Australia has fallen love out of love with pthe V8 Supercars category, despite desperate attempts from organisers to re-invent the sport
Watching retro V8Supercars from 2002 recently has reminded us of the fierce battle between Holden and Ford – the Fords had quad headlights with an unforgettable silhouette of the AU Falcon. Love it or hate it we could at least distinguish it from the VT Commodore.
But what was plainly obvious was the popularity of the sport. Even though the race was at Queensland Raceway in Ipswich, the size of the crowd was enormous. Crowds were billowing up the grassed hills from the bottom to top. Overhead choppers captured footage of the car parks and they too were glistening with acres of shiny cars.
We can even recall rounds at Phillip Island and Barbagallo in Western Australia. Getting into the track was a carefully planned logistical exercise due to the huge lines of people waiting to get in.
But something has changed. When we attend Phillip Island, Barbagallo or Queensland Raceway these days, the car parks aren’t full and getting into the circuit is a breeze. There’s no longer a line of people waiting to get in and the grand stands and hillsides aren’t bustling with people. The tribal Ford and Holden flags aren’t flapping in the wind and despite the introduction of new marques of cars including Nissan and Volvo, it hasn’t translated to more people and fans.
There’s also a lack of tribal passion being displayed amongst fans. That instinctive cultural allegiance we once had to either Ford or Holden is lost – it seems no one cares anymore.
As a result, V8Supercars has been trying to evolve and reinvent itself for the past few years. It started with the introduction of ‘Car of the Future’ rules. This allowed for a new chassis to be developed which would make it easier for manufacturers to join the category. It was also meant to make a V8Supercar cheaper to build and bring it in line with more modern elements of road going cars.
But this mostly failed. Despite Volvo and Nissan joining the category officially, only one other marque was introduced – an E-Class Mercedes Benz – however that was a privately funded team entered by Erebus Motorsport. Since then, Volvo has left the sport unceremoniously and Nissan must be surely wondering why they’re involved given their poor results in a car (the Nissan Ultima) that was also unsuccessful in showrooms.
More recently Supercars dropped the “V8” from its name and shifted to another new phase with the introduction of more new rules referred to as ‘Gen 2’. This blueprint goes further to entice manufacturers into the sport in an attempt to attract more funding for struggling teams. These rules really change the landscape of what V8Supercars is all about. It allows different engines – in particular turbo technology – plus the capacity to race 2 door cars. For some, these rules allow the sport to go back to its roots in Australia. For others – the purists – it spells the end of the category.
Despite the category’s willingness to entice new marques into the category, it’s failing to attract sufficient interest. Hyundai, Kia and other brands have publicly acknowledged their willingness to explore an involvement, but that’s as far as they’re willing to commit. Instead, manufacturers seem more willing to explore an involvement in GT Racing. It’s cheaper and much more closely aligned to their engineering and design DNA.
This poses a very serious threat to Supercars which is becoming more irrelevant in not only motorsport, but Australian sport in general. It’s lacking sophistication in its commercial offering especially compared to emerging sports including the A-League and Big Bash cricket which have cleverly found a critical niche in their timing and relevance. Despite the current Foxtel and Channel 10 broadcast deal providing team owners with much needed funding, its reliance on pay TV has also seen viewership drop significantly and as a result, sponsorship.
Similarly, the emergence of women’s sport has seen the successful launch of the AFLW and a revitalised national netball league. Both translate to prime time viewing whilst Supercars remains stuck in the past on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Supercars have even tried to stay in touch socially by pushing for a woman in the category. In the end, they had to settle on a foreigner – Simona de Silvestro. For some reason her personality doesn’t seem to resonate with the audience and TV. The fact she is not a local product alienated fans and has failed to draw crowds.
Compounding all of these challenges is Ford’s recent exit from the sport and Holden’s uncomfortable switch from Walkinshaw Racing to Triple 8 Racing. This, in particular, left a sour taste for fans. There was some light at the end of the tunnel for Ford fans who were hoping that Falcon would at least be replaced with Mustang. But even that has failed to eventuate which leaves the 2018 season looking like a used car yard with redundant and out of production models including the Nissan Ultima, Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore.
Without a significant reinvention of the category, Supercars will be relegated to a sport that like basketball will end up with no significant TV coverage. Though Supercars have proudly boasted significant attendances at each round, they are general propped up by their ‘marquee’ events including Bathurst and Adelaide. But alarm bells must be ringing after the 2017 Adelaide event showed a significant drop in attendance for the first time. The event organisers blame the fact there was no headline concert act. But if the sport is relying on touring artists to draw a crowd, then something is wrong.