More woes for Australian Grand Prix organisers?

Over the past few weeks there have been a number of stories surrounding the Australian Grand Prix. It must seem as though everyone wants to throw stones at Ron Walker and co.

Of course, this is nothing new. Bernie Ecclestone’s carping criticisms are par for the course whenever any circuit’s contract is coming up for renegotiation. Melbourne has most recently been feeling the heat.

And ever since the Australian Grand Prix moved to Albert Park back in 1996, environmental campaigners and pressure groups such as Save Albert Park have been trying their best to do away with the race. This report of a recent radio interview with Ron Walker highlights the increasingly hostile attitude that many Australians appear to be taking towards the Melbourne grand prix.

Due to its apparent political unpopularity, the race’s organisers have been trying their best to articulate the case for keeping the race in Melbourne in terms of the economic benefits and the race’s popularity in terms of attendance figures. But in the face of mounting pressure their case has begun to fall apart.

Increasingly it looks as though the race organises have been massaging attendance figures in order to project a better picture than is really the case. According to a report on Pitpass a few weeks ago, the “official” attendance figures include freebies, school excursions, corporate tickets and even competition prize tickets that haven’t been used! Despite the use of a variety of schemes to encourage people to attend, grandstands can look pretty empty.

A recent story published in The Age has raised some eyebrows in Australia. The newspaper wrote a report highlighting some home truths about Australian Grand Prix attendance.

Among the interesting information in the report is the fact that the organisers do not even know how many people attend the event. Nevertheless, organisers advertise it as “the best-attended grand prix in the world”, citing a figure of 301,000. Meanwhile, the Save Albert Park campaign group, using a more open and transparent process, have worked out that the “official” figure has been inflated by as much as 45%. Most astonishingly, the “official” figure is said to include “drivers, car mechanics, grid girls, hospitality staff, and even race bosses”.

As you can see if you have visited The Age website, the story now comes complete with a honking great “clarification” in bold writing at the top. According to Crikey, the way this has been handled is causing consternation among the paper’s staff.

The word around The Age newsroom is that after reporter Ben Doherty’s story was published, he was called in to editor [Andrew] Jaspan’s office to meet Grand Prix executives and answer their queries. This is extraordinary. Traditionally, editors shield their reporters from this kind of pressure, unless there is a clear case of error or misconduct. Even then, it is the editor’s role to deal with the interested parties.

Furthermore, the “bullshit” clarification does little to undermine the story. The very length of the clarification is apparently unprecedented.

The case for the Australian Grand Prix remaining in Melbourne appears to be fairly flimsy. In the face of increasing public dismay about taxpayers’ money being spent on the race, the race’s organisers appear to be adopting strong-arm tactics in order to keep a lid on the debate.

They used to call it a “great place for a race”. But are the days of Albert Park as an F1 venue numbered?

Any thoughts on this? Would you be sad to see Melbourne go? What possible alternative venues are there for the Australian Grand Prix?

H/T Colin Campbell

5 comments

  1. I was reading something the other day about the sheer lack of competence on the part of the organisers.

    Apparantly according to this : http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty/?p=1191 the event marketing is almost non-existent , certainly in the case of the GP Traction premium hospitality package.No wonder why they need to inflate their figures entirely.Makes me wonder with all the environmental campaigning why they don’t just pull the plug right now.Not everyone was all that keen on the idea of hosting the race back in 1996 either from what I gather either.

    I think Australia needs to stay on the calendar , it’s produced a few good drivers down the years like Alan Jones.I don’t see why they don’t just simply go back to Adelaide either.From what I read the host city was a lot happier to host the race and everyone liked it and they do still have V8 races there.I quite like Albert Park as a venue, the scenery is rather nice but the circuit tends to sometimes come up with dull races.

  2. Welcome Francois. That’s a really interesting link. It seems as though the organisers are incompetent all round. I would be sad to see the Australian GP go, but I’m not really a fan of Albert Park (although I don’t dislike it either). A move back to Adelaide would be interesting, although I wonder if it meets the requirements of a modern F1 circuit in terms of safety, it ability to accommodate inflated egos and so on.

  3. Well I live in Sydney, but have attended Melb. In truth Albert Park does not provide the most exciting race & Adelaide would be a better venue. The real problem is Bernie continually hiking up his fee, it’s the state of Victoria picking up the tab….not the federal govt.

    The ironic thing about the whole event is that without F1 (& Bernie’s ransom) the weekend would still pull massive crowds….it’s a triple header format for the local V8’s!! Just like the Surfers Paradise round of the Indy cars on the Gold Coast, the city dwelling public will always flock in droves to a round of the Super Tourers.

    Long term there is no way Victoria can compete with Gulf states, Singapore, Shanghai etc. Mind you, when the Turkish venue went belly up Bernie steped in & bought the whole thing lock,stock & barrel. One rule for some another rule for others.

  4. Well for a start, I can tell you that photo on Pitpass was taken either on a Thursday (when attendance is not so great), or very early on a saturday and does not in anyway reflect the actual attendance of the Melbourne GP. I have been every year since 2000, and can assure you that there are hundreds of thousands of people who attend, and every grandstand is full. So what if a few of them get in for free?

    And in regards to the Save Albert Park group – I’d take anything they say with a grain of salt. For instance they claim that Albert Park is blocked off for four months due to the GP which is absolute balderdash. I was there last tuesday doing my weekly walk around the lake, and the roads were still open then. The group is just not willing to give up and will stop at nothing to promote their agenda!

    And another thing you didn’t mention was that The Age did an opinion poll last week, (which I know is only of a small sample of their readers) and the results were that over 60% wanted to keep the race. This is important as The Age is a broadsheet newspaper, and as such motor racing fans are not really in it’s target demographic.

    The problem is that the people who don’t want the race are more vocal than those who do. And sadly, one of those appears to be the new Premier of the state. Coupled with Emporer Bernie’s demands, it seems that the Melbourne GP might be doomed. And I don’t think Adelaide or Phillip Island are workable alternatives – to many upgrades needed for safety concerns. Plus it appears mainly to be the price tag Bernie has attached – not to mention the ridiculous demands for a night race that will sound the death knell for our race.

    And if that happens, then I hope Bernie will be satisfied.

  5. […] I have written before about the stick the Australian Grand Prix bosses are getting from all angles. Even since I wrote that post, Bernie Ecclestone’s demands have become ever more extreme. In particular, Mr Ecclestone’s current obsession with night races appears to have deepened. His comments suggest that he very much wants to have his cake and eat it. For me, the logic behind night races is muddled and confused. […]