Thinking Outside the Box
The continued showing of Elite League speedway on Sky Sports has been announced after lengthy negotiations. It is hard to think back to a time when supporters did not get their weekly fix of speedway on Sky, but it was only fifteen years ago. The world was a different place then and that initial deal was seen as an important way of promoting the sport to a wider audience. Fast forward to 2014 and a renewed contract was seen as an important source of cash necessary to keep some clubs afloat. So what went wrong?
Firstly, I would stress I think the Sky product is first class. It is true the producers sometimes have an overwhelming urge to miss the action by switching camera angles and focusing on the leader. It is true also that that some presenters have had their critics (unfairly in my view). Still, it is hard to see how it could be improved much and Sky seems to have got it right almost from day one.
The BSPA stated Sky has helped in raising the profile of speedway, but dwindling turnstile receipts would suggest otherwise. One problem I see is it has been shown almost entirely on Sky. The Eurosport coverage of the Grand Prix series and European championships broke the monopoly, but this too is a specialist sports channel, and speedway remains absent from the terrestrial channels and increasingly forgotten by the masses. To indicate the depth of the trouble, one of the teams in A Question of Sport (who always amaze me with their knowledge of even the most bizarre sporting facts) did not know in which field Tai Woffinden was the world champion. Add to this the loss of news and results from behind the red button and minimal reporting in the national press, then it seems the mainstream media are sidelining speedway.
Broadcasting rights are probably to blame for some of the lack of speedway on TV, although it is hard to say whose rights are being protected. I once asked Sky why they did not show reruns of matches from years gone by and they used broadcasting rights as the reason. Then there was the bizarre situation in 2012 when the Elite League Riders Championship was transmitted worldwide on the internet - that is, with the exception of the UK. Again, this was down to broadcasting rights, not that Sky or anyone else broadcast it.
On the face of it, televising speedway meetings should be an excellent way to promote the sport. However, it is a bad advert when it shows cancelled meetings, empty stadia, poor racing and lengthy delays for no apparent reason. Of course, this is not Sky's fault, but rather illustrates the issues that need to be addressed if speedway is to regain its former status. It also underlines the fact television can only be useful if it is part a promotional package. As an example of what is missing from the latter, I went to buy a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes while attending a meeting last year. The only ones available had no mention of the word speedway on them and cost a whopping £20 (I made do without). The track shop, in fact, resembled a boutique in terms of prices and was devoid of customers. While it is some time since rosettes were in fashion, scarves and hats are almost consumables. What better a way to promote a club than selling these - at the right price, of course?
Is it good that speedway is still being shown on Sky? Of course it is. But the powers-that-be need to realise it is only part of the solution. It is time for them to start scratching their heads and see what else can be done. No longer should it be a case of 'Keep Calm and Carry On'. As for me? I'm still saving up for that hat!
This article was first published on 23rd February 2014
"An enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I too find Sky speedway coverage technically excellent and in general I believe the commentators/presenters are well informed and do a good job. Just two things really irritate me. I could well do without most of the interviews with riders. These can be embarrassingly awful, just as they are in football and other sports, due to a lack of articularcy and, increasingly, a language barrier. Secondly, the intelligence of the viewers is regularly insulted when the commentators rave about 'big crowds'. It is easy enough to focus a camera on a few hundred people huddled together in front of the main stand/clubhouse etc, but the shots of the actual racing cannot disguise the fact that the rest of the stadium is empty. "
"Televised speedway is a challenge for any TV producer, camera people and the presenters. Sky league and Eurosport GP coverage is excellent. The camera work is especially first rate, it really does bring the sense of speed the daring and the skills of the riders to our screens. Where it needs a rethink is the time spent between the heats. Any supporter will tell you that part of the joy of our sport is the friendly banter that happens on the terrace between races so instead of just talking to the riders why not talk to the fans. Interview a few most will have something to say and will always make a comment on a good race. As a real treat what about inviting some veteran riders to give their views with even some clips from the old days. "
"Re: Philip Dalling's comments on the Sky presenters and interviewers. He doesn't mention how inept Charley 'Mumbles' Webster is. I have always queried the necessity for a woman in the pits, especially a woman who knows nothing about speedway. The football people would never send someone - male or female - who knew nothing about the sport or the personalities they were to interview. Sorry if this sounds chauvinistic, but unless someone knows what they are doing they shouldn't be there. It does the sport no good."
"I have to agree with John Chaplin's comments about ill-informed presenters, Charlie Webster being the case in point. I have no issue with the presenter's gender - Julia Bradbury was excellent - but the lack of knowledge of the sport in Ms Webster's case is truly embarrassing. Even worse, she does not appear to be capable of learning on the job either. Also, can we please get rid of terms artificially imported from other sports -'Pit lane, paddock and straightaway' for example."
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