So will ITV be heading up the queue to sign on the dotted line for a new contract with Bernie Ecclestone for UK Formula 1 coverage in the not-to-distant future if the BBC declines to renew its current deal as it tries desperately to trim costs?
According to The Guardian, the Beeb’s mandarins have identified both F1 and its Wimbledon coverage as potential areas for the chop when it comes to slashing 20 per cent from its budgets by 2014.
Within those terms of reference it will need to save an estimated £60m a year from sports coverage budgets at a time when the cost of its annual contract for F1 coverage is reputed to be around £40m.
Huge money set against an overall sporting budget of £300m, but it’s a salutary reminder of F1’s global reach that the £40m annual cost of the BBC F1 coverage is just six per cent of the sport’s overall commercial rights income from race sanctioning fees, TV coverage, trackside advertising and corporate hospitality.
The survey of the sports department was reportedly prompted by remarks made by Lord Patten, the incoming chairman of the BBC Trust who warned last week that “all hell will break loose” once the final decisions on cost cutting are eventually announced.
F1, interestingly, is not regarded as peak-time programming by BBC insiders. Be that as it may, I had to supress a grin when The Guardian noted, in connection with its Wimbledon coverage, “that the close relationship between the All England Club and the broadcaster means the exact cost of the rights is barely known outside a handful of people”.
They clearly believe that F1’s commercial business is trumpeted from the rooftops. I don’t think so, somehow.