The Future of Irish Road Racing is in the Balance

This post is now even more poignant given the postponements and cancellation of many 2020 events due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Please take the time to read and digest…

I am going to ‘Stickie’ this post until around the start of the Season because I think all road racing fans need to read and share it. The future of Irish Road Racing is in the balance and that balance is slowing tipping the wrong way!

It is relatively bleak reading, but it raises some very valid points. In 2020 we have definitely lost the Enniskillen Road Races with that event opting to relocate to a circuit. Also the Ulster Grand Prix looks very like it will not have a 2020 event – its future beyond that looks grim if the rumoured figures of debt are even remotely true and Cookstown have went on record saying that another bad year or two will put their event in real jeopardy.

Does motorcycle road racing on public roads in Ireland have a future?

2019 Ulster Grand Prix
2019 Ulster Grand Prix

My Views:

Action needs to be taken but at this point it can only be taken by the road racing going public to secure the future of Irish Road Racing.

Spectators need to support the sport and buy a program, but more than that needs to happen and that’s where remedies get difficult. The numbers need to increase – and that is going to be a challenge.

Weather plays a huge part in these events, if the forecast is bad that alone will keep spectators at bay. After all can you really expect a family with a couple of young kids to stand in a field in the rain for 6 or 7 hours. Times have changed, society has changed and people’s past times have changed. In years gone by families went racing for the weekend’s entertainment, now in 2020 and beyond the road racing events needs to compete against digital television with hundreds of channels, online gaming, offline gaming and dozens of such activities that will keep people entertained when the weather is poor.

2019 Tandragee 100 has shown that if the weather is positive the numbers will increase.

2019 Tandragee 100
2019 Tandragee 100

The weather, in fact the poor weather, then brings out more negativity. Like every sport Road Racing has a legion of supporters who will follow every event. Regardless of the weather they will be there. Personally I believe there is no such thing as bad weather – only bad gear. However not everyone shares that thought. People will then shout and cry loudly about ‘plastic fans’ and ‘fair weather fans.’

That outlook is toxic and needs to stop. If people that are seen as ‘Plastic’ fans feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at events they just will not come or come back. Everyone who attends a racing event needs to feel welcome, wether it is their first or 500th event – whether they know every rider from Michael Dunlop to the Junior Support or whether they just really like the livery of the Burrows’ bikes.

We then need to realise that there are lots of people who will not attend a racing event if the forecast is poor. That’s just how it is – so that issue needs remedied and that will be difficult. The facilities just aren’t there, and that’s the nature of the sport, it is raw, you get tucked into a hedge to watch motorbikes and that’s part of the beauty and truth behind the sport. But we need to accept that that ‘rawness’ will not appeal to many. More importantly though the ‘diehards’ need to accept the fact the sport now needs the ‘plastics’ as when the weather is with the sport that’s where the numbers are coming from. The ‘die hards’ numbers are dwindling and if the sport relies solely on those who will be there regardless, the sport will fail. The numbers just aren’t there anymore.

So what can the events do? Improve facilities, increase shelters, marquees, screens (but then you need cameras and operators), entertainment, more facilities, toilets, kid friendly activities? But how can you do this, these things are hugely expensive and the events are barely making the money to survive, how can they fork out more money to try and expand? But they need to improve and need to expand – it is the perfect definition of a vicious circle.

Are Programs Really the Answer?

Personally I don’t think so. Maybe if every spectator bought a program the events may make enough to survive but I don’t think the long term survival of the sport can be placed on buying a program.

The next problem you will have is that people now expect the Northern Irish events to be free – except the Ulster Grand Prix – so will they accept now being charged? It is probably a bit of a moot point anyway as the legislation to charge entry does not exist and given the views of the Northern Irish Assembly it is unlikely that the legislation to charge will ever be passed. Without speaking out of turn I imagine that the majority of themuns on the hill wouldn’t loose too much sleep over the loss of the sport.

So what can you do? Maybe improving the facilities will soften the blow to the general public, but then there is the expense to improve the facilities, then there is the weather and if the weather isn’t there we now know the public won’t be either – there is that vicious circle again!

2019 Cookstown 100
2019 Cookstown 100

A recent comment on this blog raises an interesting proposal – would such a scheme work?

Reading about the financial issues impacting on the viability of Irish Road Racing events, one wonders if more efforts could be made to attract non-attending enthusiasts, including those from overseas like myself, into signing up for all or most of the 2020 season’s event programs? What would it cost to have all theses programs sent by post in several batches during the season, after the events have been held? Would us older folk go for it to support something so very special? If it guaranteed event organisers more money in advance could it help defray rising insurance costs etc? A easy to access blog with an area for subscribers & would-be supporters could get things rolling & sustain things, Just a thought. One can’t justify the loss of life & serious injury to some of those who choose to compete, but one has to respect the inspired determination & immense effort of those who do, along with those nearest & dearest who support them,

Morusman : 27/02/2020

Some interesting points are raised – there is probably a couple of hundred pounds in gathering up the year’s programs so if a modest discount was secured from each club could such a program work? Let’s say each club gave 30% off that would mean a £10 program was sold on to a non attending race fan for £7, a £20 program would be £14. The clubs could then get their respective cut from sales – surely that would help?

Of course there is postage to factor in and no doubt which ever company decided to take on the subscriptions would look a cut, and then would each event accept an equal share in relation to their program prices?

There are hurdles there – but a good negotiator and a local company with an interest in racing that could handle the subscriptions and keep their prices low and that must be an option to consider.

Insurance:

This one explains itself – insurance is expensive and road racing is dangerous. Insurance gets more expensive and the clubs simply have to have it. If they can’t afford the insurance then they can not run the event.

The insurance companies are making more demands and safety equipment is expensive. Clubs can share it and do share it, but as outlined in the BBC article there are currently a number of outstanding claims to be paid, as claims are paid insurance prices go up so the insurance companies can get their payouts back – at some point you have to fear that the premiums will just be unaffordable as the insurance companies will feel the risk outweighs the reward. The insurance premiums could well be the ultimate demise in the future of Irish road racing.

One Governing Body to Rule them All?

Another idea that is often suggested is that a governing body that can organise, publicise and oversee the running of the events would be beneficial. I have to agree.

A powerful body with the ear of government that could campaign to secure funds for all events could only be positive.

The NW200 gets great support from its local council although unfortunately that same support is not carried across the board. Local councils should be bouncing at the potential the road racing spectacle has. The purest form of racing will attract visitors, so do the advertising, get the visitors. Ireland is accessible from across Europe – accommodation is affordable and the island is biker friendly. Couple it with the Wild Atlantic Way, and the Northern Irish North Coast and you have a bikers dream. Then don’t forget the Guinness and pubs and you really have to ask ‘why is it not being advertised and utilised?’ The right body in charge of promoting the events and tying them in with everything else that the island has to offer and surely you are on to a winner?

In the Meantime :

Share the BBC article with you friends, even share this article with them – get the bad news out there so people can wake up and get themselves to some racing this year. It doesn’t take much to become hooked and maybe if some of those people who were put off by last year’s weather attend a few events they will make the transition from a ‘fair weather fan’ to a ‘die hard fan.’ Maybe then they might drag their mates or family along and all of a sudden numbers start to rise, if numbers start to rise money starts to rise, facilities can improve and numbers improve a little more bringing a little more money and our vicious circle becomes a virtuous circle. Of course that view is very simplified but the negative attitude will have one outcome for the future of Irish Road Racing – it’s demise.

So here is to a safe, enjoyable and growing 2020 season of road racing! A positive future of Irish Road Racing!

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