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The North South Divide
By John Fray

Thanks to Richard Tyrrell and Dudley Jones for following up my last thoughts. I agree with them we need regular race nights and local publicity that reaches out to potential long term and good paying customers. How often when mentioning speedway have we had answer the query "is it still going?" Is it the problem that we seem only to be reaching the already loyal supporters via the TV, internet or with the Speedway Star?

Promoters need to promote their tracks for seven days each week. It is a sad fact that with the demise of local newspapers in many towns some promoters can no longer rely on the local press for free publicity. Perhaps there is still no substitute for the good old poster in the shop windows to keep people alive to the fact speedway is still alive and kicking.

League TV has helped show off the sport, but I am not sure how many more it gets through the turnstiles. In any case TV is no substitute for being at the track, the atmosphere and getting involved with the friendly banter between heats with the rival team supporters all helps make for a good night out for all ages. We need to convert from the arm chair to the track and increase the promoter's profits.

The sport needs new paying supporters, since no spectator sport can survive without good turnstile returns unless there are big money backers who can make good any losses. British speedway doesn't have any, but it would be great if we could gain big corporate backers.

A big re-thinks needs to happen, which must include the supporters' views and needs as well as those of every promoter. While the Elite League is, I believe, the problem we must look at British Speedway as a whole for the solutions. Any change to the format will have major implications for the Premier and National Leagues, but we must maintain the interest and support at all levels among our speedway fans who want to watch the best competitive league racing possible.

Speedway in this country is the only team motor sport run nearly every night of the week during spring, summer and autumn. As fans we want to see and enjoy the competition between our team and the opposition. Riders may come and go, but our interest is sustained by supporting our team just like football supporters do.

We need to improve the speedway experience to maintain and exploit all that is best in our sport in order to attract more supporters.

I suggest that a major change to the UK speedway league structure is required?

The Elite and Premier leagues need to merge and be divided equally between North and South. The 30 week season could then be split in two with the Northern teams riding against each other for fifteen weeks and the Southern teams doing the same. At the end of the fifteen weeks the top half of the Northern teams compete against the top half of the Southern teams with the bottom North and South teams doing the same. As a result the strongest teams and weakest teams will be matched together for the second half of the season providing competitive racing in each division.

This may all seem complicated, but no more than what we have with the play offs now and the double points tactical ride. Travel costs would be reduced and the competition would cover the country from Scotland to the South coast. Two league champions from the top teams and the bottom teams. Most importantly for the supporters there would again be a different teams competing against each other each week and more matches will take place than now giving each rider more rides making it good for their skills development and pockets.

Each new season would start with all the teams split north and south again.

Such a league structure may even help to maintain Sky's interest and achieve even more viewers watching the speedway and their adverts. Sponsorship could improve as well, since sponsors could expect to get much more coverage and as a result be more willing to invest in the British riders and the sport.

That said it still remains the case that the most important part of speedway is its exciting close competitive individual and team racing with riders taking unbelievable risks to beat the rider in front. Once that thrill is experienced, that rush of blood, that scary feeling which makes you pray that the riders stay on their bikes as they dive into the corners will always keep the ardent fans coming through the gate. We just need more to experience it for once they have they will be captured for life just like us.

 

This article was first published on 9th February 2014


 

  • Derek Watson:

    "Unfortunately unless amalgamation is done under PL terms, it isn't going to work. All we'll have is a re-run of 1995-96 with the ex-EL teams keeping the good riders with the ex-PL teams struggling for riders. There also isn't enough riders to go around at the minute anyway!!! Second problem is the mid season split. The PL tried it in 2011 and basically due to weather problems we had A fixtures not run in time and last minute arranging of B fixtures with some teams having to postpone matches as they couldnt get anyone to race!! No one could publicise fixtures in advance as they didnt have enough notice. That was with 14 teams, I dread to think what would happen with 23-24!! If the first problem could be overcome, a conference system like American sports might be easier with say 4-6 divisions. Therefore fixtures could be arranged before the season starts with play-offs to decide the title without relying on mid season splits. "

  • Roger Beaman:

    "Very good points in this article, but its all been said before, do the promoters take any notice, well the answer is No, The reason its costs money, and no tracks is making any real money. But surely it's time the these in power in our started talking up the sport. speedway on TV, is good to a point, but I feel it's as put no extra new comers to any track. Just look at the next meeting you go to, standing room in all parts. Another large crowd they say every week on TV, and the is little or nobody there. Promoters need to stop fighting each other and Promote the sport."

  • Richard Tyrrell:

    "Wow! Another great article from John Fray! This progressive and practicle answer to speedway's challenges is so simple. The system that he advocates has been used over many years in Oxford University's College Leagues for Rugby Union and is definitely a winner. In that system the teams can vary so much from season to season that one team can be at the top one season and near the bottom the next purely because of the varying standards of the students who consistently come to and go from the University. At the half way point the top teams swap with the bottom teams from the next league up which ensures an almost level playing field in the secdond part of the season.

    There is a similiar system in the rowing competitions except that if you bump the crew in front you move up by swapping places. If you are bottom and fail to bump you swap with the top team from the next league down. This provides 'Head of the River' after a few days of racing. To take it another step, players who play rugby for the University team are not allowed to play for their College teams until the 'Cuppers' comes round. This is the local term for an FA Cup style competition when all College sides enter although there is seeding system. Would this work in speedway? The league system definitely would. The Knockout Cup would need some thinking - Grand Prix stars not in the league but in the cup? Surely worth a try?"

  • Mark Wyver:

    "How would you split the teams as they stand now?"

  • John Hyam:

    "I have thought hard about John Fray's 'North-South Divide' article, struggling to find a reason to contradict it somewhere. But the reasoning he puts forward are so well-balanced that there is nothing so far as I can see to be contradicted. One must hope that those who guide speedway at the top take time to reflect on the points put forward. More importantly, I feel that the article should be forwarded to the BSPA for them to read, think about what is suggested, and where it is practical go about putting them into place. A well-wriiten, thoughtful article."

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