Promotion/Relegation Meetings 2009

Congratulations to the Edinburgh Monarchs for triumphing through the Premier League Play Offs for the second successive season to again take part in the promotion/relegation meetings that could potentially see them join the upper tier of British Speedway. They certainly look to have put together at team that, on its present top-notch form, could stand a chance of doing so. Obviously, on their day they all go well at the Scotwaste Arena and a trip to Kirkmanshulme Lane will hold no fears for the majority of the team. Clearly, on a regular day-to-day basis, there is still a difference (in equipment investment and to the first corner?) between the perceived standards of Elite League and the Premier League. This was evidenced by the comprehensive drubbing the Monarchs received from Wolverhampton who, last season, were apparently completely demoralised and but a pale shadow of the team that’s subsequently torn up trees this season. Nonetheless, they still swept their erstwhile challengers aside and only an optimist person would bet otherwise for the forthcoming Monarchs versus Aces meeting.

No one can deny that the visit of an Elite League team to any Premier League will, weather permitting, draw a big crowd especially if there is something more than pride to (notionally) race for! With a couple of in form riders – people like Kevin Wolbert (who through accident or foresight will start the 2010 on an assessed average of 7.00 rather his higher ‘real’ average) and Ryan Fisher – plus a roster of talent that includes Andrew Tully, Matty Wethers and their latest secret weapon of the rider who sounds like a new but obscure martial art, Kalle Katajisto, Belle Vue will face more of a battle than Wolves did last season.

Even if we ignore on the ongoing encroachment of residential properties moving inexorably towards the Scotswaste Arena or rumours of site visits from supermarket surveyors keen to plan a possible future for this land, there are number of significant factors that indicate the promotion/relegation opportunity is much more a theoretical than a practical possibility. Though there’s the incentive of the nowadays increased Sky payments due to each Elite League team, all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold never mind that it’s widely accepted that increased rider costs will automatically swallow a big proportion if not all of this apparent satellite television bounty. Should the unthinkable happen, there would then be the complication of the Monarchs regular race night. This is currently a Friday and they’d quickly find themselves in the same boat as other Elite League clubs like Lakeside and Eastbourne. Whose fixture lists and gate receipts allegedly suffer from the ongoing deleterious impact of the increasingly boring but unreasonably demanding Speedway Grand Prix series events and its mandatory pre-meeting practices. Should any Friday night EL club stubbornly continue to run their League meetings on SGP weekends then the ‘stars’ of said same series would, most likely, not ride so fans would understandably think twice about the increased admission costs just to see something equivalent to what they have now (and nothing like what it says on the tin).

All these issues exist even before we take a brief look at the present geographical distribution of the Elite and Premier Leagues. Belle Vue are the most northerly of the Elite clubs and effectively have no local derbies while, if the Premier League split into regional North & South groups, the preponderance of ‘northern’ based clubs would probably find Stoke (38 miles from Belle Vue’s track) in the Southern group! In Quantum of Shale (a lovely present for the speedway fan in your life) as long ago as June 2008, Monarchs fan Ronnie Trotter expressed concern during a visit to Smallmead about the likely financial impact of lost revenues. “So, even though this year is a good year to go up for the big payment, our nearest club would then be Belle Vue and we’d lose the derbies against Glasgow plus the meetings against Workington, Newcastle and Berwick! So it wouldn’t be economically viable to even think about.” Even if you don’t include Redcar speedway in this list (which, given their location and support you should), based on their 2009 fixtures the Monarchs would lose the finances generated from four home meetings against Glasgow, three home meetings against Newcastle plus two home meetings against both Berwick and Workington. Who knows what the realities are of the actual income these local/regional meetings generate for the promotion? They’d certainly be missed! One thing is for sure: a couple of visits from, say, Lakeside, Eastbourne and Ipswich that the current Elite League structure (assuming no revamp over the winter months) dictates definitely isn’t going to produce such robust crowds for the Monarchs promotion at the Scotswaste Arena. Especially once the initial enthusiasm for visits from such top tier rival clubs fades.

For Belle Vue, the situation might possibly be the reverse of that faced by the Monarchs since ‘demotion’ to the Premier League would immediately eliminate the Sky payment but also significantly reduce their rider costs, provide much greater variety of visiting teams and many more regionally relevant meetings. Recently Belle Vue suddenly showed shockingly awful form over the first three heats against Ipswich in their last vital Elite League meeting on September 28th to, thereby, effectively guarantee their participation in the lucrative promotion/relegation meetings. If history suddenly repeats itself, Edinburgh riders could find themselves needing to lose races rather than win them in order to ensure that a possibly fatal financial ill wind doesn’t wreck their club.

All things considered, the smart money (if there is such a thing in speedway outside the SGP) remains on the Aces. While the concept of promotion/relegation meetings just about remains plausible, beyond its revenue raising and entertainment potential, at best the reality of its practice and execution looks ill conceived. For many speedway fans, whether neutral or partisan, the C word (for charade) will remain the abiding description, irrespective of any enjoyment derived from the clash of these two speedway clubs.

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