Previously in our story about RaceSpot, we barely talked about RaceSpot at all, focusing instead on journies heading towards the start of RaceSpot. That journey is not yet over, and in fact, it’s not yet covered a couple of really important points that were crucial to RaceSpot even becoming a ‘thing’ by the start of 2014. Some of the parts of this chapter are also a little more controversial, so I’ll try and tread as lightly but factually as possible.
Fun Fact: Did you know that RaceSpot was initially not supposed to be an online sim racing broadcaster, but instead a general motorsports news portal. One of those fun things where you buy the domain first with the project in mind, but never actually get around to realising. By mid 2013, Rafael and Hugo had pivoted away from this early idea to developing a more international sim racing platform. Whilst iRacing Brasil was (And remains) one of the most successful localised Sim Racing broadcasters out there, and had already built themselves a nieche product after 2 years of operations, there were however a couple of things that was restricting it’s growth, which they sought to change with the RaceSpot name:
- The fact that Brazil was in the name gave the impression that it was a localised service, even when doing non localised broadcasts. This became one of the more imperative reasons for using the RaceSpot names, as we got towards 2014.
- From the point of economics, what was necessary to charge for broadcasts on an international basis to make a viable company, and the model used (Mainly subscription based) for Brazilian broadcasted series were largely incompatible with each other. The prices for broadcasts in the Brazilian market were substantially cheaper than internationally due to the participant, donation and subscription models in play being there to enable to have lower prices locally. It’s worth noting here also that Brazil is not a financially prosperous country, so using localised pricing where most could not afford the services of any of the other broadcaster out there made a lot of sense in terms of capturing a part of the market.
I first got to know the iRacing Brasil team at the start of 2013. This was the year where Glacier TV had gotten (Most) of the rights to the iRacing World Champsionship Series, and the majority of the iRacing World Tour (Bar the Indy 500). iRacing Brasil were granted the opportunity to present Portuguese language coverage of the WCS, and naturally as a consequence, I was checking out their product, and we eventually got a – talking. At this stage, I was fully committed to Glacier TV, and actually declined at first to do additional work for iRacing Brasil, and it wasn’t until they pitched this new project to me again at the right time that things came together, and boy they did fast.
2013 and Glacier TV
2013 was the year for Glacier TV that they hoped they had the second they started. Though they didn’t have complete coverage of the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series, or the Indy 500, they had pretty much everything else they desired. In some ways, it was seen as good that PSRTV had coverage of the first two rounds, as it meant that there would be additional comparison about the broadcast quality, and the fact that it was perceived that it was better.
I remember the first WCS broadcast well; it was one of the few times I pre-recorded a cold intro, and I had just run back home after working at an Open Day at university. I was also VERY hungover from the Students’ Union results night the night before, but the pre-race adrenaline seemed to cure that better than a bowl of egg fried rice with extra MSG. To be honest, the broadcast for the time was as good as it could have been, and even though I didn’t like some of the things we did, or the order we did them, it was successful, which was important.
After the issues of 2013 in terms of consistency and quality of product, 2013 was much improved in many regards. Glacier held their first owned and operated series outside of ISOWC that year, and it provided really good viewership, as did a number of the world tour races. Things such as the ability to stream to YouTube was also a massive help, as when it wasn’t being an idiot and not allowing a broadcast to get to the ‘begin test’ screen, it was much more stable than other platforms, and had dynamic resizing of feeds which proved to be a godsend. We also has ANOTHER graphics package, but it was one which I had some design input to, and even though I didn’t like every aspect of the final product, it looked better than the typewriter livery of 2012 (The first overlay Glacier used remains the best they did to this day).
