Interview: Jean-Louis Dauger, Director of Operations, Eurosport Events

European Rally Championship season started off with Jännerrallye earlier this month in Austria, first event of the new format, promoted and designed by Eurosport Events. Based on the experiences gained over the years of running Intercontinental Rally Challenge, Eurosport Events successfully presented some of the ideas they will be using over the course of 2013 in ERC events.

With media relations and TV broadcasting being hotly debated subjects in both ERC and WRC circles, I thought it might be interesting to have a chat with Jean-Louis Dauger, Director of Operations at Eurosport Events. Jännerrallye set high standards in media coverage, but according to Mr. Dauger, Eurosport is only just warming up for an exciting season. Based on their work in IRC, and the great coverage they provided broadcasting rallies live on TV, there is no reason to doubt their optimism.

There is also no reason to doubt the popularity of rally (fans and media proved it in both Monte Carlo and Austria!), and the growing need for fresh ideas in presenting the events to not only European, but global audience as well. Eurosport Events is, at the moment, leading the way with European Rally Championship, and the aim is to keep inventing new ways to promote the sport.

Did you like Eurosport’s live TV coverage of IRC events in the past, and hope to see more of those in near future? Read on!

But before you do, allow me to thank Mr. Dauger and Mr. Richard Rodgers, FIA ERC press officer, for making this Q&A possible!

IRC and ERC merged into a single championship for this year. What were the main challenges of this project?

“Firstly the IRC and ERC have not merged. The IRC enjoyed seven years of outstanding success but when the FIA approached Eurosport Events to take on the promotion of the ERC it made no sense for both series to continue in their existing form. We took the decision to put the IRC on hold in order to devote all our energies into returning the ERC to its former glories, which is an ongoing, albeit an exciting challenge. A great deal of work has already been done with but there’s plenty more work to do, such as encouraging more teams and manufacturers to get involved. We’re just at the start of a very exciting journey.”

Would you agree that the European Rally Championship needed overhauling, and do you think Eurosport Events’ IRC experience is exactly the right answer to the problems ERC had before merger?

“The ERC has a very strong heritage but in recent years interest had decreased slightly. It needed fresh impetus and fresh thinking. Eurosport Events developing the new generation of rallying, namely the IRC, and the experience gained in this process and utilising all the very capable people we have working for and with us means we are absolutely the perfect fit for ensuring the ERC story continues.”

According to some opinions, and based on official accounts as well, it was obvious IRC was going through difficult times due to global economic recession. Do you believe that IRC could have survived as a Europe-only series?

“The IRC was no different to other major motorsport championships in that participation by manufacturers, which were the cornerstone of the series, is always cyclical. That impacted slightly on entry numbers on some events in 2012 but not on others, as did the global economic crisis, which has affected motorsport worldwide, not just the IRC. The IRC was a huge success in 2011, in particular, as a Europe-only series with huge television audiences, exhilarating live TV coverage, and six drivers in contention for the title on the final round.”

New ERC season started earlier this month in Austria, and the new format earned praise and admiration from fans, competitors and media. Personally, I was thrilled with the new format and especially the accessibility of information. Did Eurosport Events insist on expanding the ERC coverage even further from what it had in IRC, onto social media and radio, for example?

“Eurosport Events is constantly striving to enhance its offering. The increased visibility in social networks and coverage on radio, for example, is just part of that process. But what you experienced in Austria is just the start. There are many exciting innovations to come.”

IRC and Eurosport Events earned admiration for bringing us very exciting live stage coverage on TV in the past. I find this crucial to the sport and it’s expansion. Can we expect live TV from ERC events as well?

“Absolutely. Eurosport Events pioneered successful live coverage of rallying with the IRC and we can’t wait to televise the first ERC event live as it happens this season. We’ve yet to announce what rounds will be shown live but the plan is currently to show at least two events live and hopefully more.”

Eurosport is often praised for it’s rally coverage, but there is also room for improvement. Do you follow the reactions from media and fans?

“Of course. We welcome feedback from all areas of the sport and beyond as we always recognise there is scope to make what we do even better. The team behind Eurosport’s rally coverage is the best in the business but the people involved always want to make improvements where possible.”

I am often asked for alternative ways to access Eurosport TV feeds by people not able to watch Eurosport. Online coverage is common answer. Do you believe online broadcasting is the key to reach new fans and audience?

“It’s one of the ways and of course coverage of the ERC is available through Eurosport Player online. The ERC website will carry highlights of each round in 2013. But it’s important to not ignore the importance of television, nor the fact that without Eurosport on television there wouldn’t be Eurosport at all.”

Admittedly, I repeatedly call for live rally TV, yet I am not fully aware of the scale of such project. Can you disclose some of the challenges and difficulties of broadcasting rallies live on TV?

“With such an experienced team of people at our disposal there are only solutions, not problems. The challenge of live TV is enormous but no challenge is too difficult to overcome as we discovered during 14 live broadcasts of the IRC. Challenges range from the weather – if there’s too much cloud cover our helicopter can’t fly – to delays in the itinerary affecting live transmission times. There can also be other circumstances beyond our control, such as the incredibly sad incident on Barum Czech Rally Zlin when a stage scheduled for live coverage was cancelled due to spectator fatality on a previous stage. It does take a significant amount of planning and investment to successfully broadcast rallies live: approximately 50 people will play key roles in live coverage of events and planning will begin more than six months before the event takes place with visits to stages to identify access issues, exciting and challenging sections and helicopter flightpaths all essential.”

Do you believe ERC can and should be considered a valid competitor, so to speak, to the WRC, and do you think there is enough room for two strong international rally series?

“The ERC is not a competitor to the WRC. The WRC is a global championship, the ERC is focused entirely on Europe and visits a number of countries where hosting a WRC round is not achievable for a number of reasons. We want the ERC to be accessible to all by encouraging participation from all walks of life. The ERC will play an increasingly important role in the FIA’s rally ladder and will showcase a number of exciting events, up and coming drivers and teams, not to mention giving privateers a great opportunity to showcase their talents in an exciting and competitive motorsport arena but at a reduced costs due to the shorter lengths of the events. There is room for two strong international rally series providing they cater for different people and markets.”

Some of the best rally crews in the world are part of the ERC this year. But ERC is also very open to beginners and young teams, taking first steps on the international scene?

“Which is fantastic! What better way for less experienced competitors to learn than by competing against those who have considerable knowledge and expertise?”

I am naturally interested in Croatian round of the ERC. Currently there is not much information available about it, and the dates on the official ERC website differs from the date announced by Croatian ASN. Can you confirm there is a final date for this event?

“A date change was requested by the Croatian ASN. As soon as the FIA’s Rally Commission approves this change of date an announcement will be made. We hope this will be very soon but keep visiting for details and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Either way, Croatia is a very important member of the ERC family and is a long-term supporter of the series. We have no doubt the Croatia Rally will be one of the highlights of the 2013 season.”

Twitter: @JLDauger @Rodgerally @FIAERC

Photo: Manuel F. Picaud