WePlay hired to drive OTT subscriptions for WRC

The World Rally Championship motorsport series has appointed sports marketing agency WePlay to help drive subscriptions to its over-the-top streaming platform.

Under the agreement, WePlay will work with the WRC across the Covid-19-interrupted 2020 season that resumed with rallies in Estonia and Turkey earlier this month and will continue over two more live events in Italy and Belgium before the end of December.

The subscription WRC+ streaming service launched in 2018 and coverage in international markets is not geo-blocked despite some concerns among pay-television broadcasters about the offering impinging on the value of their rights. The OTT platform is priced at €8.99 ($10.51) per month, or €89.99 for a year.

Jona Siebel, managing director of WRC Promoter, which owns the commercial rights to the World Rally Championship, said: “We see our OTT product as a significant factor in WRC’s commercial growth over coming years.

“Over the last few months, WRC has worked tirelessly with the FIA (International Automobile Federation), our competitors, teams, and rallies, in exceptional circumstances, to revise the calendar. It’s fantastic to be able to provide live rally content to our fans around the world, and WePlay will be fundamental to achieving this via WRC+.”

The WRC agreement comes after Barney Francis, the former managing director of the UK arm of Sky Sports, was this month appointed to the advisory board of WePlay. Francis worked at Sky for more than two decades and served as managing director of Sky Sports for 10 years after replacing Vic Wakeling in the role in 2009.

The outgoing Sky executive, who is on gardening leave until the end of the year but has been cleared to take the WePlay position, will advise the agency on business growth two days every month.

Jon Abraham, head of business development at WePlay, described the work with WRC as a “chance to demonstrate our capabilities in growing revenues for sports clients though the streaming of live events”.

Speaking in late January, then-WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said of the OTT approach: “It was a strategy when we invested in this platform that we would not geo-block it in any country.

“It is globally available without exception. So, we retain a certain package of rights in our broadcast agreements that we use on our own channels, plus short videos and promotional clips containing WRC footage to make available to our sponsors and the teams themselves to promote their brands.”

WRC+ was given a fresh look at the start of the year with a new orange and blue colour scheme amidst an overhaul of the WRC digital channels.

On the balance between offering extensive direct-to-consumer streaming and striking deals with linear broadcasters, Ciesla remarked: “Linear television remains extremely important for us and particularly on the news distribution [side]. But as the sport takes place from the shakedown [testing] on Thursday to Sunday at midday, this entire stretch cannot be covered by linear television – for sure not by linear free TV – so we must offer a parallel stream.

“We’ve continuously added features to the platform for six years and to create a much better functionality. We are much more flexible now, adding in different features and different payment models to be more focused on a market-by-market offer in the future.”