There is an old saying: ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Yesterday’s decision by Supercars management to axe Mark Larkham from their commentary team was naively dumb in the least and or mind-numbingly ignorant at its worst.
‘Larko’ has been one of the most popular contributors to the Supercars telecast for several years and to see him boned as the new Fox-Seven deal evolves is a disgrace.
Larkham’s ability to put technical issues into bite-sized, easily digestible pieces made him a standout and that, along with his knowledge, style, humour and passion meant he naturally engaged with the fans.
You remember the fans; the ones who buy the tickets, merchandise, TV subscriptions, sponsors’ products and watch the telecast!
But it would seem, despite Larkham’s unique skill set and popularity, that was not not enough for Supercars’ boss Sean Seamer who has to take credit for the call.
All indicators suggest that the decision was based on an opinion that the current telecast is too technical and that it needs to be dumbed down.
Not only is that a complete backhander to the current telecast, which is one of the best in the world, it is a complete middle finger to the fan base which has kept this sport alive through some pretty tough times.
If you are going to spice up racing by using different compound tyres and fuel rulings, you better have the ability to tell the viewer what the hell is going on.
‘Larko’ has developed into one of the best storytellers in the business and the punters lap it up.
Channel 7 boss James Warburton will wipe his hands of this decision and call it a Seamer deal, but there is little chance that he did not have an opinion.
Of course, as a new broadcaster, you would want to have a fresh look and bring some new things to the table, but you cannot do this in a manner that dilutes your core audience.
The problem is that Supercars somehow think that switching to Channel 7 will magically produce this brand new fresh audience and all of a sudden the sport will have this incredibly diverse fan base.
The move to Seven is a massive positive for the sport and will naturally produce more viewers because of its standing in the landscape and its ability to cross promote through assets like the Sunrise morning programme.
The Supercars TV audience has continued to grow in recent years because of the job done by Supercars’ TV head Nathan Prendergast and his hard-working team.
Since Speedcafe.com published the Larkham story yesterday, the site has received 250-odd comments, and they were still flowing in.
At the time of writing our Facebook post on the story had had 119 shares and more than 1000 comments – and if there was one in favour of the Supercars’ decision, I must have missed it.
Speedcafe.com recently ran its annual survey which was completed by more than 10,000 participants, one of the best samples of fan data in world motorsport.
One of the questions asked was who is the best TV/online presenter in Australian motorsport?
There were 14 options and Neil Crompton (32.56 percent) and Larkham (30 percent) accounted for an incredible 62.56 percent of the vote.
Russell Ingall, who was also controversially axed from the TV broadcast at the start of 2019 was third with 8.12 percent which came as a result of his Enforcer and the Dude web series with Paul Morris while Mark Skaife was fourth with 6.55 percent.
Then followed Greg Murphy (3.72. percent), whose future is still unclear for 2021, Fox host Jessica Yates (3.61 percent) and Greg Rust (3.37 percent), who was announced as part of the 2020 TCR commentary team and is expected to remain there next year.
No one else got above three percent.
Despite the fact that everyone at Supercars is well aware of our annual survey and popularity of it, just one member of the organisation contacted me personally to see if they could get some information on the results of the survey in regards to the commentary question.
Obviously the results were ignored despite the fact the numbers overwhelmingly supported Larkham remaining part of the commentary team.
It is believed that Crompton’s deal has not been sealed as yet for 2021, but Skaife has cemented himself as a Fox favourite and will not be going anywhere.
Jess Yates, will retain her job as the telecast anchor and rightly so because she is a tremendous professional, provides diversity and more importantly, balance.
Yesterday’s announcement came less than two weeks after it was confirmed that Riana Crehan (2.63 percent) was being axed from the telecast, while former Hi-5 children’s performer Charli Robinson would be joining it.
Mark Beretta will be a popular Channel 7 face in the mix, but I believe there is a lot more discussion to be had between the stakeholders on who should be getting what in regards to the final on-air talent mix.
While the telecast is impressive and has been applauded around the world, there is always room for improvement and there is no doubt that the in jokes between Skaife, Crompton and Larkham had become a little tiresome.
That could easily be tidied up with some planning and direction, not by axing a bloke who the fans love and who was announced Broadcaster of the Year at the recent Supercars awards night.
All this comes at a time where Supercars have also cut their two motorsport journalists from their website and are rumoured to be looking for a journalist who can write more ‘lifestyle’ pieces.
I would suggest neither of them are probably too upset given the amount of the stories they produced which were published, but soon pulled down by management because they had upset someone in team land.
All this comes at a significant time for the sport after the loss of Holden, the on-going frustrations of COVID-19 and a 12-month holding period before the introduction of Gen3 and the Camaro.
It is believed that Larkham applied some pressure to have yesterday’s announcement released to the market so he could inform his personal sponsors and partners and make his own future plans.
The puff piece media release was sickly, but Larko showed his class by approving it so everyone could move on.
Seamer said in the media release: “Larko is a true broadcasting professional and has been a valued member of our Supercars Media team dating back to 2006 with his most recent three-year stint being in pit lane.
“His diverse skills have not only provided us great coverage from pit lane and the commentary box but have also provided Supercars with a world-class personality who has made a memorable contribution to the broadcast for many years.
“Many fans will have their own favourite Larko memory from his time with the broadcast team and we are grateful for everything he has contributed in the way that only he could.
“Mark will always be a part of the Supercars family and we wish him all the best for the future.”
All that is true (although I am not sure he will have much appetite for remaining part of the ‘family’), but if Seamer actually believed it why would he be binning the bloke?
If you were running the TCR Series, surely you would have already been on the phone to Larkham. While that series is also on Channel 7, maybe Warburton has some appetite for him to be on that side of the fence?
Supercars have never been keen on listening to advice in recent years, even their groundbreaking Fan Council would seem to have been ignored on this latest disgrace, despite being directly asked the question about Larkham.
So while it is probably a complete waste of time, I am happy to provide a little more advice: stop treating the fans as dills, stop trying to be something you’re not, and get an understanding of who your customers are.