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The Fans Have Spoken

DSC's Deputy Editor looks at Alex Sinclair's survey

Alex Sinclair’s end-of-season WEC fan survey was littered with surprising results. Having worked in the WEC in some way or another since its inception – this year being my first full-season ‘on event’ – I can honestly say that I agree with a lot of the fans who took part.

For me, and Sinclair, the biggest surprise of the survey was section about the app and streaming services. In this day and age, it’s near impossible to make people pay for streaming. With services like Youtube, people illegally downloading videos and audio and most motorsport series streaming races for free, it’s telling of the quality of the WEC’s on-track product that a significant percentage of fans would be willing to pay more than the asking price; if the app and streaming services worked perfectly of course.

As someone who is used to paying monthly or annual subscriptions to watch sports via the internet, I too would beprepared to pay for streaming the WEC on its app if it wasn’t part of my job. I do however, still feel that for the first two seasons or so, it should have been free.

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The WEC is still a young series, and in my eyes if you want to grow something, you have to show people why they need it before expecting them to pay for it. The survey made it clear that the WEC and endurance racing is gaining popularity among motorsport fans, once they come and see it, they stay. Maybe a free trial after Le Mans for anyone who visited Le Mans would be a good idea? It just seems like a missed opportunity to block out potential fans with a paywall. (Apparently this isn’t as simple a process (however valid) as it sounds – Ed)

If you want to grow something, you have to show people why they need it before expecting them to pay for it

The issue at heart is though, is that there’s still a lot of room for improvement in its streaming and app product. The user interface is very intuitive, and makes a lot of really high-profile sports apps (I’m looking at you Premier League and NBA) look basic and clunky in comparison. But its feature set in some areas is lacking, and often just getting it to work properly is a chore; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to log out, log back in or re-install the app to get it to work properly during a live session.

Not being able to access the longer highlights packages on the app and full-length race replays, is a real missed opportunity, and the survey outlined that. Then there’s the web browser service, which is lacking on-demand content in a similar fashion to a service like WRC+ for example.

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The other really interesting point to emerge from Sinclair’s work was in regard to race format. I’ve thought long and hard about it over recent years, and I genuinely think that making the non-Le Mans races different lengths would be a really good move.

Sportscar racing is centred around its blue-riband events like Le Mans, the Spa 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours and Petit Le Mans. Outside of those, the level of interest drops significantly; 200+ thousand fans turn up for Le Mans, realistically you can remove a zero for many of the other events.

So why not make the entire WEC calendar more varied to mimic classic events?

Make the Six Hours of Nurburging the Nurburgring 1000Km just like old times, make the race at Fuji longer because the Japanese fan base is so passionate and would stay in their seats watching for its entirety. Why not even make the race in Austin sound like a NASCAR event? NASCAR is so popular in that part of the world, maybe naming the race the ‘CoTA 500’ as well as making it a shorter race to prevent fans sitting outside in the scorching sun for too long may attract more fans?

Make the Six Hours of Nurburging the Nurburgring 1000Km just like old times

It may not work, but could it hurt to give it a try?

The point I’m trying to make is that to me that the calendar feels stale in its structure. There’s Le Mans, and a selection of ‘just another six hour race’s. The beauty of endurance racing is variation, in cars, in sounds, in strategies, in drivers, so why not have the calendar follow the same mantra?

Then there’s the circuits themselves. While I’ll admit, a WEC race at Monza would be astonishing, after visiting all the circuits on the calendar bar Shanghai plus others around the world, the more modern circuits I’ve visited, like Yas Marina, really aren’t as stagnant and soulless as many would like to think.

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I’ve always loved the Nurburging GP loop, as it’s a good circuit to watch from as a spectator and the racing is often very entertaining.

Bahrain meanwhile as a facility is world class, the racing there has also been good to watch the past few years too. Granted, for races like Shanghai and Bahrain, getting people to come to the event and watch is a challenge, (though crowds at both, and in particular Shanghai, are growing year on year), but I understand why those events go ahead, be it manufacturer and/or sponsor wishes, profitability or the series wanting to grow its audience in emerging markets.

I understand why those events go ahead, be it manufacturer and/or sponsor wishes, profitability or the series wanting to grow its audience in emerging markets

There’s a lot to love about the WEC overall; you can certainly say that its first five years have been successful. The past two seasons in particular have been golden, so we can only hope that it continues on its upward curve and overcomes the impending challenges of Audi’s exit.

Having said that though, even a great product shouldn’t be above critical comment and feedback. The WEC isn’t perfect, so a survey like Sinclair’s should not be overlooked, especially at a time like this.

WRC photo courtesy of WRC