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atmosphere, under some pretence of ‘keeping safe’, rendering 50,000-plus crowds a thing of the past and making live sport quite exclusive.

For many years, the second tier didn’t benefit in the same way as Britain’s top league when it came to TV coverage and revenue. This has been rectified to some degree in recent times, but now through streaming they’ve taken control of their broadcast rights and, perhaps, may even surpass the Premiership’s Eurosport deal – they could be trail-blazers.

The way we purchase entertainment has been ever-changing and the rapid rise of computer technology has sped it up. During my film days, unit publicist Geoff Freeman (Gregory’s Girl, The World Is Not Enough, The Mummy, etc.), an engaging personality who had more stories of stars behaving badly than social meddler could cope with, foretold a version of on-demand content we’re familiar with today. Actually, it’s been operating for years.

Amazon Prime, for example, has already shown the Premier League, and now carries such financial clout they paid £187m for JRR Tolkien’s book rights for a 50-plus hours’ worth of more dwarves with swords – the first series alone has cost them a staggering £344m! It’s an understatement to say channels like the BBC and ITV face a challenging future.

British Speedway Network (BSN) is working with a much smaller budget, but it’s also taken control of its screening destiny with a convenient package of its own. They realise live is best, but they’ve recognised their audience has changed its habits, it’s lapsed, can’t travel, doesn’t want

Pictures: THE JOHN SOMERVILLE COLLECTION

to travel, and picks and chooses its shale entertainment. So they’ve moved with the times and put together an attractive package to entice supporters back to remote, but hopefully more regular spectating. For once, speedway is not the donkey in the sport’s marketing derby.

Critics have complained they’re targeting the converted, ‘we need new fans,’ they cry. They have to start somewhere and maximising your potential is sound wisdom. British speedway has always found it difficult to get the armchair viewer out of the house and onto the terraces. During Sky Sports’ heyday, they were pulling in impressive viewing figures which had everyone scratching their heads, because they only transferred to the tracks as ghosts for a league encounter on a Thursday night.

There is evidence that streaming may have reached its dam, because NetFlix recently announced a fall in subscribers for the first time. Is it a coincidence it dropped after the press reported how they habitually remove well-known titles per day without notice, thus compromising the collector/buyer market? Despite it all, you cannot beat something physical to keep than a piece of fairy dust.

Why does this matter? Preserving history is important in all walks of life, and our sport isn’t any different. Once something has been seen, what happens to it afterwards, where does it reside?

If it’s not maintained in a physical format, there is no guarantee it will permanently be available on the internet. And if it does, as it remains neglected, only geeks will be able to retrieve it. It has been said that nothing is lost once it’s been online, and that may well be true, but you’d need someone from GCHQ to go searching in a hope it hasn’t disappeared into the black hole of cyberspace.

The generation coming on have grown into this digital age; they’re used to realistic computer games which have turned into multi-million dollar competitions in themselves – the Rocket League World Championships has a prize pool amounting to $6 million. Its location? Online!

Youngsters are the future, as one of the inspirations behind what has become BSN, George Taylor, advised in these pages: ‘You have to listen to young people’s minds.’ If speedway is to thrive into the next century, then that’s exactly what we have to do. Sure, they want to taste the real thing, but it must meet their expectations.

It doesn’t matter whether your entertainment system is stacked with Bose soundbars, has dynamic 4K definition, or if you prefer to watch the drama unfold on a postcard-sized screen which sits in your hand while multi-tasking with your family, you cannot trump being there. Streaming sport is not a replacement for witnessing something unique, it’s an add-on – or is it?

The big events still attract huge crowds but the days of 100,000-plus gatherings are the exception, rather than the rule. Culture is changing, the ways in which people experience entertainment are many and varied. BSN is certainly a step forward and changing their business model to accommodate evolving consumer habits should be applauded. The trick now is to stop longing for the past and reach for tomorrow...

• Squeezing them in at Odsal Stadium after the war

May 7, 2022 speedway star 7

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