It seems ESPN were taken by surprise after the news was made public on the Sky Sports Facebook page! (The page also confirms there is currently no deal to air NASCAR Sprint Cup highlights, as they have before). After requests from Twitter users ESPN issued this confirmation:
Right now we don’t even know if the coverage will be live or delayed, in full or highlights. ESPN UK covers the DTM but has a habit of airing it on a delayed basis – DTM races happen at 1pm UK time but sometimes aren’t aired until 11pm. Hopefully Indycar’s schedule will help rather than hinder it.
Previously the UK’s coverage of ‘North American Open Wheel’ was served by Sky Sports (IRL, then post-merger Indycar) and Eurosport (CART, Champ Car).
While it did have fans, I’ve been quite vocal at my dislike of the Sky Sports studio coverage, there was good discussion at times but I often felt it was very dry and stale compared to the American presentation and even compared to other studio-based analyst formats in this country. I fully realise this was due to the low budget limiting their options, and I very much appreciated the cut to the studio during the interminable US ad-breaks!
What Is ESPN UK?
I’m sure you’re all aware of the American sports giant ESPN, even if you don’t watch sport it features in enough films and TV shows that most should know it! The UK operation is relatively recent addition to the portfolio, only about 4 years old, when ESPN bought the remnants of the folded Setanta Sports operation.
Soon after entering the UK market they went aggressive on rights acquisitions and took some notable properties from the hugely dominant Sky Sports. The way to get attention in the UK market is to get the rights for football (soccer) and they went for a shared deal for top line (English) Premier League, and the FA Cup (split deal with ITV), but also games from the UEFA Europa League, Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), SPL (Scotland), and MLS (United States). They also took Premiership Rugby Union, boxing and some golf.
In addition they also show a lot of North American sports across ESPN and a dedicated network for US & Canadian sports, called ESPN America. ESPNA shows things like NBA and NCAA basketball, MLB baseball, hockey, and since you can’t have a US-focussed network without American Football and Sky has most of the NFL sewn up, ESPN picked up college football (and I think the CFL, too).
This isn’t meant as an advert for ESPN, I’m lifting this stuff from their own website, but as you can see, IndyCar is actually a pretty good fit among all of this, if there aren’t too many clashing events.
The catch: You have to pay extra. More details on that below.
What Does This Mean For British IndyCar Fans?
Details are thin so we don’t know yet but one thing is clear:
A change was necessary. The excellent F1 Broadcasting blog conducted a ratings analysis of IndyCar in the UK and the results were utterly dire – more people watch GP3. A series as good as IndyCar has no business having such diabolical ratings. There is no way it could stay on Sky Sports 4 for another year. Either Sky had to bump it up to SSF1 or IndyCar had to take it elsewhere. Even if figures stay the same they have to try something.
The difficulty here is not knowing whether IndyCar will appear on ESPN or ESPN America. The former has a wider reach: ESPN is available on Sky satellite, Virgin cable, and the digital terrestrial services BT Vision and Top Up TV. ESPN America is available on Sky and Virgin but not terrestrial – exactly the same as Sky Sports 4, the former home of IndyCar.
How Do You Get ESPN UK And What Does It Cost?
As with anything the cost you pay depends what package you currently have. There are usually discounts available for new customers. As a reference please see the ESPN UK Website.
ESPN is an additonal £13 per month over your usual subscription. This isn’t a tier-system. For £13 you get ESPN + ESPN America in HD and SD, and the option of watching via the Sky Go web service.
If you subscribe to the Sky Sports Pack (Sky Sports 1, 2, 3 & 4) then ESPN drops from £13 to £10 per month.
The absolute minimum cost with Sky is £21.50/mth. Add the £13.00/mth for ESPN = £34.50 per month. This does not include the £10.25/mth HD pack which you will need in order to see Sky Sports F1. It also doesn’t include the £5/mth Entertainment Plus pack including Eurosport 1 & 2 and ESPN Classic.
Again, if you are a new customer – or an existing customer in a renewal period – you might be able to get this cheaper.
Frankly, if you are a dedicated petrolhead who had Sky Sports for IndyCar alone, it’ll be worth cancelling it. You’re probably paying £21/mth now so you’d save £8 each month! Remember you had to subscribe to both SS1 + SS2 just to get access to Indycar on SS4. You only need the HD pack to get Sky F1, you don’t need another Sky Sports channel.
