Less than two months out from the season-opening Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, the V8 Supercars Championship appears to be no closer to revealing who will be televising Australia’s touring car races for 2013 and beyond.
The contract of current broadcaster Channel 7 has been up for renewal since the end of the 2012 season, and series organisers had sought to throw open the broadcasting rights to tender among Australia’s other free-to-air networks, Nine and Ten.
V8 Supercars boss David Malone had promised an announcement confirming the identity of the broadcaster before Christmas, but that deadline has come and gone, and no one is prepared to speak on the record as a major flashpoint in the sport’s history looms large.
The bidding war to broadcast other major sports in Australia – most notably the AFL, rugby league and cricket – has cost the successful network upwards of hundred of millions of dollars.
The V8 Supercars simply doesn’t pull the kind of audience figures in comparison, and the ever-changing advertising and media landscape has left networks reluctant to invest in big-ticket productions.
In turn, the financial fortunes of the Nine and Ten networks have taken a major hit, and despite both reportedly being interested in taking over the rights, neither appears to have the cashflow to do so.
That would leave Channel 7 as the only major player in a one-horse race, and there is every chance that a renegotiated deal would be of greater benefit to it than to V8 Supercars, which would in turn have a trickle-down effect on the TV rights revenue that each of the competing teams would receive.
Channel 7 would have all the bargaining power insist on its own broadcasting schedule, including which races it would show on its primary station, and which it would feed to its digital-only 7Mate channel.
Having previous served as a broadcaster of the then-known Australian Touring Car Championship for 35 years, Channel 7 returned to the pit lane in 2007, co-funding a $168 million TV/online deal with BigPond, after the series served a ten-year stint with Network Ten enjoying the broadcasting honours.
BigPond opted to end its involvement at the end of the year, leaving an already-weak media presence even softer.
In turn, this is making many of the teams extremely nervous. Those still trying to sign major sponsors won’t be able to do so if their prospective investors can’t be guaranteed proper exposure, while existing sponsors might also be rethinking their own sponsorship arrangements as well.
Additionally, the teams have the added pressure of trying to build brand new cars ahead of the upcoming season, which will be the first run under the new ‘Car of the Future’ regulations.
And with Nissan and AMG joining the championship under the new regulations, this media impasse could not be happening at a worse time.
Undoubtedly a deal will be thrashed out, but it’s the exact make-up of it that will have the entire series looking over its shoulder. With less than two months to go, a deal had better be struck soon…