Speedway Grand Prix Attendances 2014
Fans who wish to savour the statistics of the Speedway World Championship continue to be very badly served by both the F.I.M and the Speedway Grand Prix series current commercial rights holders and organisers BSI Speedway (an IMG company). Both continue to choose not to publish official attendance figures for SGP series events. The F.I.M. did publish ‘official’ attendance figures for each event from 1995-2010 so we can only speculate if this decision is in any way connected to the ongoing severe decline in attendances. Until recently, speedway historians continued to compile the time series of these attendance figures using information from other sources, namely Tygodnik Zuzlowy.
BSI Speedway (an IMG company) hold the history of the sport and speedway fans in such clear contempt that they don’t even seek to justify their ‘not in front of the children’ approach to their ongoing lack of transparency with any spurious talk of commercial confidentiality. Rather confusingly (but most helpfully), some attendance figures (and comment) selectively leaks out via the Speedway Grand Prix Press Officer Phillip Rising, albeit in an unofficial capacity online. It is safe to say that if attendances were growing or anything to boast about we’d frequently be able to see this trumpeted forth on the gloriously anodyne pages Speedway GP website by its webmaster or, for that matter (and ignoring a conflict of interest that badly compromises anyone with pretension to be serious journalist), in the tired, simplistic but invariably prolix SGP reports he produces for the Speedway Star. Even when fans are allowed to glance behind the privileged curtain, it remains sensible to continue to maintain a healthy degree of scepticism about announcements of so-called ‘official’ attendance numbers in the light of previous methodological and probabilistic concerns. Past wrinkles include ‘official’ attendances exceeding published stadium capacity and, of course, the ongoing joy of spookily rounded attendance numbers (frequently ending 0/00/000). There is also, of course, an ongoing lack of clarity as to whether so-called ‘official’ attendance figures released conflate gratis attendees with those that actually paid for a ticket and/or those that actually bought a ticket and also actually went to the event.
Setting aside any speedway fan interest in accurate SGP attendance figures, it would be useful for potential advertisers, local/governmental event sponsors and promoters alike to have some factual comparative figure based inkling about the current popularity and success of the SGP series. Using many different sources, the figures below provide the best currently available snapshot of attendances for the 2014 Speedway Grand Prix series.
Sadly, for speedway fans who love and enjoy their speedway World Championships, if things looked bad in 2012 & 2013 then 2014 was yet another catastrophic year. Analysis indicates that SGP attendances appear to have slipped to their lowest average levels yet under the self-proclaimed visionary management of current commercial rights holders BSI Speedway/IMG. Worse still, the excuses-cum-justifications given for the fiasco in Riga, the unsuccessful experiment in New Zealand (repeated shortly in Aussie) or reduced attendances in Scandinavia, reveals that it is the fundamental tenets of the BSI Speedway business strategy (developed and implemented by past and present head honchos John Postlethwaite and Paul Bellamy) to revolutionise the status and popularity of the World Championships through their Speedway Grand Prix series format – via swish big city stadia stagings, sub-contracting events and/or use of temporary tracks – that drives the current decline in paying attendees as well as the amateurish almost never ending series of snafus, debacles and missteps that regularly beset the SGP.
Let’s briefly rehearse just some of the 2014 Speedway Grand Prix series lowlights and ponder the implications. When researching the locations and series calendar, any half competent professional organisation should assess a variety of factors including local holidays and customs, sub-contractor competence, stadia infrastructure and, of course, competing sports or cultural events. Thankfully BSI Speedway (an IMG company) did manage to notice the Football World Cup was on during 2014 but then, apparently, managed to fail to be able to effectively compete with a women’s basketball match played in Bydgoszcz! It goes without saying that it takes considerable talent to actually manage to stage such an unpopular (allegedly) premium speedway event in Poland.
Strangely, when things do go wrong, it is invariably everyone else’s fault but that of commercial rights holders BSI Speedway. Though it is rumoured (without audit or verification) that the New Zealand SGP staging promoter lost c.NZ $2 million on the Auckland GPs over three years from 2012-2014. All we learn in trademark Teflon 100% hindsight is Bill Buckley entered into a three year deal with his eyes open and might have balanced the books had he listened to BSI Speedway advice and done a few things differently. What these things are, sadly isn’t revealed to the fans (or Bill Buckley, it appears).
Various problems with the “barely fit for purpose” but refreshingly squarish track in Tampere got quickly brushed aside in the carefully controlled almost childlike in-depth press reports SGP staff prefer serve up about the SGP. The closest they got to reflection was some airy-fairy chatter-cum-news about the local promoters learning lessons for the future. Online boosters treated us to dark mutterings about the 4000 fans allegedly lost from the event due to a clash with – in this instance – a men’s basketball match! What is it about basketball and inexorably declining Speedway Grand Prix attendances? If nothing else, the Tampere experience along with the below expectations attendance figure raises more general questions about how exactly BSI Speedway (&, of course, their commercial partner the F.I.M. – not an IMG company) conduct their due diligence prior to decisions about their choice/selection of sub-contractor(s) and identification of staging location(s)?
