Five Minutes with Foges: FOX SPORTS' Patrick Delany
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By Mark Fogarty
In a new regular feature, influential identities open up to our probing pundit in a rapid-fire format.
The latest is FOX SPORTS chief executive officer Patrick Delany, who reviews the reaction to the controversial move to pay TV going into the second year of the landmark deal.
MF: After all the debate, what was the verdict on V8 Supercars?
PD: The V8s, I have to say, didn’t really warm up until the middle of the season and towards the end. And you could see that in the ratings, you could see that as the subscribers were coming in. The whole reason that we invested in V8 Supercars was to try to get subscribers that were unique, that we didn’t already have. So we did see that build up and for the big races at the end of the year, we were very happy with the numbers. Hopefully, we’ll build that momentum into the new season.
What are the prospects of the audience growing this year?
We think they’re good. We think that the word is getting out there about the extensive nature of the coverage, starting with practice and going the whole way through, and that a lot of the support categories are also getting some good coverage on FOX SPORTS. There’s no doubt that the high definition and ad-free environment, for those that have come over, is very, very popular. So with the momentum we gained from last year, together with some of the broadcast changes and improvements, I think there’s a very good prospect of the momentum continuing.
One of the changes is the return of Mark Skaife to the commentary booth alongside Neil Crompton – but at the expense of Greg Rust. How is that better?
Our view is that Crompton’s a very good caller and, certainly, he is the voice of V8s, and that Skaife is the colour. We think two voices are the way to go rather than three – and so, let’s have a look. I mean, Greg’s still in the team. He bolsters up the pits and I think he’ll do a very good job. He’s still the host of Inside Supercars on Fox Sports. So I think we’ll see how the season goes, but you know, when I shut my eyes, I hear Crompton as the voice of V8 Supercars – and have for many years. The thing that Skaife adds to it is that he’s obviously very well respected, but also polarising and he’s not scared to say what he thinks, and I think that’s important. That’s the colour that he brings. So we’ll see how Neil and Skaifey go, but I think it’ll be a very good combination.
The last time they did commentary together, there was criticism of too much ex-driver ‘in’ chat. Can we be assured it won’t descend into ‘boys’ club’ banter again?
Absolutely. And that’s all about producing people. There’s quite a big cast of characters there. There are women involved, there are former drivers, the pit area is rich with talent. So that’s definitely not what we want. We’re not about being exclusive, we’re about being inclusive. That’s very much up to the producers and this year there’s a new executive producer, Simon Fordham, and I think freshness is a real asset. [Fordham heads Supercars Media, which generates the event telecasts.] New people will always bring a different perspective to a job. He’s a younger guy, he has a tremendous reputation and this is basically his first really big gig. Simon’s accomplished in his own right and I think he’s going to do a super job.
Many hard-core fans weren’t happy about having to pay to see every event live. Are you still getting a lot of flak about that?
I think it’s certainly died down a bit. I don’t expect people to understand the economics of the sport and that it was important to get pay TV’s money in for it to continue because the amount of money that V8 Supercars was getting when it was all on free-to-air wasn’t enough. [FOX SPORTS is the primary broadcaster in a six-year shared rights deal with Network Ten worth $241 million.] That’s not a consumer worry; that’s an industry issue. So far as we’re concerned, I think certainly the sheer extent and quality of what we do – and I think that will lift again this year – has been well-received.
Nevertheless, there is still some resistance.
There’s always a job when you’re in the pay TV business to convince people that the $50 a month is a good deal. Very, very few people – probably what you’re calling the diehards – only watch V8s and have no interest in anything else. There’s another layer above that that just love motor sport and in that regard, we have a helluva lot of motor sport. We’ve basically got everything. [Fox Sports also shows live coverage of F1, MotoGP, NASCAR, WSBK, IndyCar and other major series.] And then in the layer above that, when you’re starting to get into general sports, there are very big correlations between the V8 Supercars fans and fans of AFL and NRL. The crossover is very, very high. So if you put all of that together, it’s not just 50 bucks for the most comprehensive V8 Supercars coverage, but for all of the motor sport and all the other sports. Last year, people heard what they wanted to hear, but we think we’ve made a lot of strides on that. And there’s no doubt about it, $50 a month is more expensive than free, but it’s not expensive.
(Editor’s note: This exchange was part of a broader interview. It contains the V8 Supercars-specific content of the conversation.)
Award-winning journalist Mark Fogarty is Fairfax Media’s motor sport writer and editor-at-large of Auto Action. ‘Foges’ is famous for his incisive interviews.