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What is it with governments and car races?

October 25th, 2009

Just about every Australian city has had a disastrous experience with a publicly-subsidised motor race. In most cases, the governments concerned have been advocates of market liberalism, who somehow find it possible to make an exception for motorsport.

Adelaide spent a fortune to buy the Grand Prix, only to see Jeff Kennett spend even more to entice it to Melbourne (at the same time as he was closing schools and sacking hospital staff). Economically unsound from the outset, the Grand Prix has experienced steadily declining attendance and interest, and is unlikely to last beyond 2015.

Kate Carnell in Canberra wasted a fortune on the V8 Supercars before admitting defeat. Before that, there was the Greiner government’s Eastern Creek fiasco. Now, we have another fiasco on the Gold Coast.

I’ll pass over the easy pointscoring about a government, claiming to be reduced to such straits that it has to sell off the family silver, blowing over $10 million on a sporting event. Even supposing we had to spend this money on sport, surely we could do better than this low-grade exercise. I have a few suggestions over the fold, and would welcome more.

First up, we could make a comparison to the Masters Games in Sydney which got heaps of global publicity (a quick look at Google News confirms this, and suggests that the Gold Coast event was internationally invisible), and attracted large numbers of international participants, for a comparable expenditure ($8.5 million each from NSW and the Cwlth). There are many such events we could go after, or else establish our own.

And if this kind of money is available to splash around, why not do something really spectacular, like buying the Grand Finals in one of the major football codes?

Any more suggestions?

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  1. Michael
    October 27th, 2009 at 21:05 | #1

    I would hazard a guess that when something brings intangible benefits that are difficult to measure then the benefits will almost always be exaggerated. There may be a parallel to advertising. When it is difficult to measure the success of advertising on TV and in newspapers the advertiser is free to imagine greater benefits from their spending. In the internet age more exact metrics are possible and this has meant that advertisers are being a lot more choosy about where they spend.

  2. rog
    October 28th, 2009 at 08:22 | #2

    Intangible benefits is the only sustainable argument for the Olympics, the real competitive sports are held elsewhere.

  3. rog
    October 28th, 2009 at 08:27 | #3

    Going back to the V8 supercars etc, I agree that somehow all pollies lose the plot when it comes to these high profile events and they need to be able to show a cost benefit before embarking on these adventures

  4. Socrates
    October 28th, 2009 at 12:33 | #4

    I have been in governments where costs benefits were done on these events, proved to be below one or even negative, and they still get funded. Standard tactic one is to hide the costs on various line departments budgets. Tactic two is to claim advertising benefits that are impossible to disprove. Besides, domestic tourism is a zero sum game anyway. unless someon can show that these events attract significant numbers of overseas visitors, then they almost never pay.

    Why? It reminds me of the line in the movie Gladiator “be loved by the mob and you can rule Rome”.

  5. Jim Birch
    October 28th, 2009 at 12:36 | #5

    F1 is an absolute cultural relic, like playboy bunnies and jewelled cigarette lighters, interesting maybe a minimum 30 years ago. They must have some good spruikers.

  6. Socrates
    October 28th, 2009 at 12:38 | #6

    Having read some of the other posts, I agree with those who think motor racing is particularly over-subsidised. Almost none of the other justifications that might apply to other elite level sports apply – no encouraging broader community participation, no secondary health benefits, no developing team work. Its just rich mans hobby, mostly followed by poor men.

  7. Fran Barlow
    October 28th, 2009 at 14:07 | #7

    @Socrates

    Almost none of the other justifications that might apply to other elite level sports apply – no encouraging broader community participation, no secondary health benefits, no developing team work.

    They are said to apply but there’s a dearth of data to support the claim, at least, in cost-benefit terms. Nix it all I say.

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