- Australia’s top motorsports series has managed to get global stars including Max Verstappen to take part in its Eseries
- CEO Sean Seamer says the series has continued to run three nights a week of primetime programming during the Covid-19 shutdown
- Top-level motorsport is an expensive business, and the series has also been cost-cutting to make sure it sees out the shutdown
Australian motorsports series Supercars has been employing global motorsports stars to keep its fans engaged during the Covid-19 shutdown.
Like many sports properties around the world, Supercars has turned to gaming to offer fans a simulation of the competitive action it usually delivers, via the BP Supercars All Stars Eseries. And although it is very much a regional property, the series has managed to rope in international stars to add heft to the content.
Supercars chief executive Sean Seamer told SportBusiness last week: “Our primary focus is ensuring that we continue to provide premium content at a time when there is no sport. This keeps all stakeholders relevant and front of mind.”
Of the Eseries, he says: “We’re very happy with how it is performing. We’ve been working on an ‘always-on’ media strategy, and it’s great to see that come to life over the past few weeks.”
Max Verstappen, one of the biggest names in world motorsport, lined up as a wildcard in the second round of the Supercars Eseries earlier this month. Using his F1 number, 33, Verstappen’s virtual Supercar sported a similar livery to his 2020 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 car. Racing from his home in Monaco, Verstappen claimed two podium finishes in two races.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) April 15, 2020
“I always wanted to try it…at the moment the best way possible is virtual,” Verstappen told Australian sports media group Fox Sports.
Another global star driver, Australian-born IndyCar champion Will Power, will test his skills as he joins the field of Supercars drivers this week as a wildcard entry to the BP Supercars All Stars Eseries.
The Supercars Championship is Asia-Pac’s biggest domestic motorsports series, and one of Australia’s biggest sports. It managed to complete only one event this season – the opener in Adelaide – before Covid-19 suspended the season. The series still hopes to complete a full, 14-race schedule in 2020.
Australia appears to be managing the pandemic better than many countries, although whether this translates into a return of professional sport anytime soon is yet to be seen.
“We are still weeks away from communicating a date where the season will resume,” Seamer says. “We are following government advice, but are buoyed by the progress being made in Australia in managing the virus.”
Top-level motorsport burns through cash at an alarming rate and questions have to be asked about just how long a shutdown the Supercars stakeholders can bear. Seamer said the series is “deploying a range of cost saving measures to ensure that we can go racing again as soon as possible”.
There was worrying news for Supercars this week after its title sponsor since 2016, airline Virgin Australia, entered voluntary administration. Virgin’s current, five-year deal was to finish at the end of this year. It is reportedly worth A$1.5m (€850,000/$950,000) per year.
Supercars’ current domestic media rights agreements with commercial free-to-air broadcaster Ten and pay-television operator Foxtel are due to expire at the end of the year. In 2013, the series struck six-year rights deals with Ten and Foxtel covering the 2015 to 2020 seasons, worth a total of A$241m (€134.8m/$148m), or A$40m per season.
Many broadcasters around the world are delaying payments due under their sports media rights deals, where content is not being delivered. But in other cases, broadcasters are continuing to make payments, to ensure that the properties on which they depend for content remain in business.
It’s not known how Supercars’ commercial agreements have been affected. Seamer told SportBusiness: “We are fortunate to have enduring partnerships with all of our partners and their support has been fantastic in what is a challenging time for everyone.”
Supercars has ramped up other activities to keep fans engaged, supply media partners with content, and satisfy sponsorship agreements. “We have three nights a week of reality, Eseries and live TV shows running in primetime to ensure that we stay relevant and front of mind at this time,” Seamer says.
Like all good entrepreneurs, Seamer has been using the Covid-19 downtime to consider the how to benefit from the return of his business, whenever that happens.
“This is a great opportunity for us to reset the sport and look at how we can do things differently – everything is on the table and we have an innovative and entrepreneurial group of people working to make sure we come back strong,” he says. “We will do whatever it takes to make sure we can go racing again. We’re an important part of Australian culture and will remain so for many years to come.”