The Extreme E season finale was a perfectly functional event, populated by friendly faces, which showcased the huge efforts that had been put in to even reach the end of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it felt like a missed opportunity.
It ran smoothly, and everything was laid out on the Ministry of Defence’s Camp Bovington tank testing ground in an efficient way that meant you were never more than a two-minute walk from the action – whether that be in the pitlane or the track. And while you would normally expect a bit of a tense atmosphere in a space belonging to the government and usually occupied by armed forces, it actually felt more casual than being in a normal British park and all military types on-site were friendly and as enthused about the racing as everyone else.
As a replacement venue brought in to replace more extreme South American terrain, it did a brilliant job of making sure the season ended with actual side-by-side racing while still providing a course that could destroy a car if tackled incorrectly. But it didn’t feel special.
The World Rally Championship has had to conclude its last two seasons on the Monza race track, and compromised heavily with its stage design as a result.
But the product around that, obviously helped by a title fight between Toyota team-mates on both occasions, has been world class.
In the lead-up to this year’s event the WRC utilized its online platforms to publicize the rally and the storylines going into it to make sure as many eyes were going to be on the action as possible. During the weekend itself, there was lots of work done to make the paddock an experience as much as the television product ended up being. And to cap it all off there was a brilliant podium ceremony that went beyond what the WRC usually does.
Every moment of that event mattered, while the Jurassic X-Prix only put its emphasis on the final and not much beyond that either on the ground or via broadcast.
For example, Rosberg X Racing’s Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor actually became champions together on Saturday morning after the second round of qualifying due to dropped scores. There was no mention of that until RXR had also secured the teams’ title in the final on Sunday afternoon. Imagine Sébastien Ogier’s and Elfyn Evans’ title fight going unmentioned until Toyota had beaten Hyundai to the manufacturers’ title at Monza?
The promotional strategy of XE, which is a made-for-TV product, meant there was no urgency about the sporting element even once it was broadcast. That was until the final.
And there wasn’t the paddock buzz that was evident in previous events, with some choosing to work remotely despite this being the cheapest and most accessible XE event yet and, of course, the conclusion of a ground-breaking motorsport championship’s first season. Several drivers were absent from the pre-event activities, and series founder Alejandro Agag didn’t even turn up until Sunday. While that had zero impact on the TV product, which is XE’s primary engagement to fans given spectators (barring VIPs) are not allowed at events, it was just another element that seemed odd for a final round where the momentum is supposed to build up and minimized the on-site excitement through the week.
That could be down to it being mid-December in a very muddy and slightly cold South England, rather than the Patagonian plains in Argentina, but then to convey the excitement of the event to a remote audience you have to work to create that atmosphere on the ground first.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, and I have to take into consideration the fact that unfortunately positive COVID-19 tests meant that the championship’s content production team was without some members on the ground in Dorset and prevented as much exclusive social content being created as would usually be planned.
Another element potentially working not in XE’s favor, and exposing my pessimism, is that the event took place the week before Christmas. It had the lucrative primetime TV spot (at least in European territories) to show the final in, but it was also the start of the holiday period for many across the globe.
“I think we will have pretty good numbers because football is cancelled, there is no Formula 1, it’s bad weather: ideal for us,” Agag said to DirtFish after the final.
That’s true, but it didn’t feel like the most of that opportunity was made considering F1’s own dramatic finale just a week earlier had captivated the globe. Lewis Hamilton’s title loss in the previous week could have been a big draw-in to make people watch XE’s decider, given his team was also in title contention there.
And being a made-for-TV product isn’t just about TV anymore. You have to create immediate online discussion about your program, and to do that you have to create urgency about what happens. Programs such as reality TV show Love Island are broadcast on a delay just like XE, and are a very different type of spectator ‘sport’, yet manage to capture and engage with audiences as if they were live.
Maybe I’m being far too critical of a series that had to go above and beyond to even get its calendar complete, but having had the perspective of experiencing the Jurassic X-Prix finale both as a sofa viewer and after cycling to the event itself to be in the paddock, it felt more like the series was only telling the world it was showing up in Dorset rather than the fact it had a thrilling showdown to broadcast.