Speedway Grand Prix data and innovations placed in the hands of fans in Warner Bros. Discovery’s first season as global promoter
Warner Bros. Discovery is launching its first season as the global promoter for Speedway Grand Prix (SGP) in new and thrilling ways to fans across the globe, with broadcast innovations designed to put more power literally in the hands of viewers.
The broadcaster has also, for the first time, taken the production of a series inhouse after winning the rights for Speedway from Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) in the latter half of 2019 to take over from previous incumbent IMG for the 2022 season.
SGP kicked off Round 1 last weekend at the FIM Speedway Grand Prix of Croatia on Saturday 30 April. Discovery Sports Events, as the new global promoter for the sport, has bought international Speedway together for the first time to create a stronger and more connected international pyramid of tiers, from grassroots all the way to the pinnacle of Speedway, as well as new broadcast and fan engagement technologies.
On winning the rights, head of Discovery Sports Events, Francois Ribeiro, tells SVG Europe: “We got the rights in the second half of 2019 pre-COVID. It was a six month process, because IMG has been there for 20 years so it was not an easy decision [for FIM]; it’s never an easy decision for an international federation to change promoter. After such a long period, you have nearly a sense of ownership as a promoter when you have been there for so long, and yet it’s not a reality. So that’s why we said to FIM, “look, we have a very high interest in Speedway, but you have to give us some lead time ahead of a potential takeover because it’s quite a big job to change promoter and take over a championship of that scale”. So that’s why FIM [awarded us] that tender two years ahead of schedule.”
“It’s a really super hardcore fan base on Speedway. It’s just amazing. It is probably the first time in my life as a promoter that I organise events and I found over hundred comments on social media about fans commenting on our camera positioning plan!”
Discovery then faced the challenges seen around the world over 2020 and 2021, which impacted Speedway hard as the sport is very much about the fans. Explains Ribeiro: “Speedway is all about fun engagement, is all about interaction with fans, it’s all about in-stadium sport, 100%. So the sport has really suffered in ’20 and ’21, running 90% of their events behind closed doors and a 100% of the events in Europe. I would say that the level we took over the championship this year in ’22 was absolutely not the level I was expecting it to be when we signed the promoter contract with FIM two years ago.
“It’s always very difficult for a sport to live without fans and keep running without fans for two seasons. The local organisers have been suffering because ticketing is their single income,” Ribeiro continues. “So, I can tell you that in Croatia, it was a very good feeling because we sold a 100% ticketing capacity [6,500 fans were present]. You could feel that the energy from fans was really high. We got fans from Poland, from Sweden, from Denmark, from UK, from Czech Republic, from Germany, all flying to Croatia; it was amazing to see their level of excitement to reengage with the sport after two years of frustration. But the reality is, I would’ve preferred to take over from IMG after two normal seasons.”
Because of the events of the last two years, Discovery is now tasked with regaining the momentum of Speedway. Ribeiro explains: “It’s about re-interacting with fans, and at the same time, we came up with new communication tools, so a new website, new app, new TV products. I think there was a bit of anxiety from the Speedway fan base ahead of the event [because of these changes].
“We want to go deep in these analyses so the telemetry and the GPS tracking positioning we are putting in place will allow this. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding different angles to enrich the storytelling and the narrative of the championship”
“I must say that we have been spending quite a few hours after the event on Saturday evening to check [fans] comments and the feedback on social media to see what they thought about the product, because we knew that they were very demanding; it’s a really super hardcore fan base on Speedway. It’s just amazing. It is probably the first time in my life as a promoter that I organise events and I found over hundred comments on social media about fans commenting on our camera positioning plan!
“They are so engaged with the sport, they are so into the sport, they are so demanding, their expectations are so high,” continues Ribeiro. “We also set our own expectations high; when we came into the sport we did not make it a secret that we wanted really to bring the sport to a new level, [and it was then that] I realised we’d got fans [who are] as edgy as a live TV director on the quality of what we produce, on the quality of the narrative, on the quality of our production; it is just fascinating to see.”
New and exciting data
Data gathering in order to enhance analysis on the world feed, across social media, and the Speedway app, is a new and exciting change for fans of the motorsport. Ribeiro says: “We will gradually implement a new telemetry system, so each rider will have a sensor and transmitter on them and we’ve got, I think, 12 different anchors around the track to suck the data live from them.”
In Croatia the riders’ heartrates were made available for fans to see where the adrenalin kicked in. Says Ribeiro: “We had the heartbeats [of the riders] in Speedway [in Croatia] and it was fascinating to see that whilst they are standing just two seconds before the start, some riders not doing anything had up to 190 heartbeats [per minute] just before [the race began], which was unbelievable to see. We will implement more across the rest of the season; gradually we will implement reaction time, we will implement top speed, and we will implement racing distance analysis because on a four lap basis, there are different racing lines [for each driver] and at the end of the race, you can end up with quite a significant gap in racing distance covered.
“We want to go deep in these analyses so the telemetry and the GPS tracking positioning we are putting in place will allow this. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding different angles to enrich the storytelling and the narrative of the championship.”
Playing with playout
On the roll out of these additions, Ribeiro comments, “it’ll take probably the next two or three events to implement everything”. He goes on: “We want to play with all the communication tools we can play with, so obviously the world feed, but also all the LED screens we have implemented at the events so that fans could see them and interact directly with them, the app, the website. We will deploy all of these areas across the next two or three events so that we really get the product at the level we want, let’s say by mid season.”
At this point the additional data being implemented will be used for commentator analysis across the world feed and on the app. However in the future, Ribeiro sees it being a useful addition to social media content. He notes: “It will be also fascinating to use all that data for social media content after the event to really explain the level of performance and the results of different riders. Once you have that data, and once you have the tools to analyse that data, then it’s only an editorial decision to see what goes live, and what you keep as core content after the race to enrich your content on social media and digital.”
