Racing needs new fans—and paywalls and geoblocking aren’t helping

Enlarge / The Toyota TS050 hybrid driven by Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland, Kazuki Nakajima of Japan, and Fernando Alonso of Spain competes during the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps Race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on May 5, 2018 in Spa, Belgium. (credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

The World Endurance Championship is trying something new. As it transitions to becoming a winter series at the end of 2019, it’s running a “Super Season,” which got underway at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium on Saturday and finishes with the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. But US fans of the WEC might have had a bit of trouble watching the race. After many years on Fox Sports, the series has moved to Velocity, and as part of the deal it has geoblocked its streaming service in North America. It’s a retrograde step, locking content away from both existing and potential fans at a time when motorsports of all flavors are struggling for viewers.

It’s a topic that has been on my mind quite a lot of late. Partly, that has been driven by the headlines: Formula 1 has a new TV network in the US (ESPN), and in recent weeks we’ve seen announcements of similar news from IndyCar and the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship (both of which will be exclusive to NBC from 2019). And partly because “the future of racing” was the topic of a panel I moderated at the Future of the Automobile conference, which just took place in Los Angeles. The sport is facing a number of problems, but one of the biggest is a declining audience, and I’m not convinced the deals we’re seeing are going to help.

The olden days

Things were much simpler in racing’s heyday, back before we had cable TV or Internet streaming. There were fewer competing demands for our time—and certainly fewer opportunities to watch drivers go head to head each weekend. With only a handful of TV channels, if one was showing the Indy 500, then millions of people would happily sit down and watch the show. Then along came specialized channels like the dearly departed Speedvision. Now you could see plenty of racing—as long as you were a subscriber. But the marquee events remained on free-to-air broadcast TV.

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Source: Ars Technica

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