Australian Muscle Car
Supercars and the coronavirus
Could the Coronavirus do what no other external or internal force has ever done and extinguish V8 Supercars?
The pandemic’s impact is reaching into all parts of global life and business, including professional sport. None are immune.
But no professional sport could end up being more fundamentally affected in Australia than our V8 touring car formula.
The managing organisation and its member teams rely on a high income to allay high costs, but the money has dried up from most sources.
While primary broadcaster Fox Sports is still paying its rights fee, naming rights partner Virgin Australia is in voluntary administration with an uncertain future.
Other championship and team corporate partners aren’t paying up either, as they try to avoid the same fate as Virgin. No races also means no sanction fees being provided by state governments for those street-race cash cows; no high- ying, high-paying corporate guests and no general admission fans twirling the turnstiles and the Supercars cash registers.
No wonder – like the AFL, NRL and the rest – Supercars is desperate to get back up and running. As this was written the calendar recommences at Winton in Victoria in early June. But early July in Queensland or NSW is the safer expectation.
Racing will be very different when it returns. Most – if not all – of the 2020 Supercars championship will be run without spectators on permanent circuits. Think about the cars circling
Mount Panorama for 1000km only for TV.
There’s also the question of just how many cars will show up to compete. There were 24 at the season-opening Superloop 500 in Adelaide, but there is no doubt some team owners – lacking tier 1 backers like a Red Bull or Shell – will struggle to nd the funding to continue.
Consider this. Every single team has applied for the federal government’s JobKeeper allowance. To do so requires a 30 percent downturn in revenue.
So it’s tough out there. The problem is it’s probably going to stay that way beyond the end of 2020. Money will start to ow again, but not in a gush.
In a case of excruciatingly unfortunate timing, Supercars was in the throes of negotiating a new broadcast deal when the pandemic struck. Now it’s being reported Network Ten doesn’t want to be Fox’s free-to-air partner anymore. Given the straitened times, it’s possible no FTA broadcaster will take up the opportunity to telecast Supercars in 2021.
In the heart of the pandemic it’s very unlikely any broadcast deal will be be close to the record $241 million negotiated in 2014.
It’s also hard to imagine governments rushing to throw the big money at street circuits any year soon. In the COVID-19 era of economic wreckage it just wouldn’t be a good look. The future of the Adelaide, Newcastle, Gold Coast and Townsville street circuit rounds must surely now be in doubt.
Less money from broadcasters, sanctioning fees and so on, means less money to distribute to the teams.
That’s going to make cost reduction all the more urgent. Campaigning two cars for a season is at least a $5 million proposition. That’s ridiculous money for a domestic motor racing championship playing to an audience of 30 million (including the Kiwis).
Some of that cost is the car itself, some of it is engine and a big slug of it is payroll. All that has to be reduced dramatically for Supercars racing to offer big grids in the new world.
Supercars is developing new Gen 3 car rules, but a fundamental, wholesale overhaul would leave teams with a heap of expensive inventory made irrelevant overnight. Go to crate engines and the same applies to all those expensive 5.0-litre V8s.
So there’s a net-cost balance to be negotiated there.
And staffing? Well, the social distancing and headcount limits at racetracks that COVID-19 will force, could see the end of pit stop racing. It may start as a temporary measure, but the reduced costs could make it the new normal for all bar select races such as Bathurst.
Even in good economic times so many tasks would form a dizzyingly tough to-do list for Supercars CEO Sean Seamer and his management team.
In a world ravaged by recession the chances of it adding up to an existential event for Supercars would be denied by very few. Fortunately, it need not be inevitable. When their backs are to the wall members of Australia’s touring car fraternity have proved smart, resilient and tough – as opposed to their obstinate, ornery, cranky and blinkered mindset when the going is good.
The last time things looked anywhere near this dire was in the dying days of international Group A in the early 1990s.
That was when the V8 formula was created. And that worked out OK.