Speedway Grand Prix series Wild card – refusal on financial grounds becomes a real option for Darcy Ward in 2012
The Polish Ekstraliga in 2012 will operate a rule to limit each team to only one Speedway Grand Prix rider per team. Therefore, any rider offered a wild card for the 2012 Speedway Grand Prix should – for financial reasons – turn down the opportunity to ride in the SGP series. If, indeed, career earnings rather than the notional chance to seek SGP ‘glory’ is the key factor, then riders like Fredrik Lindgren, Nicki Pedersen, Darcy Ward and Chris Harris should urgently consult their financial advisors and seriously consider refusing any wild card blandishments from SGP organisers BSI.
Moving forward, in future other young ambitious riders – of all nationalities – might decide to eschew the glory of the chance to hold the elegantly designed World Championship silverware in favour of additional financial reward, career longevity and an improved, more relaxed lifestyle. With its ageing almost self-selecting talent pool, the SGP series would soon have to recalibrate its hyperbolic claim to showcase the ‘best’ speedway riders in the world. Plus, if the next generation of gifted speedway riders start to stay away from the circus in any serious numbers, SGP television rights sales revenues as well as their meagre pool of (often also ran) sponsors would soon decline.
Possibly more significantly, if Darcy Ward chooses to decide with his head and wallet rather than his heart, then he’d be sensible to refuse the widely anticipated offer of a wild card slot in the BSI run 2012 Speedway Grand Prix series. The Robert Maxwell Theory of Banking dictates that the SGP requires the magic dust, freshness, devil may care elan, brio and excitement that (Nigel Pearson so often – in a speedway world apparently rich with opinions – reminds us) Darcy provides. Clearly BSI need Darcy in the SGP 2012 to help revive their increasingly stale format as well as disguise their mounting problems much more than he needs them! That said, Darcy’s youthful enthusiasm, love of competition and racing will probably dictate he accepts.
If we briefly review the decision making landscape Darcy enjoys, his acceptance is by no means the sure fire certainty it would have been only a few years ago. Darcy is a 19 year-old frequent flier supremely gifted in his chosen career (riding a speedway bike) who’s already well remunerated for his skills. What he doesn’t have much of during any speedway season is time. Nor does he suffer from a lack of travel. Given from 2012 competing in the Polish Ekstraliga – the most important league in the speedway world if judged by quality of field, crowd size, rider payments, frequency of event, popularity and volume of print/broadcast media coverage – will definitely always trump most Speedway Grand Prix obligations, any rider would be well advised to exit the SGP series to ensure they gain net income growth as well as the additional competitive advantage of guaranteed ‘freshness’ each and every post-SGP Sunday.
If we accept, for a moment, the oft cited canard that “only the best” and cream of the cream actually participate in the SGP, this (notionally) cost saving one SGP rider rule change in Poland presages problems. It either means (as some self-interestedly claim) that the quality levels of the Ekstraliga immediately dilute or – much more likely – that there will be a premium paid in signing on fees, guaranteed payments and additional benefits to any top notch star rider who’s likely to excel, entertain and win regularly (but isn’t part of the SGP circus).
The bargaining power of certain individual riders – such as Nicki, Freddie, Darcy & even Bomber – are suddenly – overnight – massively increased in a speedway mad country where already it’s not unheard of for riders to command seven figure payments for a single season. Sadly for BSI, the SGP series they’ve touted as supreme (in the face of ongoing sustained indifference from the proper print and broadcast media) and for so long milked as a cash cow without long term strategic planning or substantial real investment, instantly looks less attractive. Indeed, this rule change reveals the actual contemporary balance of financial and speedway power.
Let’s have a quick look at nine key ‘benefits’ Darcy – or any other rider – gains if he decides to commit and compete in the 2012 Speedway Grand Prix series:
1. Additional travel (22 extra days added into any schedule)
2. Further logistical stress getting to often obscure locations – making travel to Poland afterwards for Ekstraliga meetings unnecessarily complex and/or inconveniently tiring
3. Pitiful prize money – total SGP prize money over six Top 8 finish seasons (2005-2010) for Greg Hancock is $351,500 and for Tomasz Gollob $386,950. One 2012 signing on fee in the Ekstraliga for any non-SGP top performing rider will instantly dwarf both these sums!
4. Massively increased staff, travel, tuning & equipment costs
5. The chance to ride on temporary tracks or specially prepared regular tracks with their zest completely removed
6. Falling UK television audiences
7. Plateaued audiences for live, nearly live & packaged formats in markets with few speedway sponsors to monetise or, at best if the organisers publicity is granted credibility, exponential growth in audiences far flung countries with no record of speedway rider sponsorship and low average incomes
8. Stale format (upside: reduced chance of elimination from series even if injury, desire or skill dramatically declines) that’s guaranteed to maximise rides and travel
9. Almost complete lack of global sponsors – new or otherwise (best option remains to get a contract with Red Bull incentivised by his position in the averages in the Swedish, Polish & British speedway leagues rather than SGP participation)
Fifth in the current Polish Ekstraliga averages, Ryan Sullivan already illustrates the rejuvenating results and career longevity that can flow from operating outside the SGP charmed circle. Greg Hancock, Tomasz Gollob & Jason Crump also already restrict the volume of meetings they ride (by sitting out the British Elite League) to reduce their travel, chance of injury while increasing their career longevity.
With the increased bargaining power non-SGP riders command in Poland during 2012, non-SGP riders need to listen to their investment advisors or bodies. If they factor in the lifestyle and performance benefits that flow from the reduced weekly schedules – already successfully operated by Hancock/Crump/Gollob – strategically Nicki Pedersen (7th in 2011 Polish Ekstraliga averages), Fredrik Lindgren (15th) and Darcy Ward should all opt to refuse the wild cards they’re likely to be offered this weekend by SGP organisers. But, when push comes to shove – and remember how BSI punished Hans Andersen for having the temerity to express an honest sceptical opinion – will they dare?
Interviewed by enthusiastic in the know journalist Paul Burbidge (SGP website reporter and blogger) in the Speedway Star published after this post (issue dated 8th October) – Darcy Ward says, “To be honest if you’re not in the (SGP) top four, you lose money. You get more money racing at Eastbourne on a Monday than you do in the Grand Prix. It’s so overrated in terms of prizes, unless you’re winning of course. Poland is where you earn your money to pay your mechanics and have all your gear. Maybe a couple of the older guys will drop out and concentrate on Poland. I really don’t know.” While Chris Holder notes, “I think with his riding ability – no problem. (Darcy) could be in the GP easily. It’s not his riding that could let him down. It’s all the other stuff. It’s a lot of organisation. You have run a full-blown team with three guys. You need ferries and hotels and then you have Poland the next day. It’s a big thing”