Monday, September 24, 2012

Why F1 cannot afford to lose S'pore

Sep 24, 2012

SO HOW much did Singapore agree to pay Formula One to host its night race for the next five years?

Figures remain strictly hush-hush, but there has been at least some discount on the reported $50 million that was paid to Formula One Administration between 2008 and this year.

The Singapore Grand Prix is, after all, one race F1 does not want to lose.

And it is not just because of the waves of praise that the floodlit spectacle - one that "sends chills down the spine of any Hollywood director" wrote The Times' Kevin Eason last week - attracts from the international press every season.

Singapore remains one of F1's most potent arguments in the battle with other sports such as tennis and European football for Asian dollars.

Elsewhere in the region, apart from Japan where F1 has been almost a regular fixture since 1963, races have been struggling.

China? The Shanghai circuit cost a record US$240 million (S$301 million) to build, but that did not stop serious soul-searching on whether the still loss-making race - so unpopular with locals that spectators had to be bused in to fill up stands - should continue past 2010 before a new deal was signed.

South Korea? After just two years, organisers warned they could not afford to keep on losing money. Only after having thrashed out a lower sanctioning fee with Formula One will the race go on next month, although organisers are still predicting they will be US$26 million out of pocket.

India? The most enduring memories of its inaugural race last season was of the cancellation of the Metallica concert headlining the off-track entertainment due to "technical reasons", and four organisers being arrested for the fiasco.

Even Malaysia is considering whether to continue with its race in Sepang after its contract ends in 2015 because of declining interest despite its low ticket prices.

And then there is Singapore, with a race that has been sold out for all but one season (2009 because of the economic crisis), taking place in the heart of a modern metropolis, producing a heady mix of sporting pleasure and business deals, and primed for the European television market.

The Singapore Grand Prix is more than unique, it is a truly remarkable race.

"Sponsors love it, drivers love it, fans love it, this race has energy, it has a future, unlike some of the duds which have been added to the mix in recent years," wrote The Telegraph's Tom Cary.

Monaco may have the charm of old Europe, but Singapore is Asia's future, now.

To lose the race, in this period of European austerity and when Formula One's majority shareholder CVC Capital Partners is looking to cash in with a US$3 billion IPO in Singapore, will not be a healthy message to send to investors.

Especially when there are already concerns about the lack of a suitable candidate to fill the big shoes of Bernie Ecclestone, the 81-year-old face of the sport who has turned a past-time for the rich into a business worth US$7.6billion.

Singapore has its own reasons for keeping a race that puts it on the world's sporting map, even if the trickle-down effect to the man in the street is harder to quantify.

But for F1, Singapore is proof that a race can be a real success in this part of the world.

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