The announcement on Wednesday that the troubled Ten Network has been placed in voluntary administration has raised questions regarding the future of free-to-air coverage of motor sport in Australia.
At the present time Ten is the free-to-air broadcaster of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, Formula One and Moto GP through a supply agreement with rights holder Fox Sports.
The network airs the Adelaide, Townsville, Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000, Gold Coast 600 Supercar events live and this year, the final round in Newcastle with a one-hour highlights package after each of the remaining events.
With Formula One the current arrangement is to air ten rounds live and the remainder as a highlights package on the following Monday night, and that expires at the end of 2019.
As far as Moto GP coverage is concerned, at present the network broadcasts all the premier class races free to air on One as well as providing an extended coverage of the Australian GP, and that arrangement is in place until the end of 2018.
Just what happens in the immediate future and beyond is unknown, but it is anticipated that the current arrangements will continue for at least this year.
This is very concerning news for the Supercar owners and teams who rely very heavily on TV exposure to run their multi-million dollar teams, and comes hot on the heels of news that plans to sell Supercars have been abandoned.
Private Equity firm Archer Capitol, who owns 65 per cent of Supercars, had previously announced that they had enlisted investment bank UBS to sell its stake in the championship.
A sale would have required the support of the teams who hold the remaining 35 per cent.
It’s understood there were five interested parties including News Corp Australia,TEG (the owners of Ticketek) and Sports Entertainment Limited who were former owners.
Unconfirmed reports suggest the tabled offers were below the reputed $100 million dollar asking price and that apparently was the main reason Archer Capitol withdrew the option to sell.
Whether the tenuous position of the Ten Network had any impact on the bids would be a reasonable assumption and raises more questions as to the value and future of the Supercars championship.
The category is facing significant change in the immediate future with the introduction of the new Gen 2 regulations following the departure of Ford from manufacturing in Australia and the impending departure of Holden later in the year.
The replacement Holden race car for the future will be a five-door hatchback-style sedan being developed by Triple Eight Engineering and fitted with a twin turbocharged V6 engine.
Triple Eight had originally planned to run two cars with the new engines next year for Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen, however this week Triple Eight boss Roland Dane announced a change of plan.
This is very concerning news for the Supercar owners and teams who rely very heavily on TV exposure to run their multi-million dollar teams ...
Instead the team will continue to run their current V8 engines next year while introducing the new engine as a wild card entry for selected events.
He cited the need for further development by the General Motors Performance and Racing Centre in Michigan to ensure parity with other engines, and only then will they become available to all Holden teams in 2019.
Under the new regulations the available engines for Supercars may be either naturally-aspirated V8s, turbocharged V6 or a turbocharged four-cylinder configuration.
Just what current Ford teams DJR/Penske and Prodrive Racing Australia compete with in the future is unsure but a Mustang is one option with any one of the three engines a possibility.
Nissan has not made a long-term commitment to the championship beyond the current Altima, but could reasonably run the twin turbo V6-powered R35 ‘Godzilla’ in two wheel drive form.
The response from the fans has been very clear with many expressing discontent with the idea of anything other than V8 power, and there is real concern many will turn their back on the category.
With all the uncertainty over the future and the possible loss of revenue from TV rights and sponsors, who may feel it’s not a viable proposition to be involved in the sport, the question is, is it a saleable product?
The move to live coverage on Foxtel has not gone down well with viewers, with many electing not to pay for the service, which must be a concern for potential advertisers and further add to what the future holds for Supercars.
Add to that the uncertainty of the proposed diesel-powered utes class which is owned by Supercars and it seems the powers that be have got some difficult decisions to make.