I suppose it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise that America’s lowest-rated network would be incapable of providing halfway decent coverage of Formula 1, but to botch 1 of 2 nationally broadcast events, not to mention the sport’s only trip to the United States is inexcusable.
Formula 1 is close to wrapping up one its most boring seasons since the Schumacher era. Sebastian Vettel’s dominance is certainly a factor, but race strategies heavily impacted by Pirelli’s hellacious tires, DRS and fuel conservation have produced a brand of racing most fans would likely forget entirely. The overabundance of street circuits on the calendar have also greatly impacted the sport’s entertainment factor. So without even discussing who’s broadcasting the sport, Formula 1 is a tough sell to an American audience perfectly happy with football.
When it was announced less than a year ago that NBC Sports would take over Formula 1 coverage from the ailing SPEED, the response was optimistic. A major network handling Formula 1 would bring it to a national audience and help to grow the sport domestically, or so we thought…
Today’s nationally broadcasted coverage of the United States Grand Prix was atrocious. With commercial breaks every 5 laps, spanning another 3-5 laps, cutaways from the live action to promote other NBC programming and a 13 minute technical error during the podium ceremony, it’s no wonder American’s have little interest in Formula 1. So much of the sport’s success in America is how it’s branded. Formula 1 is the most expensive and glamorous sport in the world and should be handled as such. To watch today’s broadcast live would tell a different story. NBC underestimates the intelligence of their audience. We all have Internet access and are more than capable of learning the ins and outs of a sport. When’s the last time you watched an NBA game where the announcers spent 10 minutes explaining the rules? It should be the network’s assumption that we’re well aware of how the sport works and if not, we’ll take it upon ourselves to learn. By dumbing down their broadcast, NBC is alienating the core audience to which they should be catering their broadcasts towards, the diehard fans. To be a fan of Formula 1 takes a bit of effort. There are untold numbers of technical regulations, an expansive international cast of players and an inconsistent schedule that sees races happening at all hours of the day. To follow such a sport means that the fans, especially in America, are a passionate breed who want to see their sport shown in a proper light. NBC has missed the mark nearly all season long.
Commercials are likely to be everyone’s biggest gripe, they’re certainly mine. However if executed properly, the network can have their cake and eat it too. Instead of putting the race feed in a 1/5 PIP window, put the commercials there. Christ, even keep the audio for the commercials running. At the very least it would keep the attention on the racing so that we wouldn’t miss so much in the 3-5 lap span of a commercial break. Secondly, the broadcasters should learn when to speak. Leigh Diffey in particular is a broken record during the race – talking over radio transmissions and over commentating everything we can all see with our own eyes. Enough explaining already. Some of us would prefer to hear the cars and team radio chatter. Lastly, the cutaways for other Formula 1 tidbits and NBC promos during the race! No one cares! If we wanted to watch Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea, we would turn the channel. Why on earth would a network direct people away from the program currently airing? I think I’m right in saying that we’re all fans of Will Buxton, who is easily the strongest member of NBC’s team, but I don’t need to know what Will was up to in Austin on Media Day, save that crap for the post-race show!
It’s easy to blame the hosts for NBC’s less than ideal broadcast of Formula 1, but this falls in the hands of the people behind the scenes – the programming directors, the producers… Until whoever is handling Formula 1 broadcasting in the United States can wake up and do it properly, it will remain a niche sport for fanatics who like to stay up all night. If you want to win the audience, Tire Talk with Steve Matchett isn’t the answer.
Wake up NBC.