Dentsu closes in on free-to-air WRC deals in Japan

The Dentsu agency is in the process of finalising FIA World Rally Championship sublicensing agreements in Japan with terrestrial broadcasters NHK and TV Asahi, SportBusiness understands.

Rights-holder WRC Promoter holds a free-to-air rights agreement in Japan with Dentsu that runs for just 2020, but it could be renewed. The deal is understood to have been done at a significant six-figure sum.

Dentsu is thought to be putting the finishing touches to sublicences with public broadcaster NHK and commercial broadcaster TV Asahi.

TV Asahi offered free-to-air WRC coverage last season, alongside rival commercial broadcaster Nippon TV.

The prospective deals come ahead of the return of the competition to Japan in 2020 after a 10-year absence. The Rally Japan will be held from November 19-22 in Nagoya.

Pay-television broadcaster J Sports already holds WRC rights in Japan but the rights-holder was keen on free-to-air exposure to mark Japan’s return to the calendar.

Discussing the series’ international distribution, Oliver Ciesla, the outgoing managing director at WRC Promoter, told SportBusiness last month: “As a brand you always have the desire to be as visible on as much free-to-air television as possible. Unfortunately, the sport does not have the relevance in all markets that you get the free-to-air exposure that you wish to have.

“So, either standalone or in parallel you’re happy to enjoy pay-TV coverage, which gives you in particular the number of broadcast hours that we also need.

“It’s always a combination and optimisation process between commercialising the rights and creating some income and, on the other side, gaining sufficient visibility for the brands involved on the free-to-air channels.”

Another country that makes a return to WRC this year is Kenya. The Safari Rally Kenya will take place from July 16-19 in Nairobi County.

SportBusiness understands that WRC has agreed a free-to-air deal for the Kenyan rights with a local agency, which is looking to sell them on, although discussion with broadcasters are thought to be proceeding only slowly.

WRC Promoter is also negotiating a pay-television deal across sub-Saharan Africa with SuperSport, although talks are thought to have stalled.

Econet Media acquired WRC rights across sub-Saharan Africa for Kwesé TV (from 2017 onwards), but the pay-television arm shut down last year after filing for voluntary administration.

The series’ international media rights cycle runs from 2019 to 2022 but WRC Promoter has been in the process of securing additional distribution.

WRC Promoter distributes the broadcast rights worldwide, although the Pitch International agency sells the rights in selected markets in Asia and Europe.

The output is supplemented by news access agreements and footage is offered through the Red Bull Content Pool. In 2013, Red Bull Media House came together with the Sportsman Media Group to create the Munich-based WRC Promoter entity.