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Crisis? What Crisis?
By Ken Nicholson

Well we are about to enter a new speedway season and I wonder what 2009 will bring. Certainly, there are plenty of gloomy predictions about the global economy, as well as everything else for that matter. But I wonder how speedway will fare?

Well the statements coming out after the BSPA Conference in November were very upbeat. So upbeat in fact, they put many a governmental spin-doctor to shame. Building on three-year plans, big strides when other sports will struggle, years of hard work paid off, etc. are all the kind of things you might expect in a parliamentary budget speech. One BSPA representative went as far as to say that one of the main concerns was to protect speedway fans from the current economic climate. I wonder how.

Seriously, I fear that the BSPA continually seems to address the trivial things, while conveniently dodging the bigger and more difficult issues. We associate this trait with governmental politicians also. But there is one big difference between a government and the BSPA. That is everybody must live in a country with a government, but nobody must to go to a speedway match. Tinkering with points limits, tactical rules, doubling up etc. are the minutiae and not really going to make any difference in terms of turnstiles clicking. Rather, the constant tinkering with the rules is more likely to drive folk away.

The BSPA does not recognise that admission prices are a main barrier to speedway's popularity. It is evident for all to see that when a special offer is run alongside a televised match, the stadium is full to bursting. Start charging usual prices again and the new supporters evaporate and any televised matches are in front of sadly depleted crowds once more. What could be a more clear demonstration that the entrance costs are too high? Yet the BSPA trots out comments such as 'great value' and 'reasonable price'. More spin I am afraid. Great value and reasonable prices are relevant only if you can afford them. Rolls Royces are probably great value for money and reasonably priced for what they are, but there is another reason why I don't have one.

So what went wrong? Well somewhere along the line speedway entrance costs were inflated at a rate seldom seen outside developing countries. To illustrate the point, I stumbled across an old Canterbury programme from 1976. The programme was 10p and the cost of the Second Division Four Team Tournament (at King's Lynn) was advertised as 50p. Today's comparable prices would be about twenty to thirty times these prices. In comparison, since 1976 a gallon of petrol (I still think in gallons) has gone up about 6 times, the RPI (retail price index) by 5 times, and beer and cigarettes by about 10 times. The average wage has gone up by about 10 times and even house prices have gone up by only about 15 times (although they are coming down again at a seemingly alarming rate). Hardly any wonder then why the terraces are no longer packed.

Speedway is about being affordable entertainment. It is not a sport in the sense that the only thing that matters is the result. If it is not affordable or it is not entertaining, then its days are numbered. 2008 was a year in which the global economy went belly-up. The BSPA needs to look at the business models it used for speedway over the last decade or so and remember they are likely to have been about as good as the ones that were used by the banks. Cut costs, cut admission prices, provide entertainment and the rest will look after itself. But I can't see it happening (and to be fair it is not as easy as I make it sound). Meanwhile we will continue with our 'race day magazines', struggling to Heat 12 to 'get a result', riders jetting around Europe (and beyond) so that points limits are met and of course, the ubiquitous slick tracks.

I think 2009 is the crunch year for speedway because the promotions are going to have to work very hard for their custom. Then again, I always have been a pessimistic old ****!


This article was first published on 31st January 2009


  • Andrew Sutton:

    "I really agree with comments made about the sport in crisis, supporters are picking their matches to go and watch. I follow sheffield and like many others can't go every week due to price increases on the gate! It might be only a couple of quid, but it's still there, clubs will be playing to empty grounds shortly, bring the prices down and more folk will go to watch. Don't let speedway die!"

  • Anonymous:

    "You are so right. At the very least, you know there are at least two members of this particular grumpy old farts club! If speedway isn't careful, it will successfully price itself out of any 'family sport' definition. Whether current day promoters like it or not, it's people of our generation (and their families) who they are trying to attract and quite simply it's not going to happen at current day prices.

    I have two adult kids who together with my wife equate to at least £56 for the new season in basic admission prices, add on 1 programme (between 4) plus at least one round of refreshments and that is at least £60 per week. What family (apart from the Windsors, not noted speedway fans) can afford £240 per month? Break this down, and if your break even figure is 700 spectators per week, this equates to 1400 able to afford going once a fortnight, you're possibly in trouble. Everyone, and I include riders, sponsors, supporters and promoters, needs to get a grip on reality if the sport has any chance of surviving. When you consider how much most incoming revenue (and by that I mean admisson money from spectators) is actually available. "

  • Chris Hall:

    "A good dose of common sense in this article, it's obvious to most people that prices are far too high. 25 years ago I would not think twice about taking myself and my 2 kids to Hyde Road, parked in a side street, programme was free with entry. Now it's £17 plus programme at £2, plus £2 for parking - £21 plus about £3 for petrol - total £24. This makes people pick and choose matches that they go to. We need to get real quick or I fear for the future of the sport."

  • Glen Cable:

    "I fully understand this chaps concern but professional sport is expensive. Football, Cricket, Rugby Motor and racing cost loads - why Speedway should be cheap is beyond me. It's a spectacle which you sometimes don't get at other sports - people risking their skins to entertain - that really has to be put into perspective. The problem with the sport is not the admission charge - it's the fact that so few go now - the lost generation has been won back to Football when it was never considered to be a family sport it appears it has now become in the 21st Century."

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