In all fairness, it sometimes isn’t really appropriate to compare Eurosport Events promoted FIA European Rally Championship to Red Bull Media House promoted FIA World Rally Championship in terms of the live TV coverage. I know I often pull that argument when talking about the benefits of live TV in promotion of rally, but these two are not so easily comparable. Basically, ERC has the benefit of having a sports channel as a promoter, so there is actually no selling of content involved in getting the shows out to the public. And that can mean huge, really huge difference – from being in a position to simply produce and immediately broadcast the contents live, using your own infrastructure, as ERC is doing, to the need to first invest in production, and then distribute the contents to buyers, if there are any, as is the case with WRC.
So yeah, these two are different beasts, but there are also many, too many similarities linking the two major series. In any possible future scenario, WRC must have live TV stages, there is no way around that. For now, ERC still does not enjoy such huge media and fans interest as WRC does, after all, it is “only” European series, but let’s not forget this is a very new series, even though it’s based on the former IRC merged with old-format ERC. But when those helicopters take us to the sky above the stages, and we can follow the crews both onboard and from the air, while also listening to informed commentary and co-driver delivering pace notes, all other arguments against live TV are worthless.
WRC promoters say they find it hard to sell the sport in it’s current guise, and as such, it’s hard for them to justify and big investments, such as live stages. They also say the solution is in the new format of some of the stages, making them more “saleable” and, dare I say it, commercial. But what ERC taught us is that you should not take your ideas to the extremes vs. using the proven basics that make up the sport, if that means you will ruin the essence of the sport. One stage should not diminish the importance of all other stages, as one of those ideas suggested – any similar initiatives should be cut before they grow roots.
Is WRC really that common and plain for mass audience TV? Perhaps. But to count on one single stage is bad – sport should be doing much more in order to explain and present it’s charm to new fans and admirers. One stage alone will not be enough – no matter what you make of it, it’s still going to be just one stage – audience might be entertained for a while, but they won’t get to know the sport and understand the underlying principle of rallying. Granted, what Eurosport is doing with ERC is also not going to make rallying instantly attractive to huge numbers of new fans alone, but it’s a big step in good direction – it shows rally as a sport of endurance, long stages, team work, and goes beyond one-stage-gimmick, made just to sell it to the people who otherwise would not bother with rally, or would not understand it at all.
Recently we heard, or rather read on FIA’s official media outlet Autosport, that promoters plan to add shiny new things to the championship. So shiny in fact, that even Malcolm Wilson was overwhelmed. That’s great news, beyond great. I’ll assume the silly odd idea of one stage shootout is long dead by now, and the new initiatives are really going to take the sport to next level, but until we hear it from FIA, we won’t know.
So far, I was hoping WRC would be a bit better presented to the fans, not yet familiar with the sport. But again, I am not really the one to be going about sites and resources, showing and presenting rallies to the new folks. Ultimately, that is what WRC should do, I believe. It should not be looking to customize one stage and turn it into fast-food kind of short-lived tasty pleasure – instead it should present the grandeur of the WRC, and only then offer this stage, as a small piece of much bigger and much more epic picture.
Whatever Red Bull and it’s partners end up doing with WRC, it should not be bigger than the sport itself, nor should it be about turning rallying into anything other than what it already is – one of the most exciting, extreme and fucking awesome motor sport disciplines on the planet!
Instead of focusing on turning WRC and rallying into one stage spectacle, why not build a show around the sport, with more in-depth views and contents? Eurosport could and possibly should do that, and Red Bull simply must do it – both series need supporting shows vs. bare live TV or your usual highlight reports – there must be more buzz about the sport, it must be everywhere, it must overshadow Formula 1 once again. Because it can, and because it has all it takes in excitement, drivers’ skills and fans passion departments! Don’t you think?