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Formula E

The £30 question: Why is Formula E behind a paywall?

Formula E is exclusively behind a paywall in the UK for the foreseeable future, with the sport's CEO Jeff Dodds having explained the reasoning behind this move.

FE grid 2024
To news overview © Simon Galloway / Formula E

It's no secret that the way to watch Formula E in the United Kingdom has changed quite drastically this year, with the sport having gone behind a paywall.

Whilst the championship has been aired on the likes of Eurosport in the past, it was always also available on free-to-air (FTA) television. Since its inaugural season back in 2014/15, Formula E has found itself on FTA channels like ITV, Channel 5, BBC and, most recently, Channel 4.

However, following a multi-year deal with TNT Sports which was announced in December 2023, Formula E's full schedule being aired on FTA is a thing of the past. As well as every session being on TNT Sports, live and on-demand streaming is available on Discovery+ too.

Whilst Free Practice sessions can be watched for free on YouTube, fans must pay for a TNT Sports subscription to watch the entirety of all 16 races this campaign.

Having to suddenly pay for a series which has been free to watch for nine seasons has infuriated many fans, who have been highly critical of Formula E's move on social media.

It's not just Formula E being behind a paywall which is new, as a new presenter and several new pundits – including ex-F1 driver David Coulthard – have been introduced.

For those without TNT Sports prior to the start of Season 10 – Mexico City hosted the season-opener last month – continuing to watch the all-electric single-seater series has come at a cost.

According to price comparison site Choose, on average households with Virgin Media or BT can pay £18 per month for TNT Sports, giving them access to Formula E. However, Sky customers will need to fork out £26-£30 per month for the necessary channels.

TNT Sports can also be purchased directly through Discovery+, although that'll set customers back £29.99 per month. Quite clearly, it's not cheap. So why has it been done?

Formula E is rapidly becoming more popular. In fact, the championship now has the fourth-biggest fan base of any motorsport after overtaking NASCAR. As of October last year, the sport had just surpassed a following of 344 million people.

The sport is growing and those who control the championship have been challenged with finding ways of ensuring that the growth continues, something which in itself comes at a cost.

TNT Sports 'ticked' every box

During a recent roundtable in Diriyah to select media, RacingNews365 asked Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds the reasoning behind the switch to being behind a paywall in the UK and why TNT Sports in particular was chosen.

"So we look at every market separately. What we really need for a market is a broadcaster that's prepared to invest in making Formula E, or making it the home of Formula E in a local market," Dodds said.

"What isn't good for us is if you move broadcaster and move around the market because people just don't know where to find you, and therefore, it becomes very complicated.

"So, within the UK deal, it was really important that we found a partner that wanted to invest in us, invest in the production, invest in the on-screen presentation, investing in co-promoting Formula E, and invest in making us a long-term partner. TNT ticked all those boxes.

"If you look at the production, you've got great production with Nicki Shields, David Coulthard and Jermaine Jenas. Sorry, I've probably left people out, apologies if I have.

"You've got very strong cross-promotion around the boxing around the Premier League football to drive people to Formula E. The on-screen presentation was great, and a long-term agreement was made to make it the home of Formula E."

			© Formula E
	© Formula E

Dodds 'fully sympathises' with disappointed fans

Dodds is a "massive sports fan" himself and understands why there has been some backlash in the UK following the move from FTA to being behind a paywall; however, he pointed out that nowadays "very few sports" can be watched in their entirety for free.

Formula E partnering with TNT Sports ensures that the championship has an exclusive home for the next couple of years at the very least and allows it to go to the next level.

In many ways, the paywall allows the sport to put on bigger and better spectacles from when the pre-race build-up starts to when the post-race reactions finish, something which simply wasn't possible when on such a tight FTA schedule.

"It's very difficult to get that same level of stability with free-to-air. Because you're kind of a slave to the schedule.

"And you know, let's be really honest, it's often easier for them and better for them to do a re-run of a soap opera to get more viewership than it is to put live sports on, because just the viewership numbers are very different.

"The second thing I would say is, and this I know, is unpopular with some of our fan base. But there's a time in a sport's life where it gets to a point where a pay company is prepared to invest in that sport, put it behind the paywall, because they believe it will drive subscription.

"And that's happened. I'm a massive sports fan, whether it's football, whether it's rugby, whether it's golf, whether it's darts, whether it's cricket, whether it's boxing, doesn't matter what it is, it sits behind a paywall.

"Formula 1 is another example. There are very few sports now that sit for full schedule showing, certainly in the UK, on free-to-air, very, very, very few of them.

"And so I would say, on one hand, I understand the disappointment of the fans, because there's a lot of fans there. We don't want to lose those fans. But hopefully they will understand that we have 350 million fans around the world now.

"We're at a point where people are interested in putting us onto a paid platform because they think we might drive subscriptions. They're prepared to invest in it and to stabilise the sport in a specific place.

"All of those things are hugely advantageous over time. It does create some pain in the short-term, because there are some disappointed people out there, and I fully sympathise with them.

Formula E going behind a paywall in the UK is in many ways the championship's next step in the British market, to ensure that the numbers continue to point in the right direction.

"Absolutely," said Dodds, when asked if going behind a paywall is the sport's next step in the UK. "It's a transition point all sports go through when they reach a certain level of popularity."

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