Supercars hosted an all-male virtual event – and its communications strategy was a disaster

Supercars had a great concept by launching an All Stars virtual event to keep fans and sponsors engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as Meggie Palmer explains, its strategy fell apart when it failed to include women, and then tried to explain away the problem.

When COVID19 rudely interrupted our Q1, we all had a choice. A choice of how to respond to a crisis. A choice of how to lead our teams and a choice of how to best pivot.

Sporting codes though have been a little slow off the mark with their innovation.

Enter Supercars with a great concept, an e-series as well as a celebrity Bathurst virtual ‘race’.

Essentially, participants sit in a simulator chair, hook up a webcam and ‘race’ while Foxtel livestreams the drama. The fans get their fix and Supercars nabs sponsors and decent ratings. Win win, in theory.

The execution though, was sloppy.

Nathan Prendergast from Supercars framed it as a plan “to get our friends from other sporting codes and anyone who is keen to come and play with us”. Their ‘celeb’ friends were 24 men. Among them AFL player Jack Riewoldt, NRL’s Nathan Hindmarsh, DJ Carl Cox and radio announcer Matt de Groot.

24 blokes, no women.

Why? Surely a virtual setting is an ideal opportunity to involve everyone, engaging a broad audience and sending a message of genuine inclusion.

Women in the Supercar community told me they don’t think it was malicious – neither do I. Most likely it was an oversight. A mistake. It happens.

But, when it does, how we react speaks volumes.

The all-male All Stars line-up

Supercars told me they “can’t force people” to participate. “Supercars reached out to individuals and representatives for male, female and transgender celebrities. A number (15) made themselves unavailable.”

But before the race happened, several people reached out to me expressing disgust no women were on the celebrity ticket. They also showed me communications indicating they were keen to race, but were asked to rain check their participation.

Supercars says it’s done nothing wrong and is a “fully inclusive sport”. But – objectively, it’s not. All drivers listed in their competition are men (with Simona De Silverstro recently joining the Porsche Formula E-Team) and the Aussie board – 100% male.

While this strikes me as tone deaf, does that mean it’s wrong? Do sporting codes and brands have a moral obligation to be inclusive?

Matt Lindauer, a professor in moral and business psychology believes they do. He says while society has moved on to accept equality, perhaps the sporting code and its sponsors have not.

“Very often organisations will say ‘We tried to find women and everyone said no.’ But it’s opaque how hard they tried, who they asked and if they asked women in the same way they asked men.

“The sport has a history of dominance and masculinity so they have a special obligation to try and do something. The excuse that they asked women but everyone said no is especially hollow.”

I asked the brands who sponsor the event whether they knew the race would exclude women. BP’s external PR agency OPR Agency told me “Supercars has provided a response to your queries – we have nothing further to share.”

Which is disappointing. BP and Supercars aren’t the same thing and hopefully, have very different values set. But also – what a missed opportunity. BP’s website espouses their admirable values clearly:

“Our approach is built on respect and having the courage to do the right thing. We are determined to continually learn and strive to do things better. We don’t just create values for a corporate handbook; we live by them every day at all levels and in all parts of the business.”


In contrast, Virgin took a more upfront approach: “Diversity and inclusion is important to our team members and our culture. We have discussed and shared these views with Supercars today.”

I contacted the celebrities involved too. A few replied. One who didn’t want to be identified admitted he knew there were no women racers, but he didn’t feel comfortable saying anything.

With power comes responsibility. Not only for celebrities and brands, but for those of us directing marketing campaigns and partnerships for our clients. We too have a choice to make. A choice to harness the sway and power of our partners to reinforce the status quo or lobby for change.

Meggie Palmer is the founder of PepTalkHer and a journalist


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