“There is a Speedway fan that will watch a bike on a single camera go around in circles. They’re going to come along. They’re going to love it. They’re going to talk about it. But when you add the innovation that we’ve put in to date [to Speedway] and that there’s more fun things to come, then I think you get a magnetic approach to more sports fans to tune in and watch”
The post-race content for SGP is perhaps more important than in other motorsports due the short race times, which makes live analysis of data during a race impractical in many cases. With a race taking less than five minutes, Ribeiro says it is about being smart: ” You don’t have much space and much time to do in-depth analysis of data [during a race] so we will have to be very smart in the way we bring that data live on TV for commentators to make good use of it, and for fans to go deeper into the sport. But at the same time, I do not want to overload the world feed with data because it’s too intense; the SGP format is too intense. I would rather see a use of that telemetry and that data across all the different platforms we have, and fans will be able to pick it up by themselves and look for that data wherever they want.”
On new cameras being added to Speedway productions, Ribeiro says they will be deployed on a stadium by stadium basis. He says: “You will see as we go to the next stadium, for instance, in Warsaw, you will have cablecam flying over the riders. You will have later in the season jimmy jib cameras on the infield. So there will be more innovations to come, and we will adapt stadium by stadium; you can only do cablecam, for instance, on stadiums on which you can really hang those systems, so Cardiff is very appropriate, Warsaw National Stadium is fine.”
Ribeiro adds: “We have introduced a couple of innovations from the beginning of the season and there will be more to come across the rest of the season. We put live cameras in each box, so that on an OTT destination, fans would have the possibility to switch by themselves from the world feed, and still keep an eye on their favourite riders when they are in the boxes. That was unprecedented in Speedway.”
Personalised market activation
Discovery is treating each of the markets that Speedway is going out to separately in terms of where the content will go, rather than as previously for the sport, having rights sold to a single broadcaster per market. Says Ribeiro: “We took the decision to activate and exploit SGP across our platforms as a priority, and only sub license SGP in markets where we do not operate networks or our digital platform directly. The reality is we want to bring the sport and expose the sport not only to serve the super hardcore fan base, but also to bring the sport to an audience that is probably not used to seeing Speedway. We are using Eurosport really to get traction and launch the community across the season.
“So it’s a very different strategy from what IMG was doing before, which was selling rights exclusively to broadcasters market by market,” adds Ribeiro. “So in Poland, for instance, it was Canal+, and there was not a single second of a footage which was going outside Canal+ in Poland. We took a decision to go exactly the opposite way; we don’t sub license those rights, but we sweat all the assets we have; free to air mainstream channels, news channels, sport channels, to bring the sport to the largest possible audience.”
“The decisions we took in UK are different from the ones we took in Denmark and Sweden, or Poland for instance,” he continues. “We really made an evaluation key market by key market to see what is the best way to bring SGP as a product to the largest audience. So for instance, in UK, we took the decision to put the entire championship on British Eurosport because installment of British Eurosport is very large in the UK, whereas in Poland, we took a very different approach. We said, “look, we’re going use one of our free to air broadcasters for the four Polish rounds and the rest of the season goes on our OTT platform”. In Denmark, we took the decision to do both in parallel, a full experience digitally and then the core show all season live on free to air. Sweden is a bit of a mix where half of the season is on digital, and the Nordics and UK round is free to air. So, we are going to monitor the performance of SGP across those markets. If we have to revaluate, we will.”
Bringing new fans to Speedway
Scott Young, senior vice president of content and production at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe, says to SVG Europe that a lot of work has gone into helping to bring fans from other racing sports to the new-look Speedway. He explains: “The content group across all of Warner Brothers Discovery Sports – now freshly named – works as a group to work out how we can maximise our properties. The biggest thing that we’ve done of late as Francois’s department has grown is make sure the content team sits across the other streams – there are pillars of cycling and tennis and golf and snooker – and making sure that all that content is aligned, and making sure that our commentary teams are briefed, as they are talking to the largest audiences in our traditional sports about new sports that we’ve taken over and starting, [is important].
“Being able to speak to non-Speedway fans and tell them that Speedway Grand Prix has just launched and to come across and watch something that’s innovative, is key,” continues Young. “Then to make sure that when they come across to that property, even if they’re not massive Speedway fans, that the commentary, the presentation, the camera angles, the pit reports, all of that is different to what they may have witnessed previously and went, “this isn’t for me”, is key.
“There is a Speedway fan that will watch a bike on a single camera go around in circles. They’re going to come along. They’re going to love it. They’re going to talk about it. But when you add the innovation that we’ve put in to date [to Speedway] and that there’s more fun things to come, then I think you get a magnetic approach to more sports fans to tune in and watch.”
Young adds: “For me, it’s the fact that [Speedway bikes have got] the acceleration power of a Formula 1 car, they’re on dirt not on hard surfaces, they’ve got no breaks, and they don’t go in a straight line, and they only do four laps so a semi heat is over very quickly and you get to the final and it’s a real showdown. I think it’s a very different sporting property, so getting motorsport fans to travel across our ecosystem of ball sports and cycling sports to arrive at [Speedway] and look at it and be immersed in it, is as much [about] the innovative approach [we have taken to Speedway’s broadcast] as it is about technical innovation, which the team will always keep trying to push on.”
At Round 1 of SPG in Gorican, Croatia, there were:
- 14 trucks
- 50T and 800m3 of equipment
- 129m2 of LED screens
- 145 staff
- 40 cameras
- New brand identity
- New fan zone
- New pit boxes
- New push-off area with LED
- New central stage with LED
- New app
- Live telemetry
The Speedway Grand Prix season runs until 5 November 2022.