Revisiting the South
The last time the biggest speedway event was held in the southern hemisphere, it was a massive disaster. The promoters lost £100,000 for hosting the event at Australia’s Sydney Olympic Stadium, and although the event went well, being won by Greg Hancock, it was the one and only time the Grand Prix would head to Australia.
With the release of the 2012 Speedway Grand Prix calendar however, the riders and their teams would once again be going to the southern hemisphere, this time to Auckland in New Zealand, a less well renowned location for speedway.
But it isn’t to say that is a bad thing. And in a year when speedway has seen more bad headlines than it needs, this is the one bit of news which has got me excited about the potential prospects of not only the Speedway Grand Prix, but the sport itself.
Reaching out to the masses is a must for the sport. The Grand Prix is only held within six countries in Europe, with three events in Poland, and two in Denmark and Sweden. It’s hardly a productive set up, and shows a stay-safe standard by the FIM. Let’s stay where we know its going to work, the fans will pack the stadiums, especially in Poland. But at least, going out to places like New Zealand, where there is some support, albeit (very) limited. But get the promotion right, there’s no doubt that there will be some interest from new supporters.
And New Zealand is a new venue, there is the chance to give the sport a massive boost in the area. It is of course a massive rugby country, but the popularity of speedway in the nearby Australia could help. In 2012 there will be three Australians on the track, three time world champion Jason Crump, as well as race winner Chris Holder and one of the hottest prospects for the future, Darcy Ward. More fans from Australia, where there is a reasonable following, can make for a packed Western Springs, for the first time since 2002 they can get to a Grand Prix without a ridiculous cross-planet flight to the other side of the world. More fans there will get more New Zealanders interested, it’s a promising prospect.
But most importantly it allows for the chance to gain a foothold into New Zealand and push the good word of speedway to new locations around the world. While Formula 1 is going to Korea, India and the UAE, whilst every year reportedly losing the Australian Grand Prix, speedway is going for the grounds that Bernie doesn’t want or feel necessary. And with a good TV contract, there’s a small chance speedway can become a competitor to the biggest motorsport event in the world.
Obviously going all the way down to New Zealand isn’t perfect right now. The March 31st date coincided with the start of the main speedway seasons in Europe. Many of these seasons have now been delayed to accommodate the new race, and with the Easter weekend now being missed, many of the top teams will miss out on revenue. The long haul will take its toll out on the riders, and with a tight turnaround, it may have a long term effect.
But that shouldn’t stop the race, I love the prospect of the Speedway Grand Prix going to new venues, especially that on the other side of the world. The sport shouldn’t just be limited to the small cluster of countries that give a damn about the sport and are in a nice transportation link between them. Be brave, it’s how the sport gets to grow.