The runaway success of cricket’s Big Bash over the past six Australian summers in many ways typifies what’s happening to sport across the globe.
Just as with the way the world now digests its media, be it mainstream or social, sports fans across the globe are engaging with their sport in more digestible doses … they want short, sharp, user-friendly experiences that don’t consume too much of their time.
Rallycross is the obvious example of that trend in the motor sport world.
Forty years ago rallycross was a thing and then all but disappeared off the face of the planet.
It was reborn maybe five years ago because rallycross is fundamentally entertaining, and unlike rallying, can be staged in a contained area – usually a racetrack – that brings with it all the user-friendly benefits of stadium sport.
Using a stadium sport like cricket as the example, no longer are spectators drawn to the idea of spending all day – indeed in the case of a Test, up to five days – sitting still, watching a contest that is often dull and ultimately may not even deliver an outcome.
Big Bash is fast, colourful, exciting, entertaining and, as a result, packs in the families, because it’s all of those things digested over a couple of hours.
Today everyone is time poor, especially families, and coupled with the age-old idiom that generationally the average attention span of the young gets shorter by the year, it’s why Big Bash works.
Globally, motor sport is now struggling.
Crowds are down, (television) ratings are down, interest is waning … the sport is struggling to attract a younger generation of fans … and being honest with ourselves, the sport is less relevant to society as a whole today, than at any other time in its history.
But unlike the countless and faceless keyboard warriors that exist in the on-line world, and in my experience profess knowledge that is laughably wrong, I am not trying to be a doom and gloom merchant about the sport that I love.
It can’t be a coincidence, though, that this decline of interest is happening globally, not just Australia, and to my mind it does prompt the question: What can be done about it?
With Liberty Media’s takeover of Formula 1, there are signs that some of the endemic problems of that most elite branch of our sport will be fixed in time … and certainly there’s a lot to do to return it to its rightful place as one of the world’s premier sporting contests.
But I am optimistic that now that Grand Prix racing has owners from this century, and ones that understand modern marketing and the need to make the sport enticing to a younger generation of fans, I think the issues that Formula 1 has can be addressed.
But what about our own premier category, Supercars?
I’ve been involved with the premier level of professional motor racing in this country long enough to remember when it was a major sport, only slightly lower in profile than AFL and NRL.
Cricket had its seasonal following and horse racing (gambling to you & I) were also on the media radar for coverage, but every other sport really got little in the way of national attention.
We were riding high.
Sadly, that position of strength has now ebbed away.
For a start there’s now a third Football code – Soccer in this country – which is now the biggest participant sport for males under 25, just as Netball has been with females almost since the first ball was bounced.
But there are now probably 30 other sports of substance all vying for Australians’ attention – not to mention sponsor dollars – and getting it, thanks to the proliferation of coverage on pay TV and streaming via various internet gizmos.
Sports you’ve never heard of get lots of coverage on line, which in turn drives column inches in the mainstream press, whose Sports Editors are challenged in what to do with motor sport anyway, because it doesn’t have a ball.
I should know, I’ve worked for enough of them.
Ironically, motor sport enjoys more television coverage in this country than ever before in its history. Just about everything that’s meaningful locally gets televised and what doesn’t, is streamed.
And we’re spoilt for choice in the coverage of international motor sport too, so there’s nothing for enthusiasts to complain about there.
But with the proliferation of sports and sports coverage, and the ever-shortening attention spans of potential young fans, is it time to re-invent Supercar racing?
Is it time for the Supercars Big Bash?
Imagine, for a moment, throwing away the traditional ‘race meeting’ format which has been in place for a century or more. And replacing it with a short, sharp, exciting Supercars Show that moves our sport into the modern era of entertainment first.
What I’m suggesting is to condense all the Supercar action into just one short day … practice and qualifying in the morning, two races in the afternoon. No other racing on the program, just Supercars, with off-track entertainment interspersed between the track action.
Ideally, spectators would be in and out of the Supercars Show within five hours … a bit longer than a Big Bash, A-League, AFL or NRL match admittedly, but it’ll be difficult to condense it into anything shorter than that.
I’d build the experience so it’s totally fan-focussed … great food from a variety of food vans and vendors (replacing your traditional hot chips and hot dogs), music, entertainers, dancers, magicians, and lots of social media engagement promoting all these aspects of the experience, plus the racing too!
Maybe we could do some twilight shows, and then finish the night with fireworks.
You’d create the experience so it’s like a Supercars version of the Big Bash … but we have an edge, because there is nothing that gets the heart-racing and the adrenalin flowing like a full field of Supercars thundering into the first corner!
To make such a format viable for the race tracks and temporary venues, you’d condense the support program into (say) Friday and Saturday, so that the hardened enthusiast could still get their fill of the more ‘traditional’ trackside experience.
But (say) Sunday would be “Supercar Sunday” for the Supercar Show … and it would be widely promoted as such … ultimately, the aim of all this would be to make the sport more digestible to a new generation of fans and increase its appeal to families.
Just like the Big Bash has done.
WORDS: DAVID SEGAL
IMAGE: MARK WALKER
David Segal is perhaps best known to current motor sport fans as the long-time manager of current Supercars Championship stars Craig Lowndes and Will Davison, and Super 2 Championship front runner Jack LeBrocq. A 30-year absence from Journalism ends this year with David’s ‘The Big Picture’ column here on The Race Torque.