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Round The Bend – TV or no TV?

TV or not TV, that is the question

At long last, Super 1 will hit our televisions but can it compete with Mrs. Jones’ Beef Wellington?

My wife has just finished filming Come Dine with Me. In case you’re not already familiar with it, the show brings together four complete strangers who then compete to win £1,000 by wowing one another with their culinary skills.

For alpha male viewers, it is quite possibly the closest one can ever come to experiencing what it is like to be a woman. Thanks to its blend of conflict, nosiness (the guests are encouraged to explore your home, bitch about your wallpaper and rifle through your drawers) and simmering desire to score the maximum points from your rivals, CDWM is addictive, must-see television. And as a result, regularly attracts over four million viewers.

But these figures pale when you compare them with the coverage that Super 1 drivers can expect this season. 17.7 million homes, viewers in 38 countries and enough repeats to make a BBC scheduler weep with envy.

Or perhaps not. As a maths thicko (I can’t even count the number of my failed attempts at getting an ‘O’ and then a CSE in the subject), I’m not great at interpreting statistical data, but a little look at the BARB (Broadcast Audience Research Board) figures for last year shows that Motors TV had a daily UK reach of 62,000, or 0.01% of the total viewing public. Over a week, this meant that the channel reached 313,000 petrol heads, or 0.06% of the total British audience.

It ain’t quite Come Dine with Me – but let’s be fair, it’s a start.

Furthermore, the Super 1 organisers really do appear to be doing their utmost to help competitors raise their profiles and attract sponsorship via the magic of television. There’s a great idea in the press release about the commentator talking up the ‘insert the principal sponsor’s name here, of insert the driver’s name here’. IE: ‘The Freeminds UK kart of Jonny Walker’.

TF in 1980Furthermore, you can call upon John Hoyle (S1 Promotions Director) and Alan Taddei (of PSC, the production company) to assist you with securing backing with advice or by attending a meeting with you. This is fantastic news for drivers desperately seeking a budget, and again, I salute them.

However, what rather appeared like smashing a clay pigeon to smithereens and then celebrating by blowing your foot off, was the attendant hike in costs.

A debate raged on a popular website about how Super 1 could justify the substantial increase in entry fees. This prompted a rather jumpy statement from the championship organisers, and whilst it calmed some, it further irked many.

I confess I had a particular interest too. Back in 1996 I ran a downhill mountain bike racing series that was screened on Sky Sports. Sky basically told us that if we produced a series of high quality, broadcast-ready shows, they’d give us the airtime for free. This gave us a fantastic sponsorship opportunity just when ‘adrenaline sports’ were all the rage. I and my colleagues worked with a sales team who sold branding and corporate hospitality to major brands (Mars, for example) at each event. Eventually, we had a budget of £250,000; enough to pay for a top-flight production team and create a then record prize fund for the riders. Naturally, the chance to win a large sum of cash attracted some of Britain and Europe’s top downhillers and gave the Sporting Masters series automatic kudos.

And this is why I found myself shaking my head again. I’m not singling out Super 1 for a kicking, but I do think this issue points to British karting’s perennial inability to unite and work together. In some respects it doesn’t help that we have two national series competing with one another. Formula Kart Stars already has TV coverage and it is only right that Super 1 should also have the same.

The sad thing is that the promoters of the championship have passed on the costs of having TV cameras present directly to the drivers. This means that by my (admittedly somewhat wobbly) reckoning, each competitor in the MSA and Rotax championships will have to fork out over £2,700 for the privilege, whilst TKM entrants will benefit from reduced fees due to Tal-Ko subsidising the costs.

Alistair Darling may have said that Britain is officially out of recession, but being told by S1 that you’ll now have to find a substantial amount of extra money before you’ve even turned a wheel in anger, is shall we say, a brave move. Praise be that Messrs Hoyle and Taddei can help you find that much needed sponsorship.

Perhaps with their expertise, they can work to attracting marketing partners who, as ours did with mountain bike racing, want to be associated with a dynamic, colourful and thrilling sport. Karting should be on TV, it is as Senna said ‘the purest form of motorsport’ and has been successfully promoted in the past; anyone remember the 1981 Global Cup at Rye House? Pure TV gold.

Furthermore, with more drivers using PR agencies to help them polish their PR skills in front of the TV cameras, the sport is now ripe to make that long-awaited mainstream crossover. Brands looking to be associated with families, healthy, talented kids and future motorsport champions could do a lot worse than invest in karting.

Especially when you see that household names sponsor darts matches, which on TV, comes across as socially-acceptable binge drinking; while even two of the dullest spectator sports imaginable, snooker and indoor bowls, also successfully attract terrestrial airtime.

If only the ABKC, S1, MSA, FKS and the MSA could show more ambition and a clear, joined-up approach to working with the media, karting in this country would be huge. It’s not as if it hasn’t been in the past – the 1968 World Championship held at Rye House attracted over 20,000 spectators.