New figures from independent analyst Nielsen Sports reveal more than 242 million people watched Rallye Monte-Carlo, Rally Sweden and Rally Guanajuato Mexico on worldwide television. That compared with 211 million in 2019.
The rallies drew an average TV audience of more than 80 million, topped by January’s season-opener in Monte-Carlo which was once again viewed by more than 100 million people.
Broadcast time also showed a significant increase. The three rallies generated 2,679 hours of coverage, a 28 per cent rise on last season’s total of 2,095 hours.
Both sets of figures maintain the consistent broadcast growth since WRC Promoter acquired the championship’s commercial rights ahead of the 2013 season.
Last year almost 850 million people watched the WRC on global television, an increase of 38 per cent since 2013. TV broadcast time was up 66 per cent in the same period.
WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said a raft of changes to teams’ driver line-ups instilled huge anticipation among fans ahead of this season.
“The first-quarter TV figures indicate a fabulous start to the 2020 series and highlight the continued increased global interest in WRC. Driver transfers brought further unpredictability and excitement as the pilots settled into their new teams and cars.
“The Covid-19 virus has, of course, heavily impacted our season since the opening three rounds. However, WRC TV continues to produce magazine programmes and ‘best of’ shows for our global broadcast partners until the cars can run again,” he added.
Finland, France, Spain, Belgium and Sweden were the top five audience markets. Japan, which hosts a WRC round in November for the first time since 2010, was also ranked in the top 10.
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Finnish free-to-air network YLE, which at the start of this year extended its agreement to screen WRC until the end of 2022, topped the list of networks. Sweden’s SVT and Japan’s TV Asahi were also in the top three.
Ahead of the 2020 season, the WRC also renewed partnerships with free-to-air broadcaster TVE and tv3 in Spain, inked a new agreement with ITV4 in Britain after a five-year absence and confirmed a contract with Tencent in China.
The broadcast figures showed a significant increase in secondary coverage on mainstream news and sport magazine programmes.
Nielsen also reported strong digital and social media numbers. There were 112 million online video views across the official channels of the WRC eco-system (WRC, WRC partners, manufacturers and drivers) during the first three months. In the same period the WRC’s own social media community grew to more than 4.3 million fans.
Nielsen’s data also showed increased benefits to the car manufacturers competing in the WRC. Ford, Hyundai and Toyota enjoyed a combined media value of more than €150 million across the three rounds.
The Greatest WRC Driver / eSports Shootouts
The WRC’s innovative contest to name The Greatest WRC Driver of all time attracted almost 600,000 unique page views on the FIA World Rally Championship’s official wrc.com website.
The competition captured the imagination of fans across the globe. More than 80,000 votes were received in last month’s final when Spain’s Carlos Sainz defeated nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb to be named the fans’ favourite.
More than 300,000 votes were cast across the tournament, supported by Pirelli, which pitted all 18 world champion drivers and two wildcard entries into a series of head-to-head knockout contests. Fan votes, allied to those from a panel of expert journalists, decided the outcome.
The competition also generated 1.2 million video views on the WRC’s social media channels.
Two eSports tournaments broadcast on the WRC’s Facebook platform during the Coronavirus-enforced lockdown generated a further million video views on the WRC’s official channels.
Last month’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal and the eSports WRC Shootout contests also sparked nearly 100,000 social media fan engagements as virtual rallying recorded a surge of interest fuelled by the worldwide pause in motorsport.
Ciesla said that despite the sport’s shutdown, the WRC had implemented successful concepts to retain a focus on the championship and its fans.
“We reacted quickly to the absence of WRC action to keep our fans entertained. A core element of our strategy was not only to develop content for our own channels, but also initiatives relevant to our manufacturer teams, drivers, event organisers and media,” he added.