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After the torrid year of 2020, which many wrote off as something of a non-event in the land of Supercars, 2021 has brought with it a level of anticipation for a new era in the broadcasting of Australia’s biggest motorsport category.
A return to the Seven Network was one of the big off-track stories throughout the 2020 season with Supercars announcing in September that it would return to the broadcaster which had been associated with the Australian Touring Car Championship through its heyday as well as the V8 formula in its formative years.
With former Supercars CEO James Warburton taking the role of managing director and CEO of Seven West Media in 2019, a return to the broadcaster after a six-year hiatus seemed only natural as the deal with Ten was on the verge of expiring.
Seven had held exclusive broadcasting rights to the championship in Australia from 2007 until 2014, when Supercars signed a six-year deal with Network Ten and Foxtel, worth $241 million at the time and lasting from the start of 2015 up to the end of last season.
While the deal brought with it uninterrupted, ad-break free races to Supercars fans for the first time through Fox Sports, the free-to-air side with Ten allowed the network to only show six rounds a year live as the rest had to be compressed into evening highlights packages, often off its main channel.
Though the Fox Sports product has often been touted as the best motorsport coverage in Australia, fans were initially turned off by the prospect of having to pay to watch their favourite sport, which had previously been exclusively on free-to-air albeit with delays in some parts of the schedule.
In 2015, the ratings for the Ipswich SuperSprint came in at just 43,035 for the Fox Sports coverage with a further 93,211 tuning in to the highlights package across both nights in the metro areas. Compare this to the 209,596 who had watched the corresponding weekend of racing on Seven the year before and you can start to see why the category was starting to worry about the move to a predominantly pay-TV model.
However, as recognition of the Fox Sports coverage grew and fans started to understand that there was a marked difference in quality between the product on free-to-air versus the pay-TV alternative, ratings as a percentage started to creep up in favour of Fox Sports.
For example, the Bathurst 1000 has always been available on free-to-air, and it continued to be even under the Fox Sports deal. Comparing the 2014 race on Seven to the 2015 instalment on Ten/Fox, the latter had higher ratings with 1.224 million tuning in during 2014 and 1.339 million in total across both networks in 2015 in metro areas.
The split from Ten/Fox Sports ended up being 82 percent to 18 percent respectively, despite the pay-TV coverage having to drop its ad-break free caveat thanks to the Australian anti-siphoning laws around major sporting events.
With 2015 as a reference point, the momentum started to swing the way of Fox Sports in the years since with the percentage doubling in a five-year period from 18 percent in 2015, 26 percent in 2016, 36 percent in 2017, 34 percent for the fastest 1000 ever in 2018 and then another 36 percent recorded for the 2019 edition, the most watched Bathurst 1000 in the history of the Great Race.
For 2020, a new contender entered the race with Fox Sports streaming service Kayo being available for the first time. In comparison to a Foxtel subscription, which costs at least $74 per month for HD sports coverage, Kayo starts out at $25 per month with some managing to get that fee as low as $15.
On the race day of the 2020 Bathurst 1000, Kayo was the second most downloaded app in Australia with 77,000 tuning in to watch the Great Race online. Combined with the 347,000 already watching on Fox Sports, this brought the subscription total up to 424,000 with a metro peak of 1.26 million thanks to the 669,000 who watched the race on Ten.
With 34 percent of the 2020 ratings coming from subscription services and a fourth year in a row of holding at least a third of the total audience, Foxtel was justified in signing its new deal with Supercars the month before, leading us into this year’s season alongside the Seven Network.
The new rights deal between Foxtel and Seven was signed as a five-year contract, worth $200 million over the length of the agreement. Interestingly, the difference between the Ten deal and the Seven version equates to a difference of under $200,000 each year, though it’s unclear as to what the split is between the free-to-air network and the subscription service.
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