It wasn’t fully the broadcasting element of Glacier that caused massive issues in 2013, but a mixture of public comments and behind the scenes actions. First was the continued relationship strain between Joni and Jarno, which impacted timely delivery of broadcasts and and some of the quality issues raised previously (The key one remaining ‘Can we have the video and audio tied together’). This was something which could be managed, but a lot of the behind the scenes difficulties could not. To put it bluntly, Joni was focussed on developing a Sim Racing broadcaster which was the best in class, and Jarno was focussed on money. I was the one in the middle both ideologically and in terms of trying to keep everyone happy, but honestly, it was hard at times. Even at the Team Finland meetups that took place twice a year, the two would rarely talk, and it was clear that they didn’t really enjoy working with each other. A key issue was the fact Jarno owned domains, servers, TeamSpeak etc, so like a sexless middle class couple, they had to co-exist. I ended up being the slut that started looking to play around elsewhere!
FAR more difficult to manage was what came out of the keyboards and sometimes the voices of the duo. Ever since I was a young lad, I was aware of the importance of customer relations and professionalism, having my first job working in a rather upmarket hotel, then having to work with clients in the catering industry from about age 17 (Without being xenophobic, I was the only person in the café owned by a major supermarket who could speak full English, so I was in charge of ordering, complaints, etc). Whilst I subscribe to the principles of the 1st amendment, and it’s variations worldwide, I do believe there is a distinction between free speech, and fucking off the people who in effect are making your possibilities a reality. I also believe that whilst one needn’t wear a suit to be seen as professional (I wear one 3 times a year), the manners by which you communicate with others is vital, even to the simple managing time expectations.
The simple examples were the way that people would communicate on the iRacing forums and even stream chat to people who made comments about the product, often being very passive aggressive to comments, suggestions or criticism. I saw the ‘Well you don’t know how hard it is, you should try and do it yourself if you think it’s that easy’ comment a number of times, up to and including being outright rude to people watching. Whilst there was a number of people simply trolling our broadcasts, from the auto-dislikes to spamming crap to try and get a reaction, the fact that there was a reaction in the first place was part of the issue.
The forums was worse than the broadcast, and of course comes with the added issue that it was there for a far larger population base to see, including the people who awarded contracts and with whom there was a need for more respect, if only because we were dealing with B2B relationships. I was told very early on that as someone involved in their broadcasting members would hold me to a different standard, and that I should therefore act accordingly, which caught me out once back then when a GIF showing a scrambled TV image was (Rightly) seen as porn. Whilst posted as fun then, it was something which I remember hit me in terms of the severity when I was banned from the forums for X months. In fact, one piece of advice given to me around that time was to limit interactions in arguments, and just not post unless you were contributing something of use.
The biggest moment that will stand out forever, which ultimately was the point that I could trace back to being the death of Glacier TV was on the 11th September 2013. I don’t think I need to provide a history lesson on 9/11 to anyone reading this, as they clearly have an internet connection (Unless this is being serialised in North Korea). It’s important to remember that for most Americans, it’s seen as one of the biggest days of remembrance in the year, and especially as iRacing is based in the wider Massachusetts area, with nearby Boston Logan International Airport having a role in that fateful day, you generally don’t want to be a dick about 9/11 events on that day.
Annoyingly, that’s exactly what happened on September 11th 2013. I can’t remember or find the exact post in question, but remember the general context, and it’s one of those posts that clearly wouldn’t be ignored, and got a reaction as expected. Comments included the obvious ‘representing views of Glacier TV’, and frankly, it was all a bit of a mess. I have caused a couple of massive messes in my time at RaceSpot, but I would say in terms of impact, this was much greater. Often a company fails either because of a timeline of issues that collaboratively cause it to implode, whereas in others, it’s a solitary event that can forever change it’s fortunes. This was frankly the latter and whilst I continued working with Glacier after it, I knew that there would be fallout…
It’s ALWAYS about relationships.
