Touring Car champs target F1 money

Satellite broadcaster Eurosport has recently announced plans to market the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) as the “next big thing” in motorsport, and believes it can offer sponsorship packages that are better value for money than its mor

Satellite broadcaster Eurosport has recently announced plans to market the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) as the “next big thing” in motorsport, and believes it can offer sponsorship packages that are better value for money than its more established rivals.

The competition,which rolled into town last month for the British leg of the tour at Brands Hatch, features standard road cars adapted for racing, and has built a steady following in recent years despite being very much in the shadow of Formula 1 (F1).

As part of its strategy to raise the profile of touring car racing, Eurosport last year acquired a 100% stake in the championship’s promoter, the Kigema Sport Organisation (KSO).

Explaining the decision, Eurosport president Angelo Codignoni says he felt the touring car championship, which claims a global audience of 450 million, made for more exciting viewing than rival championships. Compared to F1, in which drivers rarely break out of their qualifying grid positions, or the three-hour endurance races of GT racing, the intense 25-minute touring car races were more exciting, he says.

Secondly, Codignoni says that with control over both the broadcast product and the commercial rights, Eurosport felt it could offer investors more flexible products at a fraction of the cost of F1 – around &£3m for a car sponsorship, for example. Thirdly, he felt that there was scope for a championship featuring “normal” road cars – General Motors-owned Chevrolet launched its latest model, the Lascetti, through the series, he points out. “There’s no other event like it because these are cars people can actually buy,” he says. “How many people can afford a Porsche?”

However, rivals like GT racing promoter The Stephane Ratel Organisation (SRO) contest Codignoni’s views. The GT series claims a global audience of 750 million and features high-end marques such as Ferrari. Ian Forbes, managing director of SRO, points out that the three-hour races are edited down to 26 minutes of broadcast action, adding that last year’s competition saw seven drivers go into the final leg with a chance of winning.

Forbes argues that its ability to create bespoke packages for sponsors is, if anything, greater than Eurosport’s, because it uses a wide range of broadcasters and can offer a package tailored to a specific country. As for the suggestion that fans would rather watch road cars, he adds: “If everyday cars have more appeal, then why aren’t they on the front pages of car magazines? There are hundreds of millions of Ferrari fans, but they don’t all own a Ferrari.”

Either way, observers point out that both series are still dwarfed by motorsport’s own premier league, F1. While both the WTCC and GT series claim hundreds of millions of followers, the figures are based on the reach of the broadcast networks, not actual viewing figures. In fact, F1 is the only sport that can point to solid figures, particularly for the UK market.

According to BARB, last year’s Canadian GP at Montreal attracted 5.5 million viewers, ranking it eighth in a survey of the UK’s non-football sporting events. A spokesman for Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management group declines to comment on the competition, saying only that F1’s TV ratings speak for themselves.

However, it costs at least &£25m to sponsor a car in F1, whereas the title sponsorship is still up for grabs in GT racing for &£5m. For brands seeking tie-ups with motorsport, F1 is still in pole position, but GT racing and the WTCC are gaining ground

Barny Stokes

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