The impact of Covid-19 on sports operations

The impact of Covid-19 on sports operations
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Along with all major sports globally, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the World Rally Championship (WRC). Luckily, the championship restarted in Estonia in September and the rest of the 2020 season was held under strict Covid-19 protocols.

The challenges posed by rallies hosted in towns and cities and taking place on country roads with public access are significantly higher than for races at circuits that are closed to fans, so some rounds have adopted a shorter format which is simpler for event organizers to manage.

From the perspective of our television production, we’re trying to travel with the absolute minimum crew, and we’ve introduced changes for the health and safety of our personnel. We have revised our production facilities. Our broadcast pods are not feasible any more due to social distancing requirements, so we have larger outside broadcasting trucks and use additional pods for graphics and producers outside the trucks. For similar reasons, we have also dropped our commentator cabins.

Have you seen any changes in the fan engagement?

We’ve worked hard to produce special TV programs in place of event coverage during lockdown and they have proven to be very popular with our fans. Similarly, our social media platforms have seen an increased amount of traffic, as we have endeavored to provide a variety of content for fans to engage with.

One huge success was our quest to name The Greatest WRC Driver of all time, based on fan votes on the championship’s official website. More than 300,000 votes were received during the month-long competition, which also generated a remarkable 1.2million video views on our social media channels. We’re delighted with the way our fans continued to support WRC during lockdown and now, thankfully, we have live action for them to enjoy again!

In September you resumed the 2020 season. How are you ensuring safety of the drivers, management and crew?

Health & safety is our number one priority. For that reason, the championship only restarted when we were fully satisfied that strict protocols, both those laid down by national governments and authorities and also by the FIA, could be rigorously enforced. The service parks at the three rounds since the restart in Estonia, Turkey and Italy were closed to fans and the latter two events did not allow spectators into the stages.

Social distancing, bubbles, masks, regular temperature checks and rigorous sanitization measures are now part of daily life in the service park, along with the testing of competitors, team personnel, organizers and our TV production staff before they leave home and on arrival at rallies. It is a different way of working, but one that everyone has quickly adapted to.

How does WRC use Tata Communications’ offerings? Have there been any changes in the way these solutions are used due to the pandemic?

We’ve had a very good broadcast solution together with Tata Communications before the pandemic and they have helped us to adopt minor things within our workflows. Their content delivery network has given us the opportunity to maintain the highest quality of streaming with significantly fewer people on the ground.

One of the significant changes was that the main hub for our post production location had to move during lockdown, so we had to re-design the delivery process and integrate the new location successfully in the new design. Working with Tata Communications allowed this to happen quickly and smoothly.

How do you see the use of technology within WRC changing in the future?

One of our key strategic goals is to introduce full remote production for live programming. The impact of lockdown has meant that we have adjusted our timeframe. But, we are continuing to test this during the 2020 and in early 2021 season with a view to remote production being introduced at some point in the future so that we can continue seeing the benefits of agile and flexible broadcasting.

What do you see for the future of WRC and the sports industry in general?

Sports broadcasting will never be the same again. The pandemic has shown that the sports industry needs to be prepared to adapt and adopt innovative technology to create the same atmosphere sporting events had before. Working with companies such as Tata Communications has provided us with the IT infrastructure to keep fans engaged.

We are also on the cusp of one of the biggest and most exciting milestones in WRC history with the introduction of hybrid technology into the championship in 2022.

Existing 1.6-litre turbocharged engines will be mated with new electric motors to provide a leaner and greener WRC. The move will provide a perfect platform for automotive manufacturers, which are increasingly incorporating environmentally friendly knowhow into their road vehicles, to communicate this technology.

The new era of rally cars will be more sustainable and even more spectacular with additional electric power, while these new regulations will also lower the costs significantly for manufacturer teams.

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Florian Ruth, Director of Content and Production at World Rally Championship.