RODDA: Streaming Companies Needed More Than Ever

Ron Rodda

LINCOLN, Calif. – In mid-March when racing was shut down, streaming companies provided some entertainment with virtual racing.

It was certainly better than nothing, and for people who did not have much knowledge about sim racing, it became an entertaining and intriguing way to see racing, even in a simulated form.

When tracks began to race but had to do so without fans, it has been streaming companies to the rescue, providing an income source that in many cases made it possible for tracks to offer programs. Streaming sim racing has gone back to companies specializing in that genre, such as LSRTV (live sim racing TV), and streaming companies have gone back to real racing.

California has had four tracks race since March 14 with a fifth oval running their season opener this Sunday. Dixon and Cycleland do not depend on financial support from a streaming company, but Marysville and Antioch have enjoyed the support of Speed Shift TV, perhaps not racing at all without their presence. Stockton 99 Speedway, a quarter-mile paved oval in a city that has three race tracks, will be streamed by the same company this coming Sunday to open their season. The other two Stockton tracks are unfortunately located at the fairgrounds.

Antioch hosted a two-day IMCA event last weekend, drawing an amazing 150 cars for three divisions, and somehow got approval for the race despite being a fairgrounds track. Other tracks located on state owned fairgrounds in other counties have had a very difficult time getting anywhere towards presenting a racing program.

A regional streaming company, Race On Texas, is meeting the demand for more live streaming in the Texas/Louisiana market by creating what other companies have, a monthly subscription option as well as keeping its on demand only membership available.

Moving from an occasional live stream to multiple races streamed each weekend isn’t the simple change one might think. It was a significant cost to increase their live presentations so much by purchasing the streaming and networking equipment as all the tracks they go to don’t have hard line internet. They had to expand their cell service data and hot spots, purchase the equipment that encodes at the track and supply a live set of equipment to all their videographers.

“The goal with SpeedPass is to have a way to offer live video for one price while continuing to support the track,” said Race On Texas co-owner Chris David. “A lot of other broadcasters have live packages where everything you get is one price and we wanted to do that where our partner tracks would be able to have a revenue stream.”

The unique part of the SpeedPass is half of the $40 per month cost is given to a track of the subscriber’s choice.

“It’s our way of becoming more of a partner with the tracks,” David said. “The fans that purchased the pass seemed to be very happy and it’s a way for people to support the track and get lots of excellent content.

“We have all 14 of our tracks available to pick from for a subscriber’s home track. If they don’t feel they have a home track then their half of the monthly fee goes into a general fund which will be used to sponsor big races, give out awards at the end of the season, and we’re going to do some fun things in the off-season to give back to the drivers.”

Some of the 14 tracks don’t have the capability to have a live stream due to location, too far out in the boondocks and little or no cell service. Those tracks are still part of the monthly payments based on the number of subscribers that select them as their home track. Those tracks as well as all live races go into their on demand option, which is still available for members.

The current handful of active California tracks are, except for Cycleland, unable to have the grandstands open, making it critical in most cases to stream the event. Tracks in other states have been in a similar bind, with next week bringing some changes elsewhere that are drastically needed in California.

As of June 1, Iowa tracks will be able to use 50 percent of grandstand capacity while Nebraska will allow 25 percent. According to U.S. 30 Speedway owner and promoter Bobby Lincoln, Nebraska’s governor is allowing 25 percent, but it will still be up to counties to make a final decision. A similar situation where counties can choose a race track’s position is Wisconsin. That makes it very confusing and California has the same issue.

For some states, there is movement in the direction of racing once again being allowed to the extent that tracks can operate with a reasonable chance of being successful. In other states tracks are in a much less positive situation.

How much state leadership plays a part is dramatically shown when comparing Iowa and California. Looking at the number of confirmed virus cases per million residents, Iowa has more than double the number that California has. Yet the Hawkeye state will start allowing grandstands to be half full next week and California won’t even allow a track to have a minimal practice session in many cases.

It’s a big year for streaming services so far. Let’s just hope all the race tracks are active next year for both the streaming companies and the fans.