BT Sport will remain MotoGP’s British broadcaster for at least three more years, extending its existing deal until at least the end of the 2024 season.
The telecom giant’s sports wing has hosted the series since its launch in 2014, when coverage moved from BBC to the paid-for channel.
In a statement announcing the news, Simon Green, managing director at BT Sport, said: “We are extremely proud to continue as the home of MotoGP in the UK and Ireland.
“BT Sport has the best presentation team delivering the most comprehensive MotoGP coverage that UK fans have ever enjoyed, with every single practice, qualifying and race broadcast in full.
“I would also like to congratulate Dorna on safely and successfully completing the 2020 season, one of the most exciting we have seen, and thank them for collaborating with us to bring some great new programming to our audiences during last year’s lockdown.”
The contract extension is likely to once again spark a debate about the viability of having MotoGP placed behind a paywall.
MotoGP has experienced an extensive drop in UK viewership since the days of free-to-watch coverage on the BBC, with some industry insiders suggesting that under 20% of the previous viewership remains.
It’s not a debate that’s limited to the UK, either, with a significant reduction in audience numbers in Italy and Spain – where the series has similarly moved to pay-to-watch TV channels.
In fact, so sharp has the fall been in mainland Europe (and so negative the response from fans, teams and sponsors), a number of races every season there have also been shown on free to watch TV again.
However, with TV revenue the main stream of income for series promoter Dorna (owned itself by private equity group Bridgepoint Capital), it remains unlikely that fan displeasure will prompt a policy shift in the immediate future.
The news of BT Sport’s contract extension could also play a role in shaping the 2021 grid.
MotoGP is currently without any British riders due to Cal Crutchlow’s retirement, though there remains the possibility of Bradley Smith ending up at Aprilia should it elect to enter him in its second race seat instead of fellow test rider Lorenzo Savadori for the coming year.
It’s believed to be a toss-up between the pair despite Aprilia springing a surprise by replacing Smith with Savadori three quarters of the way through the 2020 season.
There have been rumours coming out of Italy this weekend suggesting that Smith has given Aprilia an all-or-nothing ultimatum confirming that he’s ready to walk away from his test rider role should he not get the race seat.
It’s an open secret within the paddock that TV broadcasters generally have considerable influence over certain decisions on the grid, as shown this year when considerable political wrangling led to Moto3 rider John McPhee’s chances to move to Moto2 being blocked despite him having a contract in place guaranteeing his promotion.
McPhee’s move would have left the middleweight class with three British riders and Moto3 with none.
Should BT be willing to exert influence on Dorna to ensure a British presence in the premier class for 2021, it could help tip the Aprilia scales in favour of Smith – ensuring that he remains on the grid until Moto2 riders Jake Dixon (believed to be the most likely long-term contender for a British MotoGP prospect) or Sam Lowes are ready to step up for 2022.