The winners here are those already with ESPN, and those who’ll cancel SS to switch to ESPN. Everyone else is going to have to find money. I don’t know if you can start it in March and stop it in October.. if not that’s £156 for a year.
Restrictions: You need to be allowed to put a satellite dish on the wall! If you are renting a property, as I am, this might not be an option. If you’re allowed now you might not be in your next place, makes it tricky to sign up to their 18-month minimum. If you aren’t with Sky already £31.50 is a lot of money to find.
Virgin also has ESPN in HD and a ‘go anywhere’ mobile option.
Unlike Sky, Virgin already includes the suite of 3 ESPN channels within their highest price tier, ‘XL’, so if you have that already you are in luck! If you can cancel Sky Sports on Virgin now Indycar has moved away, you might even make a saving!
If you aren’t on XL already, an upgrade from the L tier to XL looks like it’ll cost you an extra £8/mth over what you pay now.
You don’t have to upgrade to XL, the ESPN website says you can pay £6/mth to get just the 3 ESPN channels. I struggle to find any mention of this on the Virgin site. Bear in mind XL includes Motors TV which airs WEC, ALMS, V8 Supercar and all sorts. If ESPN is £6 of the £8 upgrade, if you get XL you basically get Motors TV for £2 – bargain!
The absolute minimum to get the XL package on Virgin Media is £24.50/mth with a V HD box, but you’d need to switch your phone line to Virgin as well else it’ll jump to £32. There is the option to get a TiVo box instead for £29.50/mth. New subscribers get a discount for the first 6 months.
It might be possible to get the L pack with ESPN for £18.50/mth and the M for even less, but as I say, I can’t see that ESPN offer on the VM website.
Virgin Media Website
Trouble is, this is only available on cable.
Restrictions: Virgin Media’s TV offering is for cabled-areas only, you can’t just hook up with your phone line. Cable is available in many large towns and cities but a lot of people don’t have the option.
BTV is a box combining Freeview (digital over-the-air), PVR, and on-demand streaming over ADSL.
This is a very attractive option because of the price:
ESPN is a £10 one-off fee. There are two tiers on BTV: Essential and Unlimited. The Unlimited tier includes ESPN for no extra monthly fee, just like Virgin, you just need to pay a £10 fee to get a viewing card to slotinto the box.
There is only one option to get ESPN on BTV: pay £12.50/mth for Unlimited and a one-off fee of £10 for the card.
But there are a few catches, and some hoops to jump:
- You need to be with BT Broadband.
- You need to be in a BT Infinity-enabled area, even if you choose not to take Infinity. This is a recent development.
- There may be a hefty activation fee (£49 on one page I looked at).
- ESPN is not in HD on Freeview, and you don’t get ESPN America, but you do get content in the On-Demand area (potentially in HD).
- For the Indycar fan wanting to watch Fontana or Texas live, or Motegi if it comes back, on Freeview ESPN shuts down at 4am! Could miss the last few laps!
- If your Freeview has 30+ TV channels and a heap of radio stations you’re good. But if you’re stuck on a relay transmitter, like I am, and can only get 15 TV channels and just BBC radio only, you will NOT be able to get ESPN. Check yours here – if you get ITV3 you’re good for ESPN.
BT Vision Website – note BT are trying to push people on to YouView which is a new service. YouView does not include ESPN. Be careful to look for “BT Vision + Sport” which is getting quite hard to find.
That price though… if you can get it, get it!
Restrictions: You need BT Broadband and you need to be an area enabled for BT Infinity, even if you don’t take Infinity. You also need to make sure you get the channel on your Freeview signal.
Top Up TV
This is a box you can buy for your Freeview, like BT Vision without the on-demand content.
ESPN here is £11.99 per month. That’s almost as much as Sky’s price and it isn’t in HD – but you won’t need to buy a whole Sky or Virgin or BT setup.
Top Up TV Website
As I said in the BTV section ESPN isn’t in HD here, it shuts down at 4am, and availability depends what signal you have. If your Freeview has 30+ TV channels and a heap of radio stations you’re good. But if you’re stuck on a relay transmitter, like I am, and can only get 15 TV channels and just BBC radio only, you will NOT be able to get ESPN. Check yours here – if you get ITV3 you’re good for ESPN.
Restrictions: You need to make sure you get the channel on your Freeview signal.