Insight Richard Craill August 2, 2022 (Comments off) (83)

What’s old is new in resurrecting the ‘500

IT speaks volumes to how badly the former South Australian Government and event promoters treated the Adelaide 500 – before they knifed it – that the biggest cheer at today’s launch of the 2022 event wasn’t for a driver, a support race act or even the impressive concert line-up.

Sure, they were all warmly embraced, almost as much as the Premier himself who has become something of a rockstar among motorsport fans in South Australia.

Rather, the biggest round of applause came from old-time Adelaide 500 ticketholders celebrating the return of ‘Gold Zones’, dedicated areas for Grandstand ticketholders who over the final few years only saw their ticket prices going up and their value for money going down.

That announcement, among many at today’s impressive Valo Adelaide 500 Launch, was proof that what is old is new again when it comes to Australia’s largest domestic motorsport event.

Almost every element of the launch today has roots in how the event was rather than what it became before it was killed off by the Marshall Liberal Government in late 2020.

It’s a remarkably common-sense approach and while there are no guarantees that the crowd will be enormous this December, they’ve certainly made it much easier to sell.

Sometimes events need rebooting from scratch to regenerate interest, but when the previous Government killed off the former Motorsport board and shifted the management of the event to the Tourism department they were trying to fix something that wasn’t particularly broken.

Nearly everything announced at today’s launch followed the theme of going back to the roots of the event and ensuring it can be sold and accepted as a bang-for-buck proposition by those paying to go.

The devil in all of this is reading into the details rather than taking in only the big headlines.

While the concert line-up is hugely impressive and smartly caters for the youth (Friday night), the oldies (Saturday) and those want to see the big global acts (Sunday), the fact that the organisers are moving the main stage back to the CBC Oval – where it was from the first Grand Prix in 1985 – was almost just as important amidst the hype of The Killers coming to Adelaide.

The change to put the stage into the area behind the pits in Victoria Park a few years back was deeply unpopular with fans, compressing 40,000 concert goers into an area a third of the size it was before.

It was done to save money but pissed people off and as a result it was one of several reasons cited when asked why they stayed away.

Much like in the sport itself, the one-percenters like that make all the difference when you’re forking out several hundred of your hard-earned to go to a car race.

The move to return value to Grandstand ticketholders was sensible and even then, the price they are paying to get in this year is much less than it was – the Government making a point to trumpet ‘2012’ pricing in the media this morning, prior to the launch itself.

Premier Peter Malinauskas, who has been remarkably hands-on throughout the entire process of resurrecting the event, confirmed that the strategy was ‘lower prices = more people’, rather than the other way around.

We can only wish this level of common sense decision making applied to the remainder of government.

Even the announcement of the major sponsor is a case of history repeating.

Valo, an Adelaide-based technology firm, will back the event in what is reportedly a seven-figure deal.

While the support of brands like Repco, Castrol, NTI and others is hugely important and appreciated by the sport, attracting firms from outside of the motoring and automotive sphere remains a challenge, so this deal (which ties nicely with their new relationship with Walkinshaw Andretti United) is a winner.

And if it sounds familiar, that’s because it is: An Adelaide-based technology firm with no real links to the industry sponsored the event for the better part of two decades, to the point where most people still refer to the race as ‘The Clipsal’.

If Valo get half the brand recognition during their stint it will be an enormous win for them.

Of course, this is not to say that there’s nothing new: It’s not like they’ve gone full retro here because as it did during its peak, its likely the event will continue to innovate too.

The investment to resurface what amounts to more than two-thirds of the circuit is important, but just as smart are the peripheral works around it like new paving for the Supercars pits and many of the walkways and pedestrian paths in and around Victoria Park getting a new surface, too.

There’s likely more new stuff coming so it’s not like they’re just rolling their arm over like it’s 2012, even if the ticket prices are.

I don’t think the problem with the Adelaide 500 under the old government was attracting the casual ‘event’ fans, moreso it was the fact that many of the diehards who had gone year after year had given up.

There had been too much change and too much value removed for it to remain an annual proposition for them. The empty grandstand seats in 2020 were proof – they’re the spots claimed year in, year out by the regulars and the fact is, they stopped coming.

It was them rather than the the casual ‘event’ goers – those who would attend a race between a sloth and a turtle if there was a band playing later that evening – who needed enticing to come back.

It was notable in today’s launch that the ticket prices, grandstand access changes, concert venue and facility improvements were all trumpeted to the public – more than half of whom who turned up clearly very old-school Adelaide 500 attendees – before The Killers were announced.

Bringing back the Adelaide 500 wasn’t about reinventing the wheel.

It was about attracting back the fans who were fed up or tired with what said wheel has become.

Today was a good step forward to doing just that.

PREMIER ‘MALLY’ LEADING FROM THE FRONT

IT’S worth touching on the involvement of South Australia’s Premier, who has made the return of the Adelaide 500 a key tenet of not just his election but his first year in power in South Australia.

There’s no doubt that Peter Malinauskas is a very good politician. He asked people’s names. He shook hands. He posed for photos and did everything short of kissing babies which, in these Covid times, we assume remains frowned upon.

And there’s no doubt that everything he’s done around the Adelaide 500 is playing to the Labor base that got him into power in the first place.

But he has cut a deeply impressive figure when it comes to his Motorsport dealings.

While the Supercars drivers’ were popular targets among fans at the ‘500 launch today, it was the Premier who took more selfies and signed more autographs.

He’s taken a personal investment in the race, to the point of using the term ‘Tyre Degradation’ in his launch speech, which has to be a first for a politician, anywhere.

He’s forged personal relationships with people in the sport, especially the cadre’ of South Australian drivers led by Nick Percat. But he also turned out at The Bend on Sunday to (literally) fly the flag which arguably he probably didn’t need to do.

He said today that he attended the Grand Prix and the early years of the ‘500 as a kid and it’s pretty clear that beyond being good at politics, his investment in the race goes a little bit beyond it winning some votes or government kudos.

While he did take a swipe at the defeated Liberals in the all-in press conference following the official launch, his public speech – where he could have nailed the former government – was all about delivering the event and making it as great as it could be.

There were also nice touches where he acknowledged the support of the ‘Bring back the Adelaide 500’ campaign. He also made a young fan, who had told the Premier earlier this year that bringing back the race was ‘The best birthday present possible’ the Number One ticketholder.

These are all acts of a smart politician and one who knows his audience, sure.

It may all be political, but you get the very real sense from Peter Malinauskas that, for all the fans and all the drivers who will be on the grid come Sunday, December 4, it will be he who is probably the happiest of them all.

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