SIT, SOT and pure cobblers

This week, we at WRF Towers we are perplexed to hear of rally organisers allegedly moaning, wailing and gnashing their teeth about the plans to run the WRC in 2013 that are being outlined by the FIA its and new promoter Red Bull Media House. This in turn has prompted an outbreak of mild hysteria on the fan forums, decrying the as-yet unannounced package being put together by the FIA and Red Bull to stage and promote the WRC as a shambles.

A little prematurely, we think.

On Wednesday, for example, the British website Autosport reported a major brouhaha when the FIA announced that, after a decade, it was electing to switch the provision of timing services from British firm Stage One Technology (SOT) to Spanish concern Sistemas Integrales de Telecomunicacion (SIT).

Undeniably, Stage One did a brilliant job in its tenure. It also committed to supporting the WRC in 2012 at cost to itself, rather than allow the quality of service to participants, fans and media to fall off a cliff. The FIA is also in the doghouse in many quarters for how it has handled the outstanding debts left to suppliers in the wake of the previous promoter, North One Sports, going into administration.

Nevertheless, none of that affects the rigours of the FIA’s tender process – and nowhere can a sane person find evidence that it would possibly be in the interest of the sport’s governing body to sabotage its product. Neither can SIT’s experience of  timing, tracking, results, broadcast transmission and real-time Internet services on the Spanish Rally Championship, Rally Cataluña, Rally de Portugal, Baja España and Race of Champions be called into question.

There is simply no substance behind the rumpus.

Fans respond to news of the WRC timing supply deal

A sample quote from the coverage of the appointment of SIT to provide the new timing service reads: “…we are like the [guinea] pigs, aren’t we? Let’s hope it is good, because, for us, we never have a problem, not one, with Stage One.”

This quote was given to Autosport by an unnamed senior official from a rally early next season in what must be said looks like rather a French way of speaking. Yes, Monte Carlo will be the first WRC event for SIT and, yes, doubtless that makes for a few pre-event worries – but does this quote call into question the whole basis of promoting the sport? No.

Yesterday this was followed – again in Autosport – by Rally Mexico director Patrick Suberville talking in what is reported as a gloomy fashion about the prospects of the WRC’s promotion as a whole in 2013, saying: “We have to go back to the level we were at two years ago before we seriously start to move forward.”

Autosport took this statement as an endorsement of  ‘the standards and levels of publicity achieved under former promoter North One Sports’.

Huh??

Autosport is British. Britain is a country in which the TV coverage of the WRC went, under North One’s promotional ‘care’, from the BBC to Channel 4 in 2001 – thence to ITV in 2004. It went to the satellite channels first ITV4 in 2007, then Dave in 2008 and finally ESPN in 2011. The result was that the WRC’s British audience fell from 1.5 million in 2001 to 10,000 in 2011.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of ‘the standards and levels of publicity achieved under former promoter North One Sports’, is it? And that was on home soil. Everywhere else in the world – with the possible exception of France – the downward trend of WRC coverage has been no less catastrophic in the last decade.

Of course there are going to be a few nerves jangling among rally organisers, who may be the feeling that those few parts of the structure which worked are being flushed away with the rest. That is understandable, but much less so than some supposed ‘golden era’ of the WRC in the course of the last decade – because it’s been a disaster. Nothing more: nothing less.

There is an opportunity for the entire sport to reboot in 2013. Some companies and individuals will profit from this, others will feel ill-served by it. Everyone will have their point of view… but there’s no obvious reason for talking down about the future.

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