Motor Racing: Mansell TV deal in fresh focus

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The Independent Online
NIGEL MANSELL'S debut season in IndyCar racing will be available to only a minority of Britain's television viewers.

After months of negotiations it seems that only Screensport, the satellite and cable company, can match the price set by ESPN, the United States broadcaster which owns the rights to 16 of the 17 races in the series.

Screensport, which transmits to three million British outlets and a further 30 million throughout Europe, is expected to unveil the deal during the Motor Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham today.

Mansell, who made a record- breaking start to testing with the Newman-Haas team in Arizona this week after leaving Williams, makes his first competitive appearance on 21 March at Surfers Paradise in Australia - one of the two non-American venues on a calendar that ends in October.

But, despite the unprecedented interest created by the reigning Formula One world champion's arrival on the IndyCar circuit, none of the major domestic broadcasters is prepared to spend the estimated pounds 2m needed to capture the British television rights.

ESPN'S asking price is believed to be around dollars 200,000 ( pounds 130,000) a race, 10 times what BSkyB paid to screen last year's IndyCar series, and that is more than most budgets can spare on one item in a recession.

Bob Burrows, head of ITV sport, said: 'We have been talking to ESPN for some time, but at the end of the day we could not afford to make a network purchase. Our budgets run from August to August and this would be a big extra item. It's a very good story and we'd like to cover it, but there would be large production costs on top of the fee.'

Steve Pinder, for Channel 4, said: 'We are not extending our budgets for anything this year and will not commit ourselves to any major new expenditure.'

Regardless of cost, the BBC claims to have no space for further motor racing coverage beyond its current schedule. A spokesman said: 'We remain committed to Formula One and other British events, such as touring car and Formula Three races, and we don't have room for anything else.'

The rights to the only IndyCar event not under ESPN's control, the Indianapolis 500 on 30 May, are held by Trans World International, a company owned by Mark McCormack, and that race will be shown live on BSkyB.

But of the other races, one of which will be held in Toronto on 18 July, a spokeswoman for BSkyB said: 'ESPN approached us with a proposal which was nothing short of ludicrous, so we passed. We will pay what an event is worth - not more.'