Here’s a question that some motorsport fans in Australia, may think doesn’t need to be asked. However, from my perspective….. Where to, for motor racing in this country ?
VASC’s, as Australia’s main motorsport category, is supposedly cruising along quite comfortably….. if you choose to believe their propaganda. They say they are getting record crowds at events and producing increased TV ratings. However, when you get to see their races, which in itself, is not that easy to do, due to their blackout on free to air TV, the crowds appear to be ever decreasing. In fact, there seems to be an effort by the TV producers, to not show the spectator areas, with poor crowds sometimes being hard to hide from the camera’s. The TV ratings system being used by all the fta TV stations and the PayTV network are run by the TV networks themselves, and as such, are understandably pretty general in their results. The major TV networks can use the very ambiguous information to attract advertisers by a variety of shady demographics, which can just about give them an argument to prove a point from even a losing, actual viewer numbers position. Henceforth, this is how ridiculously low viewing numbers can somehow be projected as winning figures. Keep in mind that advertising hacks, PR spin doctors and TV executives are all behind these dodgy ratings numbers, so it’s in their own best interest to cloud the figures as much as possible. If you’re in any doubt, try watching the ABC TV Gruen series about the advertising industry, to see how we are played as fools. However, I digress!
But, back to the question of where motorsport is going in this country. The football codes, T20 cricket, and an ever increasing number of sports, have an advantage over circuit racing, with a couple of key issues. Footy and cricket have their main stadiums centrally located in the big cities and suburbs. Transport, which is usually free, gets you into the event quickly, and importantly, when it’s all over, you can get out efficiently and on your way home. Due to the issue of motorsport generally being conducted at locations a fair way out of town, it’s a major effort for fans just get get to the venue. In saying this, most diehard motorsport fans will happily make that effort to watch the sport they love. However, it’s the casual or new fans, who are going to see this as all too hard, just to get there in the first place. In the past, up here in Queensland it hasn’t been too big an issue, due to a smaller population, and the ability of the roads to handle the traffic requirements of a day out at the races. However, nowadays, it’s a major trek to a circuit, via the overworked road network, to Lakeside on the north-side of the city, or Queensland Raceway at Ipswich, on the western outskirts of Brisbane. If you are coming from the opposing side of town, it is a good 2 hours plus, traveling time each way. In the more populated cities of Sydney and Melbourne, motorsport fans could be facing considerably more traveling time to get to their motor racing venue.
So, even before the racing goes green, on the first race of the day, motor racing has a handicap around its neck to compete with the major sporting codes, to win over the casual fan, and to give them a very good reason to get out to a circuit to see live racing in action. Motorsport, in Australia and Supercars in particular, have got a couple of big names, but to the vast majority of general sports fans, I think it would be very hard for them to reel off the top dozen or so drivers without having to put a lot of thought into it. Personality wise, motorsport struggles to get any major household names in Australia, other than Craig Lowndes, and he probably only has another season or two left in him as a full season driver. Jamie Whincup, who has accrued the most race wins in V8 Supercar/Australian Touring Car history could walk down the main street of any of our capital cities and although being recognized, would certainly not get anywhere near the attention of many of the big name players in the AFL, NRL or our national Cricket team. The same could be said for the current VASC champion, Shane van Gisbergen.
Promotion….. or lack of it, seems to be the core of the problem! PROMOTION, PROMOTION, PROMOTION. Motorsport and VASC’s have to get their drivers and champions out there. Get them out there as guest celebrities on TV game shows, lifestyle shows, cooking shows, renovation shows, ANYTHING….anything that gives them coverage!! Make these guys role models. Have them out in schools and in the community promoting road safety. Give the viewing public some good guys, with the wife and kids on display, and a couple of bad guys, who the public can hate. That’s where the other big sports leave motor racing behind when it comes to getting people to follow their sport. I think we’ve all seen how the sport has become so sanitized, since Brock and Johnson used to tell like it was, back in the day.
