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I have to disagree with a Lib Dem MP…

So this lunchtime when I read this article entitled BBC bosses face grilling from MPs over controversial Formula One rights’ sharing deal I wondered who was the MP who has caused a stir. The answer would be Lib Dem MP for Bath Don Foster.

Now I have written before about what I think of the BBC/Sky deal and it is not ideal – not by a long shot. However it is pretty clear how the deal went down. There is enough out there that you can quite easily cobble together a timeline for what happened but Don Foster doesn’t seem overly keen on reading up the background to the matter. He has written to the BBC Chief asking for answers and has said that, ‘The least fans deserve is a clear account of what happened.’

Well Don. Let me help.

The BBC had it’s budget cut by the coalition government. One that you are a part of due to your Liberal Democrat links. Therefore the BBC had to save 20% from its sport budget. This meant is essence one of the big four of Wimbledon, MOTD, Six Nations and F1 would in all likelihood have to go. Wimbledon and MOTD were pretty much safe – the belief inside of BBC Sport is that they are the two crown jewels of their yearly output (obviously Olympics, World Cup, European Championships are not yearly events). Therefore Six Nations Rugby or F1 had to go.

The RFU have reached an agreement with the BBC over the Six Nations rights but have yet to announce them. Therefore F1 was on the outside looking in but the BBC had award winning coverage and they wanted to see if there was a way to keep the sport on the channel. Neither ITV or Channel Five showed too much interest but Channel 4 was around but wasn’t keen on starting in 2012 preferring to begin in 2013. A share between Channel 4 and the BBC was possible but being a commercial partner Channel 4 would have wanted the premier races and they still wanted a 50/50 split of costs. This was not acceptable to the BBC.

Therefore the BBC approached Sky to talk to them about a deal that would save around £25m-30m for the channel but still giving them half the races live. Sky who have this year showed much more interest in the sport knowing the current Concorde Agreement was up at the end of 2012 were keen on doing a deal. Financially it made sense for all three parties. The BBC has ten races live a year and the option to run full delayed coverage of all the other races in prime-time in the evening. Sky has every race live and will include many of the support races. Bernie gets a lot of cash. Everybody is a winner.

Whilst some – well many – well say that those who cannot afford a Sky subscription are big losers I wonder where was Don Foster or other MPs when all live Cricket left free-to-air TV? This deal is far better for the F1 fan than it is for the cricket fan. There is no live cricket on free-to-air TV any more only highlights. At least this way F1 fans can still watch every race – in full – on free-to-air TV albeit only half of them live with the others delayed but shown the same day either on BBC1 or BBC2 or behind the red button and with the digital switchover set to be completed next year then everyone will have red button and interactive options.

The one line that really got my goat in the report was ‘He says the deal has led to disappointment among angry fans, who would miss out on seeing their idols such as Brits Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.’ Well Don. They won’t be missing out. Remember every single race will be played in full on free-to-air television on the same day. With half of those races live and half of them delayed by up to five hours.

As they say on the BBC News on Saturday evenings ‘If you don’t want to know the result then look away now’ – it is easy to keep away from a race result and watch it in full without knowing it later in the day. Spend the afternoon with your kids or with the other half. Go out for a walk. Yes I know it’s not perfect – not by a long shot – but this was the only option available as the BBC were ready to pull out of the sport completely and had they done so Sky may have swooped in and taken all the races live and left only highlights up for grabs.

I’d have preferred it if the whole championship would have continued live and uninterrupted on the BBC but that wasn’t on the table. We have seen what a butchers of Athletics Channel 4 has made and after seeing that I suspect Bernie is thanking his high heavens that Channel 4 are nowhere near his sport. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and it deserves the best coverage possible and in the UK that means Sky Sports and/or the BBC and that is what we have got.

So there is no need to find out how this all went down. The information is out there. Use google and stop wasting time.

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