User:Rmckay/Feasibility of Homebush Street Race
On September the 29th 2008, the now departed New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees announced that Sydney Olympic Park would be playing host to a V8 Supercar street race. He promised that the three-day event will contribute more than $100 million to the NSW economy over the next five years. For the event to go ahead the government would be outlaying somewhere between $28 to $30 million.
Three years have passed since that sunny September day at Homebush Bay, and still the feasibility of the event is a hot topic of debate in NSW's state parliament. The two main questions raised are one; is the event detrimental to the environment surrounding the area including the wetlands and two; is it worth spending a high amount of taxpayer dollars to host an event that is only held three days a year.
After introducing my topic by giving a general outline of the event, I will provide some history about street circuits on a local, national and international level. In body paragraph two I will discuss the political implications and processes that are involved in staging an event of this calibre. Then in body paragraph three I will give light to the Business side of the Sydney Telstra 500 and explain the reasons that V8 Supercars Australianeeds it too work, before concluding with the likely future of the event based on my findings.
Formerly known as the Australian Touring Car Championship up until 1999, the current V8 supercar championship series has grown from humble beginnings into an internationally acclaimed category. The inaugural Sydney Telstra 500 was more than just another race of the series, it was a milestone for a sport that can now boast over 9.7 million viewers from around the globe.
The city of Sydney has historically proven to be a hard nut to crack for V8 supercars. The state of NSW has always been the spiritual centre of Australian motor racing, as it is home to the Bathurst 1000 endurance classic. But closer to the capital top-level motorsport has been met by mixed emotions from the public. In the 1960’s and 70’s circuits such as Amaroo Park and Oran Park would be crowded by thousands of screaming spectators who would be witnessing the talent of drivers such as Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Allan Moffat and Australia’s only Formula One world champions Jack Brabham and Alan Jones.
These circuits however no longer exist, victims of Sydney’s rapid urban expansion. Over the past decade the series has failed with experiments at Sydney’s only permanent circuit Eastern Creek Raceway, which struggled to draw crowds of over 35,000 despite a raft of format variatons. The Inaugural Sydney Telstra 500 was a true indication of Sydney’s public voting with their feet- a crowd of over 184,000 attended the event.
Brief History of Street Circuits
The concept of hosting a motorsports event on the street of a major city is nothing new. The foundations of Formula One were formed in France in 1894 when automobile races were held on public streets. Over the course of the last centruy the concept has become a known winner because it brings the racing to the people, the majority of these having never witnessed a legal car race.
Local, National and International
On an international level the best example is the Monaco Grand Prix. First held in 1929 on the streets on Monte Carlo this event has grown into one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. The Monaco Grand Prix is still the jewel in the crown for the Formula One world championship to this day, despite the recent influx of new multi-million dollar permanent GP circuits such as Abu Dhabi, Korea, China and Turkey. Other major motorsport categories such as Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) and the American based Indycar series also use street circuit to increase crowd numbers.
Nationally, the ATCC has built its history by racing on circuits such as Mt Panorama in Bathurst and Gnoo Blas in Orange which double as public roads. In terms of actual circuits based on the streets of a city, the Adelaide Parklands Circuit was the first of its kind, when Australia rejoined F1 calendar in November 1985. When F1 moved to Melbourne in 1996 the circuit was abandoned until 1999 when the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercar event was created. This event is still one of the benchmark sporting events in the nation with an average attendance of 300,000 per year. This event is what the Sydney Telstra 500 is based on and aspires to be. The only other two events, which share similarities to the Telstra Sydney 500 are the Gold Coast and Townsville rounds of the championship. These are both street circuits. The Gold Coast 600 has a healthy history as it hosted an Indycar round between 1991 and 2008. While the Townsville 400 is very much in its infancy like the Sydney event.
Locally the Telstra Sydney 500 is Sydney’s first ‘big event’ street race. In 1982 heavyweight promoter Paul Dainty created plans to host a Formula One Grand Prix on the streets of inner Sydney. Due to a range of political reasons, the proposal fell through and three years later Adelaide got the rights to host an the Australian Grand Prix.
Role of Politics
Put simply without Government funding the Sydney Telstra 500 would not exist. It has taken more than one promoter around two decades to get an event to the scale of this one of the ground and running in Sydney. A considerable amount of lobbying is needed at the State level. This was left up to v8supercar founding investor Sports Entertainment Limited (SEL). Ultimately the State Government has the final say if the event is to go ahead or not due to its significant funding contribution.
Currently the Sydney Telstra 500 is the cities largest entertainment and sporting event. It is well on its way too adding more than $100 million in economic benefits to NSW over a five-year period and is beamed live to more than 110 countries via Television and internet. The event creates more than 110 full-time equivalent jobs and provides the opportunity for 75 NSW apprentices to take part across motor sport and hospitality sectors.
