It’s been the subject of conversation for almost a week, and then yesterday it was fun to watch the whole thing via social media. Yes, I’m talking about Felix Baumgartner’s leap from a balloon 23 miles above the Earth… but I’m thinking about the WRC.
I didn’t tune in to the Red Bull Stratos website to watch either the the tension-fuelled build-up or the nine-minute plunge, via its 35 cameras that were rigged up, produced, edited and broadcast by Red Bull Media House. Instead I turned on Twitter and Facebook and watched the event being documented by friends, colleagues and people I’d never met from every corner of the globe.
People were posting statuses full of good wishes, photos of themselves and friends gathered around laptops with looks of disbelief on their faces – and an almost orgasmic cheer when the lunatic Austrian touched down safely. A day later and it’s still the number one water cooler conversation around the globe. It is the same here at WRF, too… although perhaps in a different way.
What the Stratos jump proved was that Red Bull’s presentation is masterful. When the jump was announced, almost a year ago, it was met with worldwide apathy. The man and woman in the street might have heard that in a year’s time a skydiver would try and break the sound barrier, but then filed it away under ‘yeah, right!’ and got on with their day. Like any record attempt, getting it from announcement to completion is a long and uninteresting road.
Meanwhile the launch team beavered away, filming lots of backstory and building up a massive inventory of images, footage, interviews and promotion to trap any passing interest.
With only a couple of days to go before the ‘planned launch date’ the whole operation went into PR overload. The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 in the UK gets 9 million listeners; and they had a full 3 hours dedicated to it on ‘launch day’, with another portion of the programme dedicated to it through all the delays until today’s final round-up.
How many more prime time slots got filled around the globe? How many news bulletins featured the eerie stratospheric shots of the lone man in his Red Bull suit so high above the Earth? This was no longer an eccentric stunt of little relevance to the world: this was an Event.
Then came the launch date and… the flight was delayed. And delayed again. Delayed because it was too dangerous, they said. That his odds of survival – not good to start with – would be desperate if he tried to do it then. And with every delay the programme was harvesting viewers.
Finally on a Sunday, once Red Bull had taken a convincing victory in the Korean Grand Prix and the rest of the day’s schedule was clearing like the skies over New Mexico, the gigantic balloon reached target height… and the Red Bull logos that had become increasingly familiar with each passing day of waiting were resplendent before he eyes of the world.
We’re not saying that it was stage managed to occur on Sunday afternoon/evening on what was a relatively quiet weekend. But you can see clearly how people were drawn to it in a crescendo in the final few days to what was, if nothing else, a fortuitous time in the schedules.
Be in no doubt: what Felix Baumgartner did was very brave. He is an habitually brave man who does things that turn WRF’s collective knees to jelly on a regular basis. But this was so much more than one man performing at his peak.
Red Bull was no less brilliant in creating the anticipation of the jump from a relative interest level of zero to reach worldwide phenomenon status. And it did so using the same skills, technology and people who will soon be attempting to tune the world in to the World Rally Championship.
And if they can get the whole world logged on to watch a man jump out of a balloon, just imagine what can be done with 13 events featuring the Col de Turini, Colin’s Crest, Ouninpohja and all the rest of what’s special about the series, featuring an array of talented drivers in a growing number of cars. Now that is potentially something to savour.