Around the time of the debacle in Riga, Mr Rising tries loyally and valiantly to abrogate BSI’s connection with and responsibilities for selecting this particular staging venue (in a country where there is only one speedway track – in Daugavpils). He claimed, “Riga promoters [are] responsible for the installation of the track and moving the Latvian GP to Riga in the first place and refused assistance from Ole Olsen.” Their sheer stupidity and temerity, eh? Who on earth was supervising these people? Though Mr Rising is grudgingly prepared to admit BSI are the “commercial rights holders”, he follows up with some faux lawyerly technical blather about the F.I.M. appointing officials (who, subsequently, we’re informed actually assess the track quality or otherwise), licencing the track, issuing safety certificates and deciding the rules of the event.
Sadly, such chatter can’t evade or overcome the fundamental fact that the ultimate event organisers BSI Speedway bravely chose to hold the Latvian GP in – departing from their big city centre stadia strategy for reasons unknown (rumoured to be money – sorry, I mean, expanding the global [Latvian] speedway market) – an untried, untested and dilapidated stadium not known for staging speedway meetings. Who at IMG or BSI Speedway could have foreseen or predicted such an outcome? Unfortunately, as usual with BSI Speedway bungling, it’s primarily the passionately loyal fans that suffer the consequences of their ineptitude without meaningful apology or adequate recompense. Though, on the bright side for the hundreds of fans with an extra night to kill and/or unable to manage to travel at short notice the 230 kilometres or so required to get to see the surprize Daugavpils staging, there was the consolation of having the time test Paul Burbidge’s tweeted advice that he “couldn’t recommend Riga more highly as a city break destination”.
This speedway summer it was also a joy to see revisit that hoary old BSI Speedway favourite cliché excuse – namely the expensive city centre hotels (‘open wallet surgery’) meme – trotted out yet again as a deliciously spurious but hypocritical justification for (yet more) poor attendances – this time in Copenhagen. By the way, who can forget the way BSI Speedway officially railed against the ‘shock’ ‘surprize’ expense of hotel accommodation in Cardiff? With attendance at the Copenhagen GP at a record breaking all time low (“the novelty of Parken wore off” writes Mr Rising taking an onion from his pocket) and with no basketball – of either gender – to blame, hotel prices are always a handy stand by excuse. Though, strangely, arguably more expensive hotels in Stockholm garnered no such agonised comments a mere three months later. However, let’s for a moment consider the genius fatuity of this concern. The BSI Speedway business strategy deliberately selects modern stadia in (often capital) cities to stage SGP series events – upscale expensive locations like Cardiff, Melbourne, Auckland, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Warsaw – yet then, weirdly, choose to complain about high hotel prices! Who’d have guessed Sherlock? More credibly (but still clutching at straws), toll bridge costs (€53 per day) were cited online as a reason why Jutland based speedway fans may have chosen not to go to Copenhagen this year. Though, again, even if all 1556 fans – average 2014 Danish speedway meeting attendance – had gone attendance would still be nearly 1000 fans down.
Finally let’s consider and extrapolate overall SGP paying customers from the implications of the Stockholm attendance figure. Indeed, let us grant this number significant analytic importance since, arguably, it’s the only really truly independent figure we have available and, thereby, the most bona fide* for any consideration of attendances at the 2014 Speedway Grand Prix series. We should, however, note that advocates of modern stadia highlight their various facilities as key reason for their use. Interestingly, such modern stadia also must have – for legal, safety & tax purposes – EXACT records of the number of fans who enter through the turnstiles (whether manual or electronic equivalent). Stockholm attendance (2014) was down by rough one third or a huge 8,166 fans. SGP boosters and official sources offered no extenuating or risible blather about this particular grand prix so, I think, we can more safely accept both its representativeness and veracity.
In the absence of official information (from BSI, F.I.M & the stadia) about verified attendance figures and in light of the steep Stockholm decline (plus the context of the revision of the Auckland 2013 figures [down 38%] or previous SGP attendance figures that exceed official stadium capacities), let’s spitball and in fill the missing data to create best and likely case scenarios to get a better idea of the likely overall SGP attendance picture for 2014:
Whatever version of the available, ‘official’ and in filled data you choose to accept/ignore is up to you. What is clear is that average Speedway Grand prix attendances continue to struggle and that the popularity of the series in the real world remains in serious trouble with the business credibility of the commercial rights holder BSI Speedway – even harder to believe given past performance – at an all time low.
Footnote: For 2013, 2014 and/or moving forwards I’d welcome BSI Speedway or the F.I.M. providing official figures (or, for that matter, help from any Polish speedway fans online or at Tygodnik Zuzlowy continuing to try to compile this data from available/’official’/friendly sources). As usual, despite the lack of data with integrity from ‘official’ sources, all mistakes remain my own though I am happy to correct any incorrect information immediately. I am grateful for all the help received from Charles McKay (and Brian Collins).