Don Foster MP


Don's Letter to Bernie Ecclestone on the Formula 1 broadcasting issue

September 2, 2023 by admin in News

Bernie Ecclestone

Formula One Management Ltd

6 Princes Gate




31 August 2023

Dear Bernie,

I am writing about the recent controversy over the BBC losing exclusive coverage of Formula 1. I do not believe this result promotes the best interest of license fee payers and F1 fans. I believe the best result would have been for the rights to remain with a free to air broadcaster, even if this was not the BBC.

In particular I am concerned about the apparently divergent views of FOM and the BBC about the sequence of events. You have said that keeping F1 on free to air was a major priority:

We want Formula One to stay free to viewers […] That is 100% (quoted by The Times, 20 June).

If they [Channel 4] had said they wanted to sign a contract today to start broadcasting for £45m a year, then we would have probably done it (quoted by The Mirror, 19 August).

Despite this, Sky ended up with much of the broadcasting rights. In explaining this, you have said that the BBC “held all the cards”. You are reported as saying that the BBC “got to grips with Sky themselves. I spoke with ITV too, and came up with the same problem as Channel 4 had. We had a contract with the BBC which didn’t run out until 2014.” You also said, “My hands were tied”. By your account, the rights ended up with Sky and the BBC because “[T]he BBC brought Sky to us with the idea of a joint contract […] It was not us who made that decision.”

I highlight this point because it directly contradicts the BBC’s own account of what happened. Neil Land, Chief Adviser and Business Manager at BBC Sport, states that:

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of FOM to decide which broadcasters cover the sport. FOM must decide what is in the best interests of the sport, its employees, manufacturers, sponsors and viewers - when choosing its broadcast partners. On this occasion, FOM decided that a broadcast partnership between the BBC and Sky was in the best interests of the sport.

I am alarmed that there is such a gulf between your stories. This deal has led to disappointment and anger among F1 fans and now they have to sift through completely contradictory accounts of who decided what. The least fans deserve is a clear explanation of what has happened. I urge you to give it.

I am not complaining about the realities of the BBC, BSkyB and FOM having their own interests. Nor do I doubt that those involved in this arrangement worked hard to balance their competing aims. But I am deeply concerned at the claim that the BBC facilitated this result, and believe the parties in these negotiations must clarify the glaring discrepancies in their accounts of what happened. More generally, I am disappointed that F1 fans in the UK did not have a loud voice speaking up for their interests. I welcome the steps you have taken to explain what has happened but I hope you will be willing to go further. I have also written to Mark Thompson to put these points to him.

Many thanks and kind regards,

Don Foster MP