… It was the start of 2014 that the fallout settled, via a phone call with my contact at iRacing. I’ve always been very upfront in saying that I do not discuss my day to day communications with iRacing outside of a VERY small group of people (Essentially RaceSpot TV senior staff, my wife and cats), The conversations I have with them are business focussed, and therefore I treat them the same way I would if it were something in my real life job as a lecturer. This relationship of trust and mutual courtesy has helped a lot over the past eight years, and there’s many a things I’ve been trusted with in terms of new content and series, as well as upcoming plans. iRacing and I don’t sign NDAs for every little thing, and in fact, we only formalised certain aspects of our relationship this year in an effort to make things more manageable on both sides.
Another aspect of my relationship with iRacing is trust. They put trust in me (And RaceSpot) to make smart decisions, and to deliver on what we agree, and we trust them to be upfront and honest with us. I’ve been in a situation many a time in life where I’ve been led along or have had people working with ulterior motives in the background, and it’s one of the most soul destroying and depressive feelings out there. What has made RaceSpot’s relationship with iRacing so strong (and my own over the years) has been the trust and honesty. Not just being upfront about things, but admitting exactly what happens when things fuck up; from the mundane points to the serious issues. Whilst it is very easy to just blame something on a server / YouTube, Being able to explain the real reasons behind a mistake as well as a roadmap for rectifying is an important tool for us to keep our relationship strong, even if it does make us look like idiots at times.
With this in mind, when I had one of my quarterly calls with iRacing, it was far easier to discuss the 9/11 comment mentioned above, and how it was seen and perceived by those in Bedford and beyond. The comment itself was something which caused a lot of discussion on their end, and the person whom I was talking to made it clear that both it, and other actions were seen as unacceptable for a broadcaster seen as a ‘partner’ in terms of their largest series. An important point was raised about how it alone would be an issue, but with other behaviours, it made it very difficult for anyone to continue to endorse the concept of working professionally with Glacier TV.
The conversation boiled down as follows:
- For the 2014 season, they did not want to work with Glacier on World Championship and World Tour broadcasts, for the reasons set out above. This was not an issue with the quality of the product, but the way that the company was perceived on a larger level, as well as the perception impact on iRacing themselves.
- As they were happy with my commentary and work, they wanted to continue working with me on the 2014 season, regardless of whom the broadcaster would be. This was to the extent that a broadcaster been selected that I had not worked with, a condition would be that I would continue to lead the aforementioned series.
- If I could find a suitable broadcaster myself, that I could guarantee would do a job comparable to what was delivered in 2013, then they would put the trust in me and this team to produce the iRacing World Championship Series and World Tour events.
iRacing made it clear that they were not ‘banning’ people from Glacier working with them, but it was clear that they didn’t want to have the same personalities seen as being the ‘front’ of the company, where their actions would be related back in effect towards iRacing themselves. This is actually something which has stuck with me for many years since, and one of the key things I implore onto our team is the importance of keeping up professional relationships, and recognising the impact of one’s words and actions on these, both direct and indirectly. I think that this has saved my ass, and that of RaceSpot on a number of occasions, and having such a strong working relationship built on trust makes it a lot easier to then gain forgiveness / a mulligan when things don’t go exactly according to plan.
My initial, easy solution to this was not possible, as iRacing wanted to avoid having a geographically linked broadcaster as their World Championship Series international broadcaster; by this I meant that the option of iRacing Brasil as is was a no, so with that, the 72 hours of finding a way of making things work begun. There were a couple of directions planned out in my head, ranging from trying to make Afterburn broadcasting a ‘thing’ rather than a concept, as well as the possibility of collaborating with others. I knew that there were a couple of groups who technically were competent in my mind to deliver such broadcasts, though there was the difficulty in some cases of not knowing how the workflows towards delivering such broadcasts actually worked. This is important as delivery is one thing, but getting to that point is another, especially considering the way the majority of iRacing World Championship Series broadcasts went in terms of intensity and sequencing.
By this time, a couple of producers were getting mildly Sim Racing famous for using 4 PC setups, and radical approaches for getting content onto screen, some of which was great, but others seemingly a tad over the top. This could be down in part to the way NASCAR and IndyCar broadcasts of the time were presented compared to IMSA, WEC and of course Formula 1, as people of course naturally try to replicate what they see and know. Aside from Digger on the NASCAR on FOX Coverage (And DW quite often), much of NASCAR’s coverage at the time across the three networks of FOX, TNT and ESPN were similar, and as a consequence, so were most US based Sim Racing broadcasts.
