The announcement of television rights for the V8 Supercars for 2015 onwards was cetainly big on bluster. It trumpeted comprehensive coverage for fans when Channel Ten and FOX Sports take over broadcasting duties.
As is the case with so many announcements these days, the devil was buried very deep in the details.
V8 Supercars executives probably hoped the details wouldn’t take the gloss off the most expensive deal in the history of the sport, worth a whopping $241 million.
Now, on the eve of the first race of the new season, more details have been released. Gor a regular fan who doesn’t have access to Foxtel, the sad reality is that they will only be able to watch six full races a year.
The Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, Townsville’s street race, Sandown 500, the Bathurst 1000, the Gold Coast 600 and the season-ending Sydney 500 at Olympic Park will all be broadcast from start to finish, while the rest will be delivered on Channel Ten (or ONE) in the form of one-hour highlights.
If you’ve got Foxtel and you’re a diehard V8 fan, the announcement will make you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven.
Because in around 365 days time, you’ll get to see every practice and qualifying session, as well as the Top Ten Shootout and the race itself. Live, ad-free and with high definition pictures.
The one exception to that rule is Bathurst, where there will be the occasional ad break – to be expected in a race five or six hours in length.
Full disclosure here: I have Foxtel. That makes this new broadcast deal pretty awesome for me.
It’s the majority of fans – a huge majority if the comments on the V8 Supercars Facebook page are anything to go by – who are going to miss out on the bulk of their favourite sport.
It’s no secret that a lot of V8 fans are from rural and less affluent areas.
Some of these fans don’t have the luxury – like I do – of being able to pick up the phone, call Foxtel and get cable hooked up.
So what does that mean? Essentially, your favourite sport has sold out; it’s going to pay television for the bulk of the season.
If you don’t have Foxtel, you have to go to races if you want to see most of the season – that is if there’s a race near you. A race weekend is an expensive trip and isn’t always possible.
The broadcast deal announcement talks about increased hours of television coverage – 1140 in total, up 360% from this year. But nearly all of that will be on Foxtel channels.
They also trumpet that there will be primetime replays on Channel Ten and One-HD, which will open the sport up to new viewers.
Make no mistake – this is just the spin doctors at work, trying to make the best of a bad situation.
In this day and age, you can’t just whack a one-hour highlights show on television two or three hours after the race has ended.
Channel Ten did that back in the day, with their 3pm-5pm Sunday slot (and Channel Seven for years before them), but things were different then.
It was the Shell Championship Series, they raced AU Fords and VT Commodores and guys like Johnson, Bowe, Seton, Brock and Skaife were still driving.
Back then, Twitter and other forms of social media hadn’t been invented. Nor had internet streaming, legal or otherwise.
There are simply too many ways for fans to find out the results of qualifying or the race. Try as you might, sometimes you just can’t avoid knowing who won.
No matter how you try to present the concept, to a real fan a highlights package is never the same as seeing the entire race.
Even if you’re the most diehard V8 fan, what are the chances you’re going to sit at home and watch a condensed one-hour replay of a race that you already know the result of?
Not good, especially on a Saturday night.
So, what then? You record the package and it sits on your DVR for another 12 or 14 hours, and suddenly it’s Sunday. You will more than likely just delete it.
On the plus side, Channel Ten is bringing RPM back, Foxtel is retaining V8Xtra and launching a new show called Motorsports 360. There will also be comprehensive internet streaming options.
Being able to watch the race on your iPhone, iPad or Android while you’re out and about is a tremendous concept.
Of course, aside from the re-launch of RPM, you’re going to have to pay for the privilege. As much as some fans might want to, the fact is they can’t. They just don’t have the available funds.
That’s sad, but it’s also a reality of life in Australia, and the V8 Supercars either didn’t know that or just don’t care.
You can’t help but think V8 Supercars have delivered a gut punch to the people that have been the heartbeat of their fan-base for a long time.
How else do you explain taking all but six full race meetings off network television and replacing them with a one-hour highlights package?
Foxtel, obviously, have plenty of money to throw at the series, because the nature of their work is subscription television (though I bet we’ll see a slight subscription increase as a result of this).
And the dollar signs – all 241 million of them – have obviously flashed in the eyes of CEO James Warburton and his staff, so they’ve jumped at the chance to make a massive amount of cash. Channel Ten are given the free to air rights, with the kind of money on offer from Foxtel unlikely to be matched by a free to air station for motor racing.
You also can’t blame Foxtel. They’re doing what they think is best to secure good content for those who pay, sometimes up to a small fortune, for subscription television service. They now have a slice of every major sports product in Australia. Their job is to expand their portfolio, and they’ve done it very well in this case.
V8 racing is a solid get. It mightn’t be as popular as it was, but they still have a solid fan-base.
Will that fan-base dwindle now? How do you maintain interest in any sport if you can’t see the bulk of the races?
This is a sad move by V8 Supercars, and one that doesn’t make sense.
After one of the most competitive racing seasons in the history of touring car racing in Australia, V8 Supercars should be trying to expose their sport to more fans, not marginalising the fans they already have.
I wonder if they’ll feel the same way if their traditional fan-base crumbles away due to a lack of exposure.
Five years is a long time to wait to make a change. Hopefully, for V8 racing, it’s not too long.