Roland’s View: Supercars must increase its profile

Race 9 at the 2023 Perth SuperSprint. Image: Ross Gibb Photography.

There’s no question that the profile of Supercars amongst the broader population of Australia has slipped in recent years. The sport must not purely rely on the profile of the Bathurst 1000 to maintain awareness through the rest of the year, especially as the demographics of the Australian population are evolving so fast.

This issue cannot be laid at the door of the current Supercars owners, RACE, as being their fault but it is up to them to ensure that the problem is addressed rapidly and effectively.

In fact, the teams were all very aware by 2021 that the sport needed a lift to get it back into the public psyche in the way it was in the first decade of this century. Hence everyone recognised that the Archer exit from Supercars represented a potential opportunity to bring in the sort of organisation that would address this.

As the Supercars sale process developed, the marketing and public relations expertise of TLA and TGI (highly respected agencies), that was a component of the RACE bid, along with the involvement of key luminaries from that world, Martin Jolly and Craig Kelly, became a central reason why the team owners were keen to see the business of Supercars sold to RACE in late 2021. In fact, it was the central reason.

As the teams, me included, saw it, these people could and would lift the profile of Supercars as a major sport in Australia by promoting it hard and using cross pollination opportunities created by the large expanse of other sporting properties that both Kelly and Jolly were involved in.

The RACE presentation to the teams in 2021 was built around the participation of Jolly, Kelly and Mark Skaife under the banner “we know motorsport”. Both Martin and Craig had extensive experience of the sport through their time at IMG (a world-famous agency) and TLA respectively.

Sadly, within weeks of the sale to RACE, the only one of this trio left with any involvement in RACE was Mark, and his motorsport expertise, whilst clearly very extensive, is not in the PR and marketing world.

I, for one, felt misled but, as I no longer had a day to day involvement in the sport, it was up to others to voice their concerns to RACE as these were very big boots to fill.

So now, 18 months into the RACE tenure, we are faced with the reality of, by way of example, the Perth Sunday Times coverage of the Saturday Supercars race at Wanneroo (in their back yard) being limited to an 85-word article tucked away in the back of the Sports section of the paper with no picture.

We are faced with multiple stories about almost every aspect of Formula 1 on the site whilst Supercars has almost zero profile. In contrast, when Craig Lowndes won Triple Eight’s first race at Eastern Creek in 2005, the story was the dominant one on the back page of (News Corp owned) The Australian newspaper on the Monday morning complete with a large picture.

The point about these two examples is that they both represent the two broadcast partners of Supercars! The Perth Sunday Times is owned by Seven whilst News Corp is the major shareholder in Foxtel. Surely you’d think that they’d be pushing the sport much harder given that they each have a substantial vested interest in its success and driving viewers to the telecasts?

We even have the ABC giving more and more coverage to Formula 1 whilst Supercars only features once in a blue moon.

Meanwhile, after a run of great attendances at big events over the last seven months, the size of the crowd at Wanneroo was reasonable but it was a long way from the early 2000s when I first went there and you couldn’t see a blade of grass in the place.

For the sport to be truly sustainable, this type of event at a permanent circuit needs much stronger crowd numbers. And that can only be driven by awareness in my opinion.

The RACE ownership structure was intended to bring the expertise to the table that would drive that awareness and, as I said, that marketing and media background was the major push of their original pitch to the teams.

I don’t believe that the situation is irretrievable, nor do I believe that it couldn’t be rectified reasonably quickly. But to do so, RACE needs to get an old fashioned PR hustler involved as a matter of urgency who doesn’t take no for an answer. Someone hungry who doesn’t stand on ceremony and is prepared to do what it takes to get Supercars back onto the mainstream sporting agenda.

The drivers do have personalities, if they’re not crushed, whilst the teams have a lot of interesting personnel working within them. Together, along with great looking Gen3 cars, they are major under utilised assets. But someone has to have a fully co-ordinated, forceful and sometimes controversial PR and marketing strategy, mixed with a cutting edge contemporary social media plan, in play to bring Supercars back into that broader public psyche. I don’t see any of this happening at the moment, but I live in hope.

I’d start by refusing to take ‘No’ as an answer from the two huge media organisations, Seven and News, who have such a vested interest in the sport – hassle them for even 10 percent of the coverage they give the AFL on their various platforms, and then we’d be making some real strides in the right direction.

Barclay Nettlefold (chair of Supercars and RACE) is on the record as saying that he is seeking to position Supercars as the third biggest sport in the country. There’s some work to do…

Read the previous Roland’s View here.

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