Unanswered questions & secrecy mar launch of 2009 Speedway Grand Prix series

The new series of the Speedway Grand Prix is about to get underway but, arguably, finds the glamour of its start marred by cost-cutting, secrecy and prevarication. Sadly, the fanfare over the arrival of a new website for the Speedway Grand Prix fails to paper over the vexatious issues and unanswered questions that still beset this ‘competition’ run by “BSI Speedway – An IMG Company”. Weirdly, the look and feel of this new all singing and dancing website mixes a kind of corporate German 70s porn aesthetic with something altogether more funereal. Perhaps, unconsciously, BSI Speedway want to acknowledge the great impending unsaid of its terminal decline?

Whatever message BSI Speedway tried to send to the world via cyberspace this lunchtime, we were allowed to witness the live draw (be still my beating heart) for the Prague Grand Prix tomorrow night. Well, actually I couldn’t as the flow player refused to load on two different browsers but, afterwards, I was able to thrill at written version of the keenly awaited gate position and helmet colour news. All this activity indicates that the 2009 series is again about to start to widespread UK media disinterest. This is fortunate for the organisers since serious questions remain unanswered about the ‘success’ of the series or even the quality of information provided by BSI Speedway.

The astonishing achievement of a cancellation of an indoor meeting because of the impact of the weather remains a reminder of the management expertise and ability the organisation can call upon. Only a few months back, Paul Bellamy blithely told the Speedway Star that the news from the Gelsenkirchen post mortem remained shrouded in mystery because of unspecified “legal issues to be resolved”. This still remains firmly swept under the carpet and, despite the ongoing public relations disaster of Gelsenkirchen debacle, no member of the management team has yet provided the promised update or done the decent thing and resigned.

The derisory offer of free tickets to 2009 SGP events for severely out of pocket fans has inadvertently revealed that BSI Speedway will only actually stage three meetings in the series themselves during 2009 (Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Cardiff, I believe). We must assume the rest remain franchised out under the SGP brand umbrella to locally based promotions or stadium owners. BSI used to stage four meetings but the addition of Gelsenkirchen to their roster proved way beyond them and now is no longer part of the series calendar. The oft-heralded strategic success of the indoor stadia revolution lauded by BSI now looks to be hype or a possible misstep.

If the series is really the success that BSI Speedway imply and/or claim, you would imagine that the attendance figures for the 2008 series would have already been published by the F.I.M. by now? They certainly have been published by the F.I.M. in the past but, mysteriously, this information remains absent from the public domain for the 2008 series and, obviously enough, notable by its absence on the newly revamped BSI Speedway website! Though, at least this is consistent since this revealing detail remained unacknowledged on the previous iteration of their website. How the series can think it might be taken seriously in the wider media when suddenly attendance figures stop being produced is a public relations question we can all guess the answer to quite easily. To be fair, we have heard that Cardiff attracted 42,187 (a wonderful 920 or 2.22% up on 2007 but only 0.45 % or 187 up on 2002). Suspicions remain that this is probably the biggest success story of 2008 SGP series for BSI Speedway but, without the figures for the other events, we have no context to judge this either way. Under the management of “BSI Speedway – An IMG Company”, the jewel in the crown of world speedway did achieve a real first. Namely, it exhibited early but severe recessionary characteristics way before the credit crunch had really hit elsewhere and long before it had begun to decimate other industries and/or entertainment businesses. This is quite an achievement when you, effectively, run a monopoly business without any serious transnational rivals!

Though in the past these lamentable average attendance figures lacked any real independent verification (and ignoring the worry that so many weirdly symmetrical numbers were included that you’d have to assume that these were ‘rounded’ figures not exact ones) – there was the additional issue of whether these figures actually referred to ‘paying customers’ or might (or might not) also include discounted admissions (and/or comps) to inflated often pitiful totals. Whatever, the specifics of their tabulation, BSI Speedway’s (“An IMG Company”) continued failure to publish the 2008 attendance figures for the SGP series can only fuel rumours that the popularity of the series is in terminal decline with paying customers prepared to go to watch the action at the stadiums themselves. This waning interest would be a rational reaction given the predictably stale, same old, same old* nature of the series that’s served up nowadays. Of course, this lack of interest has been compounded by the staging doubts raised by the Gelsenkirchen fiasco, never mind the mixed message sent by the recent dramatic cost costing to the Super Prix prize money by the organisers. If a few tweaks to the website are breathlessly heralded as breaking and significant news, it’s reasonable to assume that if there had been an improvement in overall fan attendances that we’d have heard about it somewhere!**

Still, with the management team they continue to employ, you have to wonder if BSI Speedway (or, indeed, IMG) really care about in the flesh speedway fans that bother to turn up at these events beyond some standard lip service? A teaser video on the new website for the 2009 boasts “brutally fast machines”, “wheel to wheel racing” and “no brakes”. To the background sound of portentous Home Counties mansion man style classical music, great play is also made that “something is coming” That “something” is probably yet further damage to the remaining credibility of the management team at BSI Speedway, while the popularity of the once vibrant series declines further amongst the true fans who can be bothered to actually attend these meetings. Sadly, the armchair fans the sponsors can reach have become the target audience and they’re not going to care either way whether they watch monster trucks or speedway rider’s battle for supremacy.

* Obviously the Prague GP win for 19 year old Russian rider Emil Sayfutdinov shakes up the old boys network of the established order and adds a degree of unexpected excitement. The SGP remains essentially a parasitic organisation that borrows other peoples assets (or hires the self employed dependent upon your PoV)and uses them thoughtlessly. The SGP has yet to invest in or pay for the development of any speedway rider, let alone a SGP one! It continues to use the pitiful F.I.M. pay scales so if Emil’s arrival onto the SGP scene does manage to boost attendances, television and/or advertising rights revenue – he (like all the other participants) definitely won’t be able to retire on the prize money he earns.

** The publicly available average attendance figures we do have for SGP series (until 2007) exhibit a five year trend of decline from 2002 and, even if you accentuate the positive, the slight ‘rise’ in average attendances per GP in 2007 remains below 2002, 2003 and 2005 levels.

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