NOEL TURNBULL. Grand Prix’s grand claims

There may well be a benign side to the Australian Grand Prix’s consistent overstatement of how many people attend the event – the potential number of coronavirus infections will be correspondingly reduced by the multiple by which the Grand Prix exaggerates its attendance.

Italy has been locked down but the Italian Government has given Ferrari’s Formula One team a special exemption to travel from coronavirus-impacted Lombardy to Melbourne and the Grand Prix CEO, Andrew Westacottt, says there won’t be a problem and that there is no need to do what Bahrain has done for its race – hold it without spectators.

In fact the Melbourne race will also be held without spectators – at least to the extent that the total number of spectators will be considerably less than 300,000 spectators organisers say they expect and what they will report after the event. Needless to say, as they do every year, the ticket sales are allegedly higher this year than last which was, of course, yet another record.

The Grand Prix has a reputation for enthusiastic statistics and claims. The founding AGP Chair, Ron Walker, claimed the audience for the event was 54 billion – nine times the then world’s population and that it was a bigger TV event than the Olympics. Even now the Grand Prix claims about 390 million viewers worldwide, which is about the same as Formula One claims for the whole 21 race season. It also estimates that in 2017 there were 296,000 people attending the event. The people who bought Formula One from Bernie Ecclestone, a boy made good from sarf east London, probably wish it was all true.

A 2009 independent report commissioned by the Victorian Government found the global viewing audience was around 20 million although the Grand Prix now talks about their TV audience in the context of a claim that the Grand Prix gets more than (they say ‘over’ but their grammar is as good as their arithmetic) 78 million ‘impressions’ across media.

As The Age’s Greg Baum, said: “When it comes to fake news the Grand Prix makes Donald Trump look like an apprentice.”

But the rub in the Grand Prix story is not really in the 390 million world-wide viewers claim – it is in that word estimates and what hides behind that word – something which has been consistently exposed by Baum and the Save Albert Park group, headed by Peter Logan. By the way, the race is held in a park for anyone who doesn’t know – yes only in Australia.

Now most of us when we buy a ticket to the theatre the only check we get is from the doorpeople who look at the date and the seat number so they can direct you to the right place and remind you if you thought it was that night rather than the night before you were wrong.

But most other times at big events, thanks to modern technology, there is a bar code which you flash at a reader or someone at the gate has a portable device which they use to scan your ticket. But that’s not the way it works with the Grand Prix which claims that it is just too expensive to put in electronic turnstiles at seven gates or equip the people on the gate with scanners.

Indeed, as the indefatigable Peter Logan has revealed, it was apparently so expensive to use the handheld devices that in 2012 the Grand Prix spent $101,590 on lawyers’ fees to convince VCAT that it was impractical. This was on top of the in-house legal costs of $359,129.59. The Grand Prix’s cost benefit analyses are obviously about as convincing as their arithmetic and grammar.

The Save Albert Park group, on the eve of the Grand Prix, has revealed a new move in their long running campaign to rid Melbourne of this money guzzling white elephant.

They have now written to the Victorian Attorney-General, Jill Hennesy, and the Minister for Major Events, Martin Pakula, alleging that the Grand Prix might have been a bit economical with the truth in evidence given under oath to VCAT hearings about the question of counting numbers.

The Grand Prix representative at one of these hearings did confess that they were “not aware of how other sports calculated their attendances” suggesting that this supposedly world class event doesn’t do any best practice benchmarking. A representative also told VCAT that the Grand Prix had no documents relating to analyses of the cost of portable checking devices, but perhaps these accidentally ended up in the recycling bin as an offset to the Grand Prix’s carbon footprint.

Nevertheless, the Grand Prix will continue on until some other sucker is persuaded to fork out more than Melbourne. South Australia gave a deep sigh of relief when Jeff Kennett poached the event and Melbourne probably will too when someone poaches the Melbourne one. It can’t happen soon enough for the Victorian Government who know it is a dud but can’t afford to be seen pandering to inner urban elites against suburban petrol heads.

Meanwhile they at least have stopped talking about the benefits to the automotive industry now that we, thanks to Joe Hockey and the Liberals, no longer have one.

They still talk about wider economic ‘benefits’ though, but obviously haven’t read the Storm, Jakobsen and Nielsen paper in Routledge’s Regional Studies journal which Peter Logan has been circulating.

The abstract says it all: “The tangible effects of hosting major sporting events have been thoroughly examined in recent years. The consensus among scholars is that the impacts on tourism, inbound foreign investments and gross domestic product (GDP) from hosting, for example, the Olympic Games or the football World Cup are absent. Further, only a few studies have been conducted on one of the most commercially successful (major) sporting events: Formula I motor racing. This paper applies regression models to test the effects on GDP, employment and tourism in European regions that have hosted Formula 1 grand prix from 1991 to 2017. The output from the models suggests that hosting Formula 1 races does not produce positive effects.”

But what does a regression analysis matter alongside some estimates by a group who have a vested interest in claiming the Melbourne Grand Prix is one of the world’s biggest and most important events delivering immeasurably great benefits to Victoria?

Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/

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Noel Turnbull is a blogger who has had a 40-year-plus career in public relations, politics, journalism and academia.

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