be living on borrowed time.
Young fans getting into the sport need to watch the best riders in the world battle it out to be world champion, especially given most of them no longer grace our shores for league racing.
Youngsters watch the glamorous GP rounds from Parken and the new Swedish national stadium and want a piece of the action, and where do they go for that? Blunsdon, Monmore Green, Wimborne Road. What impact will the lack of Grand Prix exposure have clubs?
Every sport needs a new generation of fans to come through, speedway perhaps more than most, and the GPs play a vital role in doing it.
The beauty of having the Grand Prix on Sky Sports was that casual fans who bought packages mainly to watch the football could flick over by accident and end up getting hooked, I know at least two of my friend who have found the sport in that way, but maybe a move will do the sport good?
Maybe if Grand Prix speedway moved to another channel, Eurosport, BT Vision, or Premier Sports, it might take on a more prominent role and not get pushed behind the red button?
Sky are the masters of sports broadcasting, but there was also a lot of frustration at the way the events were squashed into a small time window, with no build-up, no real analysis at the end, and constant toing and froing between the track and the studio.
Maybe a move to a new, admittedly less high profile, channel will give Grand Prix speedway a new identity it badly needs?
Hopefully we get the chance to find out.