Formula 1 teams will have to accept Bernie Ecclestone's decision to put some races on British pay-to-view television only next year, with there being no protection in the Concorde Agreement against taking it off free-to-air viewing.
Although it had been widely believed there were clauses in the Concorde Agreement which prevented Ecclestone taking the sport off free-to-air television, it has been revealed that the wording of the deal does not stop him activating the kind of share deal that has been put in place for next year with Britain's BBC and Sky satellite TV service.
High level sources have revealed that the wording of an Appendix in the Concorde Agreement relating to the broadcasting of the sport states: "The commercial rights holder may not permit Formula 1 events to be shown only by pay television in a country with a significant audience if it would materially adversely affect audience reach in that country."
As well as Ecclestone's deal ensuring that not all the races are shown 'only' on pay television, there would be no way of challenging the move to Sky as potentially "adversely" affecting the audience ahead of the move happening. Although the Sky/BBC deal has resulted in an angry reaction from British fans, who are furious that they will have to pay to continue watching every race from next year, teams' concerns have been placated by the financial benefits of the new deal.
Ecclestone met with teams on Friday afternoon to inform them of the details of the deal – which could net each outfit a extra benefit of around £1 million ($1.6M) per season over its duration, with the Sky/BBC deal bringing in around £55 million ($90M) per year, compared to the estimated £40 million ($66m) per season that BBC currently pays for exclusive rights in the UK.
HRT team boss Colin Kolles said any F1 squads criticizing Ecclestone for the move were wrong, because of the huge financial benefits the new deal brings to teams.
"If you would ask my colleagues after the meeting with Bernie Ecclestone, everybody is very happy," Kolles said. "Bernie has shown again to his people, who are criticising him, what fantastic deals he has done.
"He has also done fantastic for the fans because it is not only 10 races on BBC live, you also have the other 10 races on in prime time, at 6 p.m., on BBC – which is even better because I don't believe that someone likes to wake up at 4 a.m. to watch an F1 race. This will bring much increased viewership and it brings a quite amazing deal to the stakeholders of F1. I think Bernie has shown again what a fantastic job he is doing and this has to be really appreciated."
Yet although the teams will enjoy financial benefits from the new BBC/Sky deal, other stakeholders in the sport are not totally convinced about the situation. Pirelli's director of motorsport Paul Hembery said he was eager to know whether F1's viewership in Britain– one of the sport's strongest fan bases – would be hurt by the move to pay television.
"It is more to do with viewing figures from our point of view, as we look at it from the sponsors' view," he said. "The more people that watch it, the better it is for us.
"I am quite sure that medium term, such a move will have a great impact on the viewing figures because you have improved the product given to the fan, and that will still bring great viewing figures.
"Teams will be worried about income streams and other sponsors, like us, will want to know what impact it has on viewing figures. That is how you calculate your return on being in the sport. It is the equivalent of the advertising rate card. You need seconds on the screen multiplied by the number of people watching it. It is a very simple calculation."
Hembery said he was not surprised that fans are angry about the move and said he expected many casual fans to simply turn away from the sport.
"You can understand the fans' point of view," he said. "They have had something for free and now they have to pay for it. It is human nature to say 'I had it for free.' Tuning into a free-to-view channel, or getting yourself a dish and signing up to a financial contract is very different. You reduce the chances of the casual viewer tuning in, but it might be one of those cases where you have to go back a step to go forward. We will be disappointed if the great work that has been done this year to the sport is lost, particularly in a key market such as the UK."