Supercars is showing how to win with fans and advertisers during COVID-19

Supercars' All Stars E-series is a masterclass in producing content, engaging fans, providing value to advertisers, and 'doing' sport during a pandemic. And as Chris Colter explains, it's saved him.

Last week, I was saved.

Like many Australians, I have spent the last month or so mulling around my home office feeling empty – a shell of a person who doesn’t know how to effectively occupy their time when sport isn’t on the TV.

A large part of my identity lays dormant while we’re collectively flattening the curve. No matter how many commentary programs, podcasts and personalities I listen to, without actual events to talk about, it’s basically a nostalgic tease.

But then, last Wednesday night, I tuned into Fox Sports to watch the first round of the Supercars All Stars E-series. For those of you who aren’t motorsport enthusiasts, this is Supercars’ ingenious pivot to maintain fan interest and excitement by turning their real-world athletes into virtual racers.

And man, did it deliver.

I know, you’re probably conjuring up naff examples of virtual horse racing, or visuals of teenagers in front of neon-infused desktop computers, but this was different. Thanks to the graphics of modern games, the ridiculous technical capabilities of modern simulators and the full committed broadcast treatment by Fox Sports, you really could suspend reality and feel like you were watching a real race.


It got me thinking, in a time of sporting drought, why aren’t sports publishers leaning more heavily into simulated sports? I’m less talking about classic e-sports (although it presents a major opportunity for them to further penetrate the mainstream) but rather the sports we love, played by the athletes we love – virtually.

What this proved is with the right talent and treatment you can create magnetic content, arm your journalists with talking points and unlock additional sponsorship revenue. Imagine NBA playing out a parallel schedule on 2K. Or A-League teams jumping on a FIFA tournament. Hell, I’d even watch NRL players get around the God-awful NRL Live. I mean, it’s more interesting than reminiscing about a playoff game played in ’93 for the thousandth time.

This e-event has also established an easy-to-follow template; clear principles for any other league to follow to ensure it’s a success.

Commit to real-world treatment

The Supercars E-series isn’t unique. Formula One, Indycar, TCR and many others have made a similar move, but they just haven’t delivered the same spectacle as this. From having few real-world drivers, to solely broadcasting digitally, they missed out on simulating one of the biggest elements of sport – atmosphere.

Where Supercars got it right was commitment. It recruited every single driver to participate, replicated the authenticity of the event (such as establishing an incident review bunker) and deeply committed to a highly-produced ATL telecast (simulcast on Twitch). Everything about this event felt legit. In fact, it was the fifth most watched STV program (not bad for a ‘video game’) and was such a success that Fox Sports is extending the coverage.

Embrace the novelty factor

You’d be kidding yourself to say that this will ever truly hold up to the real-world product, and that athletes are as good with a controller as they are with their bodies. They’re not even going to be the best at the game itself – pit most athletes against a full-time e-sporter and they’ll get smoked.

None of those elements are the point. Fans just want to see their favourite personalities engaging in competitive conquest and the subsequent banter that ensues.

As a fan, particular highlights from round one was the balance between real competitive spirit with a healthy dose of piss-take.

There was the the hilarity of computer-physics gone wrong.

Real reactions to virtual penalties.

And drivers holding isolated celebrations.

The whole thing was a blast to watch.

Sell the whole show

To demonstrate commitment and build hype, look to showcase all of the preparation, training and set-up that goes on in the build up to the event.

Many of the drivers who competed in the series aren’t avid simulator racers and had to buy the equipment to participate (not a small gesture, given these cost upwards of $20,000) – but used the unboxing of their rigs as a way to engage their fans and the media ahead of the event.

There was also a raft of driver preparation and training content, which showed just how serious the racers were taking it.

Invite fans in

One of the unique aspects of simulated sports is the fact that anyone at home can participate too. One thing Supercars did particularly well was openly sharing the virtual set-ups of the cars, allowing fans to benchmark themselves against their favourite drivers.

Supercars has also announced unique opportunities, such as allowing fans to become official commentators of future events by sharing their commentary over virtual clips (powering a tonne of additional earned content).

Unique sponsorships

Ultimately, what this created is a platform to offer brands true sponsorship value in a world where that’s harder than ever to come across. From new naming rights deals, to bespoke segments, and even the creation of a different passion for them to leverage, the opportunity for cash-challenged leagues and networks to unlock revenue is massive.

In a climate of doom, gloom and cabin fever, this was a lighthearted escape back to some form of reality.

The playbook’s written, let’s get more of it.

Chris Colter is national strategy director at Initiative


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