However, resistance toward the event has remained ever since the event was given the go ahead by Nathan Rees. In Febuary of this year, just prior to Barry O’Farrells Liberal Government winning the state election, the future of the Sydney Telstra 500 became clouded once again. Ned Attie, the Liberal Member for Auburn stated that the event would be scrapped once Liberal win the 2011 State Election. Mr. Attie cited noise pollution and adverse impacts on the sensitive local environment as areas of concern that had been raised by residents of the Auburn area. The environmental concerns seem justified given that 140 mature trees were removed when the track was first constructed in 2009. But these concerns can be dismissed as for every tree displaced during construction; three new trees were planted in conjuction with Sydney Olympic Park authority.
The solution being offered is to relocate the race meeting to the state government owned Eastern Creek Raceway, a venue that has been tried in many different formats but failed to acheive even a quarter of the crowds of what the Sydney Telstra 500 has. The comments made by Mr. Attie are potentially an indication of the decision that Premier Barry O’Farrell will make on the future of the event, once its current contract expires in 2013. With the Homebush Street Circuit being located in the seat of Auburn and closeby to other important swinging seats such as Drummoyne and Ryde, O’Farrell has pressure to adhere to the needs of majority of locals or risk losing their support.
Role of Business
The Sydney Telstra 500 is V8 Supercars ticket to the mainstream. It's the logical solution for a sport that has always wanted to ‘crack’ the largest market in Australia. This has been done through the commodification of what has been labeled the ‘Rock n Race’ concept. This concept has been developed on a template of the successful Clipsal 500 in Adelaide where a city street circuit mixes racing with concerts involving high profile bands and other off-track entertainment. This concept was applied effectively in 2009 by luring Cold Chisel out of retirement to play a comeback concert at ANZ Stadium. In 2010, Guns n Roses took up were Cold Chisel left off, while arguably the best known skateboarder in the world, Tony Hawk, made appearences in a skate park within the circuit.
Due to the concrete lined nature of street circuits action is a given, this is not always the case at permanent circuits which is why V8 Supercars has a preference towards the concept. Furthermore the circuit is easily accessible for fans, who are able to catch a train from anywhere on the Sydney network and get off less than 20 metres from the track.
Using street circuits helps V8 supercars Australia overcome its biggest hurdle…its low degree of reach in Australia’s mainstream media. This is compounded by a large section of Australia’s public perceiving that engines, tyres and brakes don’t fit into their definition of ‘sport,’ as well as the long gaps that exist between rounds of the championship.
The Sydney Telstra 500 is the result of 6 years of planning and lobbying. It’s naive to believe that events to this magnitude happen overnight. A great deal of time is spent consulting with various bodies so there is little disruption for the everyday users of Homebush. The site is particularly busy in the months leading up to the race, especially during the NRL finals in September. It takes six weeks to construct the circuit and four weeks for removal.
V8 supercar legend Mark Skaife knows all too well the importance of the success of an event such as the this one. Skaife was responsible for the design of the circuit. Skaife was also involved in the creation of the failed GMC 400 on the streets of Canberra. The Canberra street race was a good event but was held in the middle of the cold Canberra winter at a stage of the v8 supercar season (mid-year) that holds lesser importance in city with a population of around 400,000. As a result crowds were below expectations and the withdrawal government support spelled its demise. The lessons learnt from the Canberra event are why so far the Sydney Telstra 500 has been successful. It is held in the summertime, it is the last round of the championship and it's in a city with a population of more than 4 million people.
What does the future hold?
Part of the reason the Sydney Telstra 500 was given the go ahead in 2008 was to create greater recognition for Sydney as an events town, taking some of the limelight away from Melbourne. It seems strange that Melbournians tend to embrace their events unlike Sydney. The Melbourne Cup, Australian Formula One Grand Prix, Australian Open tennis and Melbourne International Comedy Festival are all world class events, that have survived due to the fact that the majority of the public supports them.
The Sydney Telstra 500 is a chance for NSW to be proud of a unique event held in arguably the mecca of Australian sport. The fact that Eastern Creek Raceway is currently being upgraded by the NSW state government serves as an indication of what may lie ahead for the Homebush event. The Homebush race in 2010 attracted over 166, 000 fans and 25,000 corporate clients. The Eastern Creek race event in 2008, attracted 28,000 fans and 300 corporate clients. Makes the decision to keep the race at Homebush a no brainer.
If the current NSW state government decides to discontinue the event after 2013, it is likely V8 supercars will give up on Sydney all together. Sydney will lose much more than a just another v8 race; it will lose another chance to showcase its positives to the rest of Australia and the world. For the state government it would be easier to move the race to Eastern Creek, but as the saying goes nothing worth having comes easy.
The following are links to my presentation that supports this paper
- 2011, [], V8 Supercars Australia, viewed 26th of October
- 2009, The Daily Telegraph Sydney Telstra 500 Official Guide, News Limited, p. 3, viewed 29th of September
- 2011, [], rsinsight, viewed 5th of October
- 2011, [], Fox Sports Australia, viewed 23rd of February
- 2008, [], News Limited, viewed 31st of August 2011.
- 2011, [], News Limited, viewed on 25th of October
- 2009, [], Word Press, viewed on 30th of October
- 2009, V8 Sydney 2009 Race Preview, Chevron Publishing Group, p. 40, viewed on 29th of September
- 2011, [], News Limited, viewed on 24th of October