Merchandising is another area that should be looked at. Costs should be reduced to be able to get every kid into a VASC team shirt. Flood the market with them. Remember ….if the kids and Mum are happy with the clean image, they’ll be demanding that Dad takes them to the races. All these are things that Motorsport are late coming to the party on, and are in catch up mode to keep up with other forms of sport, that have gotten the jump on them in recent years. Fly in a different guest driver from F1, NASCAR, Sports car racing or wherever, for one off drives in each race. The public loves to see the overseas hotshots turn up to race against the locals.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, payTV just ain’t working. The reality of present day motor racing in Australia, is that it’s major fan base is currently an older demographic. Look around, next time you go to a race meeting and see how old most of the crowd are! Free to air TV, is really the only TV outlet which is going to give them realistic TV viewer numbers. PayTV may work overseas, where there is a much bigger population base. 30% of Australia’s population ain’t gonna match 30% of the U.S. or Europe, in payTV viewer numbers. Consequently, we pay more for less, with payTV in Australia.
Motorsport in Australia hasn’t yet grasped or embraced the concept of live streaming. The streaming services that are offered are a very hit and miss affair. Australian motorsport administrators….Take a look at some of the overseas series, namely BlancpainGT, GT masters, Super GT and many more, to see how its done. Live racing, live timing, immediate replays straight after the race is over. Sure…. it can be argued that the live racing and replays can turn off potential attendances at circuits, but it certainly increases the popularity of the sport to modern audiences and generates an incentive for new fans to want to go to a circuit and experience the real thing in person. I’m now at the crossroads, where I follow practically all my motorsport, from overseas racing these days. I still see myself as an Aussie motorsport fan, but it has become all too hard to not only watch live local motor racing, but to have any ongoing interest in the sport when there is no major effort by the sports administrators, to give me any incentive to attend a race meeting. I still follow local motorsport, but at an enforced (by the promoters) arms length. I live and breathe motor racing! I follow it closely via any outlet I can find. However, if you make it impossible to follow, I now find myself following other more fan friendly, local, sports. Some fans may be lost, altogether. Potential fans aren’t going to be treated in this way, and be enthusiastic in coming back again. The ridiculously high admission costs are another thing that bugs me about our local motorsport. Again, if the sport is to compete against the bat and ball codes, this issue has to be addressed.
Supercars, have what I consider to be a reasonably good product. It’s good, close, hard racing, albeit in cars that are neanderthals in design terms. They have the cream of the local racing talent in the front half of the grid, but they also have some guys that really shouldn’t be there. There’s quite a few young blokes in their second tier series, that should be racing against the big boys in the main game and that is a view that a lot of the general sporting public see as well. In my opinion, they also have an issue with racing a category of cars that are no longer relevant to the Australian motoring consumer any more. However, in racing these motor sport dinosaurs, I have to admit that the teams have them engineered to within an inch of their lives, so it is very competitive racing by a few teams that have much superior equipment to the majority of the competition.
So… what’s the answer? I think the calendar for VASC’s should be more condensed. Like it or not, they aren’t going to compete with the footy codes in TV viewer numbers, no matter how much they fudge the figures. Turn it into a summer sport, for TV. I’d start the season off with the Sandown 500 in September, after the football codes are finished. Follow it up with the Bathurst 1000. This is the most popular motor sport event in Australia, so get their season under way with their showcase event early! Have a two week break and follow it up with a weekly, street circuit, sprint race, in each of the major capital cities, and maybe a few of the larger provincial towns, around the country. Realizing that we are talking about summer here in Australia, run as many twilight and night races as possible, on a Saturday twilight time. Run the season through to around March. I’d finish off the season with a top ten drivers, sprint series on street circuits in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Dump the tacky support races and go with a some F5000 and maybe one other support category. Sure….it’s what traditionally conservative motor sport administrators would initially see as impossible to pull off, but motorsport has to get out of the backwards direction it is heading, if it wants to see itself as a major player in the Australian sporting landscape.
So….Let’s see what the future of motorsport gives us……and please, let’s not go down the Formula E path. I don’t think I could stomach that.