More Kleenex Venues Rumoured

After the borefest of the Latvian GP, it’s hard to get excited about tittletattle in the Star claimed to be “whispers from the corridors of power” that trails notionally ‘exciting’ news that the SGP might expand into Russia in 2010 and, in as yet unspecified years ahead, to “India, Asia & Australasia”. All these countries or regions have huge potential audiences but presently remain blissfully unaware of the erstwhile glamour of speedway meetings held on substandard one off tracks (or the thrills of the gate position draws). The commercial logic of the opportunity to cash in on the popularity of the new Golden Boy of the SGP, Emil Sayfutdinov, in his home country is sensible enough. Doubtless, the sale of television rights and advertising will continue to be extremely lucrative for the organisers and, of course, the real purpose of the protracted, anodyne nature of the format, field and itinerary. However, unless admission prices fall dramatically, BSI have a poor pedigree in filling stadiums when they expand the frontiers of their series or, for that matter, building vaguely acceptable tracks inside the well equipped modern stadia their business model (unsubstantiatedly) proclaims as the future of speedway spectating. Even when they did release unaudited attendance figures into the public domain, the trend was mostly relentlessly downwards. In 2009, the evidence of our eyes when watching on the telly and continued rumours suggest that this trend towards indifference and non-attendance has taken firmer, perhaps fatal, hold.

A glance at the history of the series under BSI management when it comes to ventures into pastures new is even more informative since they appear to often stage expansion legs of the series at ‘Kleenex’ venues* before they then run away with their metaphorical management tail between their legs. A third venue has previously been added (Chorzow) in the most fanatical speedway spectating country in the world – Poland – only for attendances to then plummet by 20% in 2003! Not so impressive when you recall the then economic boom in Eastern Europe, let alone the aforementioned incredible popularity of the sport there. Less obviously, BSI explored then still nascent Holta Effect with a venture to Hamar in Norway and defied expectations to survive three years there (2002-2004) before its demise as a venue. Nonetheless, even at its height, fan numbers weren’t impressive though the fall off in demand by 25% in its last year of operation was undoubtedly an impressive, albeit sobering, number.

The use of the word “Australasia” in the Star puff hints that putative future venues might not be located in Australia but, possibly, New Zealand. In the context of the distances involved, time zones & population numbers, this would be a brave decision even before the lesson of the single staging of 2002 Sydney GP enters the equation.** Faced with a potential German language audience of 140 million people, BSI somehow failed to enthuse them but did attract debacles in Germany like foreign embassies in London garner parking tickets. Showcasing their reverse Midas touch, Gelsenkirchen remains fresh in the mind – technically a one off in staging terms – and, years before that particular fiasco, the Berlin leg of the 2001 series was hailed as the future but then conspicuously failed to be repeated. Failure to progress beyond the fanfare of opening, let alone robust sustain extensions of the series is a familiar characteristic of SGP brand extensions. Best not to hold our collective breaths about the sustainability of “India, Asia & Australasia”.

In business terms, key business lessons remain to be learnt: namely, that it appears on past performance that the SGP run by BSI isn’t scaleable (investors, advertisers & IMG management please note!). Obviously, TV pictures are location irrelevant though hackneyed shots of the chosen venue city can sometimes provide a one off publicity angle with some pleasing pictures for additional background. Think Sydney Bridge rather than downtown Daugavpils. Talk of heading off somewhere exciting new sounds good in the trade press, makes the management look go ahead or (more) important and looks even better in the business plan financials. However, it can’t disguise some the current problems with the SGP series: notably, boredom and predictability brought on by a tired format shown too frequently to a lessening fan base. Repackaging the same rubbish differently (with the addition of “new faces” to provide a veneer of change) is hardly innovative management, let alone strategic development of a speedway product that effectively has no competition! It takes some doing to own and run a monopoly to its detriment with such panache.

If there really is a need or demand for BSI to break new markets as well as spread the gospel of the SGP message and entertainment, then surely the management should looks to places run by despotic, repressive or highly controlling regimes more culturally suited to their regular embrace of jingoism (at Cardiff, for example) as well as their style of communications and governance. Countries with regimes similar to Burma, North Korea, Iran and China would welcome the exposure and business class managers of BSI, since they’re already familiar with highly controlled media where the messages are often at sharp variance to the reality of the lived experience. Such countries would welcome the international coverage and understand the need for the air brushed, sanitised, ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ reporting that characterises representations of the SGP product. Some additional fawning sycophancy wouldn’t stand out locally but the overall SGP ‘entertainment’ package would delight large blue collar audiences with a comparatively poor standard of living already well used to rudimentary incomes and entertainment levels from their ‘despotic’ regimes. Sure, religion and politics might be issues (along with the start girls) but travel to such locations would (for once) really be thinking out of the box and, hopefully, might break the unfortunate run of ‘Kleenex’ venues that have previously plagued the SGP series expansion efforts.

*In American Football, a Kleenex Play – like the tissue it takes its name from – is useless after one use (appearance)
** In Quantum of Shale, Glyn Taylor comments on some deal breaking management costs behind the recent abortive attempt to rekindle SGP interest in Australia

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