Enter (FINALLY) RaceSpot.
The minute I put the headset down after my call, I was immediately into panic thinking mode. With the greatest respect in the world to PSRTV, I really did not want to work with them for the season, having experienced their way of working with the 2013 iRacing Indianapolis 500 and a couple of other broadcasts. As mentioned before, they were INCREDIBLY professional about how they worked, and they were doing some of the things that would take others years to do, but I just didn’t get along with the overall product. To put this into a perspective, it’s a bit like the difference between UK’s Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1 coverage, or the NBA on TNT and ESPN. Some things seem to click in some circumstances, and don’t in others, and PSRTV was part of the latter, I think in part as I didn’t see much of an ability for purposeful innovation (Their innovation of the virtual studio… Shows why not all innovation was good innovation, and sums up what I mean rather well!)
My eventual call was to Rafael Sanque of iRacing Brasil. Despite the fact that we couldn’t use the iRacing Brasil name, and the potential fact that iRacing Brasil themselves likely wanted to continue doing Portuguese broadcasts of the iRacing World Championship Series, I remembered a project they wanted to start called RaceSpot (Which at the time I forgot the name of, and kept on forgetting for a while!). Raf had raised this with me a couple of times during the World Championship Season (He had this habit of trying to contact me at inopportune times, or right after a race when I was in adrenaline bleed mode), and the concept sounded overall interesting, but needed refining. Also consequently, I had already negotiated a series to be broadcast on iRacing Brasil due to the fact that it would air at 4AM Finnish Time, which neither Joni / Jarno could / were willing to broadcast, and as it was a large series with ties to IndyCar, I felt comfortable with the prospect of them working on high level, high intensity broadcasts such as the World Championship Series.
The key point is that Raf and I got talking, and eventually I was introduced to Hugo, whom at the time was still known best as the 2011 Drivers World Champion of Road Racing (Back before DWC became WCS). I remember interviewing Hugo once or twice during the season, and whilst more talkative than the Finnish (Which of course is about as easy as walking into a Ben & Jerrys store and asking for some ice cream), also seemed very calm, and collected. This calmness became a lifesaver down the years, as well as a massive separation between work and non-work in the (Still rather) small sim racing world. I was certain that there would be some opposition from the fact that a My3id driver’s side job was broadcasting a series with them and others in it, and the potential bias that it could bring in. Frankly, there was some Brailian and Hugo bias at the start (By design or accident) that had to be ironed out, but for the most part, the proverbial ‘Chinese Wall’ between Hugo’s professional and social Sim Racing lives was apparent.
The initial concept discussed was in effect a partial merger between iRacing Brasil and Glacier TV to form a new unit who’s remit was to broadcast the iRacing World Championship Series, iRacing World Tour events, and select other broadcasts such as the iRacing World Cup, and high level international series. I felt that this would have a desired effect as follows:
- It would remove the focus on the Glacier TV crew being seen as being a group that in effect represented iRacing / the views of iRacing. To put it frankly, the Glacier TV brand was tarnished, and I don’t think that anything aside from completely re-engineering the brand from the inside out would convince iRacing to allow the brand to be used again in connection with the World Championship Series.
- Having Joni working more in the background as opposed to being the public ‘face’ of Glacier TV would allow him to continue working on the World Championship series broadcasts and continue the innovations that he was certainly good at. To this day, I contest that Joni was and is one of the best producers in the field, and spent a lot of time ensuring that the key elements of a broadcast produced the best possible in terms of visual output.
