The launch of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship not only confirmed the expected raft of developments marking the dawning of 'a new era for the sport', but also saw promoter North One Sport unveil growing audience figures and new television deals.
The first round of season takes place in the ice and snow of Sweden from 11 February with new cars, teams and drivers joining the current line-up of WRC heroes, most notably F1 refugee Kimi Raikkonen and American Ken Block, who brings the Monster energy drink brand into the top flight on a permanent basis. Meanwhile, the introduction of a new S-WRC series for Super2000 cars, an enlarged calendar of 13 events and the appointment of the sport's first ever championship promoter were all confirmed alongside a host of new television deals.
The general sense of momentum was reinforced by the news that, in 2009, the average number of television viewers per rally grew by a healthy twelve per cent, with Rally GB, the last event of the season which featured a 'winner takes all' shoot-out between Sebastien Loeb
and Mikko Hirvonen, attracting a massive 61 million viewers worldwide.
Building on that in 2010, WRC fans around the world can look forward to even greater coverage following the announcement that five-year television deals have been secured with MTV3
in Finland and both Network 10
and One HD
in Australia. Multi-year agreements have also been reached in important territories, including Italy (RAI
), Scandinavia (Viasat
), Portugal (Sport TV
), France (Orange
and Motors TV
), the USA (Discovery
), China (with unconfirmed national and regional broadcasters) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi TV
A selection of new deals for 2010 have also been secured in France (TF1
and France Television
), Greece (SKAI
), South America (Fox Sports
), New Zealand (Sky TV
), the UK (Dave
), plus global news syndication via Reuters
. A number of additional agreements will be announced in the near future.
Each agreement reflect North One Sport's commitment to securing the best possible mix of quality international, regional and local media coverage, and plans for the coming year include the transmission of live footage from a number of events, starting with Rally Sweden, aerial coverage from a dedicated TV helicopter, new on-board camera technology and the development of state-of-the-art high definition TV coverage for introduction in 2011.
“We're really encouraged by this evidence of the enduring appeal of WRC and the confidence broadcast partners around the world are showing," North One's chief executive Simon Long commented, "With our exciting plans for the future and so many positive developments in the pipeline, just buckle up and enjoy the ride!”
A new WRC video game franchise, a revamped official website and digital offering later in the year will provide fans with further opportunities to interact than ever before, as the series attempts to build on the positive future highlighted by renewed interest from car manufacturers, teams and drivers, and a series of pioneering changes to the sport's regulations designed to reduce costs and improve the show.
“This is a genuine new era for the sport and every stakeholder involved in the WRC believes the future is extremely bright," North One Sport chairman Neil Duncanson concluded, "This year is just the start. The WRC will become the one of the world's premier sporting brands in the next five years.”