The impact of the pandemic on motorsports is paying a heavy toll and ‘Brexit’ is also on the way
For as long as public gatherings are considered anathema, writes Iain Robertson, the largely selfish motorsports arena will fall into a crevasse of ‘cost with negligible reward’, which he insists can work in some respects but lead to failure otherwise.
Fuel is a primary requirement for participants in motorsports. However, fuel has more than a literal definition, as the fuel of adulation, of observation and of support roles, whether directly, or indirectly, are essential ingredients. An audience frustrated by non-attendance at whatever their chosen discipline might be, whether on-track, or off-road, can become all too easily disinterested.
While televised motorsporting events, such as Formula One (F1), or British Touring Cars (BTCC), ensure that a revenue stream is maintained between the media and the relevant sport’s management, supported by an advertising and marketing spend, these are pinnacle activities fed by myriad smaller championships that receive little, or nothing, for their efforts. It is worth highlighting that both F1 and BTCC are fairly heavily dependent on motor manufacturer support.
Although BTCC has made a concerted attempt over its 62 years of existence, having commenced in 1958 as the British Saloon Car Championship, to engender spectator support by ensuring a broad level of accessibility, since the pandemic restrictions came into force, the racing circuits visited throughout the annual series have ‘lost’ up to 40,000 ticket sales each. As long as the ITV4 coverage is non-subscription, no additional income is being amassed, which places the survival of venues in jeopardy. Without spectator revenues, which include event catering and other retail attractions, the circuits and their concessions will cease to exist.
F1 and NASCAR, in North America, are both longer surviving championships than the BTCC but are afflicted by similar scenarios. While SkyTV operates a subs service to F1 fans in the UK and abroad, the Channel 4 free-to-air full-race and highlights programmes are both immensely popular and underscore the value of media access. While there exists a vital place for armchair spectating, increasing costs of providing the service could readily out-price its acceptability. It is worth highlighting that F1’s relative ‘snobbery’ could easily and critically become ‘daylight robbery’.
In the UK, both ‘motorsport valley’ and the Cambridge-Oxford arc are central to the development of motorsports, creating a hub of high-end engineering and innovation that has long been of value to other sectors of industry, commerce, health and welfare. Unless a strategic re-gauging of the motorsport sector is undertaken with some speed, this spread of innovation may find itself in a disrupted condition, from which recovery will be difficult for the most enterprising of operators and destructive for those working on the peripheries.
Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, the action sport of rallying was already in jeopardy, even though it had been a heartland activity in the UK for several decades. While club supported events have always been a feature of the off-road scene, as long as clubs are off-limits and the essential blend of single venue, forestry and even road rallying events are dictated by local restrictions, its future is looking increasingly in peril. The World Rally Championship is already little more than a three main carmakers’ series (Hyundai, Toyota and Ford), with some of the lesser players indulging in the WRC2 less publicised series. Were it to disappear, which remains a distinct possibility in a future transportation sector that governments tell us is going to be electrified, there is no doubt that it would be missed but it hardly seems to matter today.
While motor manufacturers are keen inevitably to maintain their levels of motorsport involvement, which they can justify in terms of R&D spend and also ‘destruct testing’, rallying seems to have less relevance than ever and even BTCC (and offshoot formulae) is being placed under pressure to ‘go electric’. Naturally, the ‘E’ formula, which is reliant on novel circuit builds in publicly accessible centres, has been a total non-event in 2020, despite building a fair head of steam in recent years. Naturally, if all nations’ health situations change significantly, even though the pandemic does appear to have increasing political manipulation, the ‘E’ championships promised for both circuit and off-road sectors should have survival potential…but a question arises about commercial survival until that point.
So far, 2020 has seen huge challenges for businesses in the motorsport and high-performance engineering sectors and the coming weeks will see unprecedented changes taking place at speed. Agile companies in the motorsport community are adapting every day, a factor that allows them to seize fresh opportunities within motorsport and across adjacent sectors. However, on the 3rd of November 2020, the MIA (Motorsport Industry Association) will deliver an online event that is dedicated to helping businesses restore and regrow during what is an undoubtedly difficult period.
According to MIA’s chief executive, Chris Aylett, key figures from the industry will lead discussions and participate in Q&A sessions throughout the event, allowing attendees to ask the questions that will help their businesses to succeed in the coming months. The speakers will include business leaders from INDYCAR, British Touring Car Championship, Williams Advanced Engineering, Xtrac, M-Sport and the E1 Series. Yet, I hope that the ‘blinkers’ will be removed and an open discussion will result.
The MIA Business Growth Conference will be an unique event offering the opportunity for the industry to reconnect and to hear an industry specific view on how to tackle the months ahead, where the opportunities lie for business growth and how diversification will play a vital role. Being online for the first time, this popular business conference will attract a wide international audience from the global motorsport and high-performance engineering sectors.
As year-end approaches, the need to comprehend new business regulations and controls is but another challenge facing participants. Growing a successful and independent UK will require significant investment funding from HM Government. Increased activity and spending have already started on a variety of energy-efficient motorsport technologies, which is a key theme that will be explored during the conference to understand where the opportunities exist for innovative suppliers in that field.
In addition to the conference, content attendees can explore the latest cutting-edge technology via the online exhibitor section. For further information, or to book your space today, visit the MIA website, or contact Maddison Sreeves (email@example.com).