Blog Article in the Independent

Speedway fan Rob Griffin kindly contacted me about an article that he was doing on the phenomenon of blogging for the Independent newspaper.

Having read the article it seems that I’m missing a few tricks when it comes to making money from this activity. It would be great to figure out who on earth would like to have their advert appear on my Blog and who or what they think the average speedway fan really is. I’d have thought that advertisers would always want to reach sincere, down to earth people who loyally support their chosen hobby through thin and thin. It’s just the sort of mindset and characteristics that should appeal given how fickle and disloyal every modern consumer apparently is nowadays.

May be advertisers are fundamentally confused by the complex and arcane rules of the sport. News from the BSPA Conference of the promoter’s decision-making and rule changes for the 2007 season probably won’t have clarified things too much for anyone not already steeped in the speedway way. In the way of the modern world the photos in the Speedway Star, like the statements issued in print and online, look and sound corporate and portentous. But you have to worry that they won’t provide any additional appeal to undecided potential advertisers or deliver more new punters through the turnstiles. In a show of public unanimity that’s rarer behind the scenes, every club promoter has rushed to embrace the wonder and efficacy of the changes. Changes to do with the gate position of the number two rider in the first race look purely cosmetic and are unlikely to affect race results but, most significantly, cost nothing to implement (though the stated reason of keeping this riders kevlars cleaner for longer might well be met). The new restriction that riders with the top two averages will have to ride in positions one and three will thereby structurally weaken the appeal of heat 13. The argument that each contest will reach a crescendo and an appealing denouement to thrill the stay away fans by having the “four best riders in heat 15” assumes a finely balanced contest (e.g. still not so likely at Peterborough or Sheffield) and structurally eliminates this possibility from two heats earlier (when the score might also be closer). I was one of the few (91) people who apparently voted for the status quo and the retention of the present regulations with regards to tactical rides in the recent Speedway Star ballot. I’m ignoring the fiddling with the points limits for teams in each league as these will be beyond the ken of all but the most interested and obsessed followers, taken as a package overall the changes look cost neutral, presentationally vague if intended to wow new people or sponsors and much more in the order of recovering the deck chairs with a new material and slightly altering their formation on the deck.

Still, just as a camel is a racehorse designed by a committee the voting structure of the BSPA has a structural bias towards the status quo. Every if you discount the oligopolistic tendencies of some groups of existing promoters, the fact that apparently the rules of membership of this association that deprives every ‘rookie’ promoter of a vote will inevitably exaggerate this effect. My understanding is that new promoters and their ideas are often like fireworks – they sparkle and flare initially but soon fizzle out in the face of inertia and physics. Sensibly enough so that all this new found zeal and enthusiasm doesn’t have too much of a warping effect on the hidebound nature of the sports rules and direction, all new promoters can attend the BSPA conference but are unable to vote for three years. On this basis among the Elite League promoters, for example, it’s my understanding that Peterborough, Reading, Belle Vue, Oxford and Arena Essex wouldn’t be able to vote. May be I’m wrong but while constancy and loyalty should have it’s privileges, it might be taking it just a step too far to only allow just six EL clubs the vote? And we all know avian creatures are more circumspect in the festive season. Not that I’m necessarily a big fan of John Postlethwaite’s many gnomic pronouncements on how the sport needs to adapt to his (commercial) interests and instincts or die but in the kingdom may be the eleven eyed man is better than the six eyed one?

Arguably the most positive piece of news from the BSPA conference was the announcement that 15 clubs (what about the rest? If the reason is not the curfew it’s hard to imagine what it might be) would actively support the Under 15s in the second halves next season. Hopefully, the switch to a more formal basis will move these races from the category of a dispensable afterthought – the meeting over runs or the curfew approaches, so the automatic reflex among promoters has often been to abandon or curtail these races – that they’ve suffered from sometimes this season under the keen and dedicated stewardship of Peter Oakes. I imagine getting permission for pupils to miss school nowadays to travel long distances to ride on a speedway bike is going to be much harder in the modern environment of frequent tests at all ages and will remain an impediment outside the summer holiday months. However, as this decision acknowledges, unless the sport invests structurally in gaining sufficient numbers of young people to come through the ranks as riders, then future prospects will look bleaker than they are already now. The news that the sport has finally decided to start to provide a structure that probably might throw up a possible future world champion isn’t going to get the sponsors or crowds flooding back immediately but at least shows belief in the future. All that’s needed now is for this to be formalised as a rider development programme and actual funds invested to ensure that it continues rather than changes on a stop-start basis or undergoes frequent chopping and changing after future conferences.

Overall, if speedway in this country is as traditional as a wet bank holiday in the summer, then having a moan about the decisions “at conference” is also a hardy perennial. This year gave less grounds than usual though the disabling combination of denial and blind optimism prevails. The default setting of all the promoters is always to express “delight” and relish the opportunities for “team building” that have been held in abeyance in the month prior to these always apparently innovative tablets coming down the mountain. The speedway faithful will still turn out no matter what is decided as a grumble makes the whole thing much more enjoyable. Though one factor, buried away in the Speedway Star, not given any real prominence is the price rise of £1 in admission prices for adults that Peterborough have already announced. In the spirit of selective and oligopolistic co-operation that invariably kicks in at this point among the promoters were self interest and money collide, it’s safe to say that by March it’s likely that admission prices across the board will reach £15 for adult admissions in the Elite League. This is an inflation busting rise of over seven percent that, if you say it quickly, is disguised by the phrase “its only a pound more”. Maybe it’s a percentage increase that all the promoters will automatically pass onto their riders when they agree terms in the close season but isn’t the type of increase that many fans will experience in their pay packets (or pension books).

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