After many years of Formula One coverage on SPEED, the series now embarks on a new TV station for American viewers. NBC Sports outbid SPEED for the broadcast rights to air Formula 1 in the United States of America and while that announcement was made last fall, I am flummoxed at the lack of information on NBC Sport’s website concerning the broadcast times, channels, packages and additional programming the network will offer.
What you will find on their site, as of the writing of this Op Ed, is lots of news about NASCAR and every other major sporting series but only a drop-down menu with a link to F1 standings and F1 results. No dedicated page or even a simple sidebar advert announcing the times and channels the Australian Grand Prix can be seen on in three-weeks time.
The network did release a video that was short and to the point about the spectacle that is Formula 1. At the end of that video, it says that coverage begins March 16th, 2013 which is, as we all know, Saturday’s qualifying session. What happened to Friday Free Practice? Any coverage of all three practice sessions?
I am not so dull as to miss the point that the team at NBC Sports are most likely working very diligently behind the scenes on content, digital program offerings and services, code-writing, website design, TV production including graphics, music title sequences and more. All of that work has to be done in order to bring us the first race which is three weeks away… did I mention that? If that is the case, why not tell your community that? F1 fans don’t want a big gift-wrapped surprise, they want to be included and informed as to what you’re working on. Let them know you have some great things coming.
The upside of the NBC Sports effort is that the on-air talent of David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Leigh Diffey will be familiar faces and there are a few behind-the-scene folks as well that were poached from SPEED. That will give some consistency to the production and feel of the broadcast but everything else is new and my fear—how I hope I am wrong here—is that NBC Sports will treat F1 just like any other sport on their network and perhaps lesser so as ratings and viewer numbers are lower than NASCAR.
When you attempt to be all things to all people, you lose your kingdom to the barbarians. NBC has been steeped in the NASCAR hysteria and their motorsport tab on the site is a shrine to the stock car series. Formula One will need to be highlighted if the network wants their investment to pay off.
To those ends, I am more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest they are mere days away from launching an extensive and comprehensive new Formula One website with interaction, community engagement and additional online features for fans.
I’ve reached out to NBC to help them in their community building, as we represent a large portion of the American fanbase, and they were kind to reply but that was the extent of it. I know how those emails go, there are a phalanx of “professionals” and IT managers and TV production crew as well as marketing people who forgot more than any one of us could know. They’ll be working on digital streaming and tweeting and facebook initiatives and inbound marketing opportunities as well as content-as-marketing initiatives and all of that is fine but missing the target.
Formula One is already a brand and doesn’t need social media branding like a Gen Y in a relentless stream of duck-faced selfies on Facebook ripe with 110% personality and 0% character. NBC Sports should treat Formula One with the respect it deserves and approach the fans with the respect they deserve. Rehashing NASCAR market activations rebranded for F1 won’t work and neither will an adolescent approach to this pinnacle of motor sport. Attaching current nomenclature, nuance and digital brand messages around the “cool, dude…it’s F1 and has women with breasts and rock stars and is fast and you should watch it” type of message is insulting. It’s not an “extreme sport” live from Aspen Colorado with athletes performing while the Harlem Shake plays in the background at 120db.
In the end, NBC Sports has big shoes to fill and I am not talking about simply poaching the SPEED crew for continuity. They heard your voices when you mandated they hire Matchett, Hobbs and Diffey. What they may need to hear now is your voices on how to offer the sport in the manner in which you expect it.
Let’s start with the simple—what channel and time will the first F1 feature or broadcast be offered? We have three weeks to go and there is no information at all other than a video that suggests you’re not even covering practice.
It’s a rocky start in my opinion but I do know that all of the folks at NBC are professionals and they are most certainly working diligently toward what I hope will be the best F1 coverage America has ever had. They took the right steps in hiring the on-air talent but missed the boat with no news on testing and what limited news they did carry was just sourced from other news agencies.
Come on NBC Sports, let’s see some passion for F1 and if you need any help, you know where to reach me. ;)