The WRC world is a rum place at present. It is now just days before the 2013 season kicks off with one of the biggest events on the global motor sport calendar… and yet at present there is only one major TV channel – the Red Bull-owned Servus TV in Germany and Austria – which is carrying the Monte Carlo Rally on its schedule.
All rather rum.
As we reported last month, there have been considerable delays in finalising the agreement between the FIA and its preferred commercial rights holder for the WRC. Even now there is no great clarity on whether there is in fact a legally binding document between the two parties that will enable the promotion that was announced in September to go ahead.
This is troubling.
There was every reason for optimism at the end of last summer. In the world of commercial rights, Red Bull Media House has a track record that is second to none and duly followed its WRC announcement with the phenomenal success of Felix Baumgartner’s leap from ‘space’. After a decade on the slide under ISC, this should have been the time in which great plans were backed up by great investment in order to make something of a splash when the Red Bull-managed WRC kicked off at its showcase event.
Last year there was no season-long promoter for the WRC after the collapse of ISC brought about a force majeur. Existing TV deals and bartering by the individual event organisers cobbled the coverage together in anticipation of a new world order in 2013.
The involvement of Red Bull for 2013 has delivered the potential for the WRC to reach truly massive audiences, even if the ensuing silence has angered those fans who feel – quite rightly – that their sport has been left on the sidelines in terms of effective promotion for far too long. It has also proven to be grist to the mill for those sections of the media that have an enduring fondness for the previous promoter, ISC, and taken the role of a particularly disapproving Greek chorus throughout the past few months.
There have been rumblings about image rights being the cause of the delays. Depending on who you speak to, this can mean either that ISC has somehow retained some rights that it is seeking a high price for or that Red Bull is demanding complete control of all rights over anyone involved in the WRC before committing its cash.
Nevertheless, with the showcase event for the 2013 season now less than a week away, it looks like the best chance many people have got of catching the action will be online. Red Bull’s own website has started carrying material, and in the absence of free-to-view or even subscription-based services, it’s probably going to be best to keep an eye on what’s happening here for now.