The strange case of Speedway Grand Prix programme shrinkage

 

It’s a really tough job to learn anything of value or gain insights from Speedway Grand Prix reports on its website or in trade press reports, let alone any SGP programme. That said, though not an exact science, the ongoing declining popularity of the Speedway Grand Prix is, perhaps, further laid bare by recent editions of the programmes organisers BSI produced for 2013 SPG events in Cardiff and Terenzano. If you can judge the health of an organisation or its allegedly pre-eminent competition by the quality of its product offering, then these programmes provide another window onto the ‘soul’ and coldly beating heart of IMG/BSI. Sadly, speedway fan exploitation, redundant copy, cost-cutting and an ongoing serial ability to attract advertisers prepared to actually pay for space adverts in either programme is firmly entrenched as the order of the day.

My understanding is that, rather strangely, BSI doesn’t bother to produce the programmes for their own events in Poland or Eastern Europe (Latvia, Slovenia etc.) since their third party staging partners do so for them. However, BSI do deign to take responsibility for producing programmes for selected Grand Prix rounds elsewhere. My random purchase of BSI run SGP 2013 programme overstocks – what could be termed ‘uncollector’s items’ – allows some element of a snapshot comparison between their approach to the British and Italian SGP events.

Leaving aside that BSI originally used to give away the programme (with completed racecard) along with the price of a ticket, by 2013 they’ve perfected gouging their biggest annual audience of speedway fans by escalating the cover price to an astoundingly eye watering £10! It wasn’t so long ago that you could see a speedway meeting that was actually exciting for that price. So what do we really get for our money? Apart from a handwriting and spelling lesson (when filling out by hand the race line ups), for £10 speedway fans get to enjoy 84 glossy full colour pages and a 4 page matt full colour insert printed in Denmark. Ignoring that the 2013 Cardiff programme copy continues the long-standing BSI/IMG SGP tradition of content lite ‘news’ free advertorial, almost 37% of this programme is taken up with space adverts! Adding to the insult to the injury of each fan effectively paying £3.70 for the honour of reading these adverts, BSI themselves actually provide nearly half (17) of the 35 full page adverts. Sadly, these adverts are at dull in the extreme since they primarily advise fans about BSI forthcoming events and associated SGP products they’ll usually already know about (for example, there is a SGP app [wow] and a website – their notoriously turgid ‘news’ source speedwaygp.com). The majority of the remaining 18 pages of adverts look to be either gratis, contractually promised, paid-in-kind, bogof or local/Welsh taxpayer (public sector) funded. Don’t forget this advertisers roster is for the BSI SGP number 1 annual showpiece event that the organisers wistfully (but unconvincingly) claim worldwide brands just can’t wait to be associated with! It is also a speedway meeting that print and broadcast press boosters would have you believe is the probably best speedway meeting in the world.

Many of the Cardiff programme advertisers apparently collectively suffer from an ability to understand let alone access their various target audiences/demographics or, possibly, have some kind of death wish for their future business prospects. These Cardiff 2013 programme space advertisers include J.A.K Workwear (hi-vis clothing), Speedway Star, Eurosport HD, Mitas Tyres, Experience Copenhagen, Real Radio, Monster Energy (the Red Bull wannabe drink), the FIM Facebook page, Wales Tourist Board*, Cardiff Blues (Rugby), ICC One Day Cricket (in Cardiff), Newport Dragons (Rugby), Cardiff Council, Cardiff Devils (Ice hockey), a Polish fan manufacturer (hard to tell as advert is in Polish) and in pride of place on the back page Fogo (Polish power generator company).

In contrast, the Italian Speedway Grand Prix programme printed in Slovenia ‘only’ costs €5 but then it is 59% smaller with a severely reduced page extent of 36 pages (32 full gloss colour & 4 page matt paper colour insert). In addition to being noticeably thinner, the Italy SGP programme appears – though possibly an optical illusion – to use what feels like lighter and cheaper quality paper? Barely two months after the supposed euphoria of Cardiff (and during a season where we’re enjoying allegedly one of the most exciting close fought battles to become World Champion), this reduction in page extent and quality is an unmissable visible sign of financial cost cutting (as well as indicative of a lack of confidence in their own Speedway Grand Prix product) by SGP organisers BSI.

For years BSI have struggled to raise commercial interest in the SGP series generally and, perhaps indicative of what a truly difficult sell the increasingly turgid, increasing repetitive spectacle the SGP series has become, they completely fail to sell the back page (usually THE most in demand page amongst advertisers) for the Terenzano event. To save further print (& postage) costs, they’ve also cut all their own advertising from this programme plus they’ve deleted full-page explanation of how a SGP works they considered essential in Cardiff (if it is important information rather than page filler, it should still be included). Despite these page reductions, to fill some of the remaining space there are English and Italian versions of the various statements of welcome including trademark banal statements from head honcho and sports business visionary Paul Bellamy (which, strangely enough, – though obviously unintelligibly foreign to most readers since written in Italian – adds to his cogency). In Terenzano, a mere 30% of the programme is advertising (each fan paying €1.50 of the cover price for the privilege). Though amazing to find that this is even possible, the so-called ‘news’ quotient of the remaining advertorial somehow manages to fall further! Of the 10 and half pages space adverts occupy, three and a half are in non-full colour Italian (apparently garishly typeset in red and black by someone on work experience with spatial awareness issues) and, probably, actually new paid advertising business! Indeed, these might well be the oft-promised household brand names press statements of yore highlighted, albeit heavily disguised as obscure Italian ones. The remainder of the space adverts are again from the school of bogof, gratis, contractually promised, paid-in-kind or local/Welsh taxpayer (public sector) funded. Five are full colour full-page repeats – this is, arguably, symbolic, given the repetitious nature of SGP events and its reporting – from Cardiff (Speedway Star, FIM Facebook page, J.A.K, Monster Energy), another from the Welsh Tourist Board (with anew picture but reduced to a single page) and – shock horror – an actual ‘new’ advert extolling the many joys of a visit to Gorzow.

In a nutshell, the most recent Speedway Grand Prix programme contains – as usual – little bespoke journalism or news and even less insight. It fails to function as a tool to follow the meeting unless you’re prepared to put in significant effort yourself. Looking to the future, the severely reduced page extent at best is just cost-cutting but could actually indicate the much deeper malaise of Speedway Grand Prix organisers without any real faith in the future financial health and popularity of their own product.

* Given the ongoing, lengthy financial support offered to organisers BSI out of the public purse by the Welsh Government and Cardiff City Council, it’s wonderfully insulting that BSI choose to ignore the Welsh language. Whereas in Italy, BSI offer bi-lingual rider profiles, safety notices, bigwig statement flim flam throughout the programme.

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