- Having something which wasn’t iRacing Brasil as the ‘brand’ behind the World Championship Series would allow for a new broadcaster to enter the iRacing broadcast marketplace in a rather unique position, with a landmark set of broadcasts to set the brand against, rather than scrambling to find series to cover at the start, which inherently comes with quality and financial risks. It would also act as the ability for Rafael and Hugo to work in a similar manner to Joni as not being the ‘face’ of the brand.
- A new brand would provide the opportunity to learn from 3 years of experience from multiple angles, and provide an avenue to address some aspects of company management and process that to put it bluntly would be impossible under the structure of both iRacing Brasil and Glacier TV.
- On a personal level, it would provide an opportunity for me to help shape some of the key components of a broadcast that I felt were still on the disjointed side. Graphics was one, but also the way the certain elements of a broadcast flowed together. I was noticing more and more that some other broadcasters were spending a lot of time on ‘flashy’ elements of the broadcast, but not some of the core principles that makes any broadcast informative to a viewer, and the hope was that it would become possible to influence more what viewers see and how.
To say I acted as a ‘kingmaker’ for the start of RaceSpot TV would be accurate on some fronts, but more than anything, it was perfect place and perfect timing. Hugo and Rafael were going to start doing something akin to RaceSpot anyway, this opportunity just accelerated the process. And by accelerated, I mean we had everything agreed and signed within 72 hours, so I could go back to iRacing with positive news, and ensure that the golden egg would travel with the new broadcaster. In exchange, I was provided with 10% of RaceSpot, and was involved in decision making and client relations from day #1.
A lot of the next few weeks was about getting things done, and quickly. The World Championship series opener was less than 2 months away, and it was vital to ensure that broadcast went off without a hitch. If I remember correctly, the setup as the previous year of PSRTV doing the first two rounds of the season remained, but we got the call from someone after round #1 to jump in a round early. Suprisingly little of the first few months exist on the RaceSpot TV YouTube page, and I’m certain that there was more than 6 races before the first World Championship Broadcast! I’ll talk more about those opening months and races outside of the World Championship Series another time, as there’s plenty to unpick there.
But… What About Glacier?
Interestingly, Joni was supposed to work as a part of the project on RaceSpot, but never did; to this day I still wonder about some of the reasons behind this, but I know he was determined to to make Glacier TV work, with or without the World Championship Series. However, because of the fact that so much time was put in by Glacier to secure and broadcast the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series and World Tour events, having that removed from the inventory was essentially a death blow, regardless of any payments for these services. I remember that we continued to broadcast the ‘Wil and Dave podcast’ for a while, but the last race streamed by Glacier was on the 25th January 2014, which was about the time that the RaceSpot deal was finalised. Importantly, Glacier Racing, the all Finnish team set up in 2012 after a falling out between some members of my own Sim Racing team continued to exist, and Joni has shown off his biking skills on social media, but for all intents and purposes, Glacier TV was dead as of the end of January 2014.
Do I regret this sudden ending? Yes, most certainly, though it was one of those moments where really even though I ended up being in the centre of what happened next, the chain of events were neither instigated nor controllable by me. Had it just had been one thing, then I’m certain Glacier TV would have remained for at least a few more years, had found it’s neiche, and maybe still be going today. The issue is that because of turmoil in terms of how some of the management worked, combined with multiple layers of bad PR, the opportunity to turn the ship around had long passed, and it was heading out into the murky waters of controversy without cause.
As far as I’m aware, Joni is still, or was still in the streaming game, working with the Finnish Sim Racing community. This makes a ton of sense, as like iRacing Brasil, there is a lot of demand for localised content. The fact that he also had some of the important series management skills to help supplement some of the complexities of running a broadcast was of additional help, and honestly, there are multiple series and experiences which has been bettered by his work.
Coming Next Time…
In part 3 of this story, I will explain more about getting us on air for the first broadcast was nothing short of a ‘Carry on’ movie joke, and how I was close to asking myself in a panic ‘What have I done!). I’ll also discuss branding, building towards our first in house major event, and our slogan ‘No gimmicks, just awesome broadcasting’
Until next time, thanks for reading!