Today - - SINGAPORE | BUSINESS - Low lin Fhoong linfhoong@me­di­a­corp.com.sg

SIN­GA­PORE — Ques­tions over the fu­ture of the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix have in­ten­si­fied this week as the iconic street race heads into its 10th edi­tion — and the fi­nal year of its con­tract with For­mula One’s own­ers.

But in what will be seen as a boost to Sin­ga­pore’s bid for a re­newal, Chase Carey, For­mula One’s chief ex­ec­u­tive and chair­man, stressed re­peat­edly yes­ter­day that he would like to see the race re­turn to Sin­ga­pore for the long term, be­yond 2017.

Talks to ex­tend the night race have been go­ing on since last year, and Carey said on the side­lines of the All That Mat­ters (Sports Mat­ters) con­fer­ence at the Ritz Carl­ton Ho­tel: “It’s our goal to try and reach a new deal that en­ables us to con­tinue the part­ner­ship we’ve had in Sin­ga­pore.

“We’re proud of the re­la­tion­ship we’ve had in Sin­ga­pore, we’re proud of the race, we have a good re­la­tion­ship with our part­ners and we’re ac­tively en­gaged in try­ing to reach an agree­ment that works for the both of us.

“This is the mar­quee race and our goal is to re­new the con­tract.”

The Amer­i­can, who suc­ceeded for­mer F1 supremo Bernie Ec­cle­stone last year af­ter Lib­erty Me­dia’s US$8 bil­lion (S$10.8 bil­lion) takeover of the sport, would not be drawn into de­tails on the con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, or a time­line for talks to con­clude.

He added: “Given this is the last race un­der our cur­rent deal, we recog­nise it’s im­por­tant for us to reach an agree­ment on what’s the fu­ture. I’m not go­ing to put that line to it (on whether talks will con­clude by Sun­day).”

Pre­vi­ously de­scribed by Ec­cle­stone as “F1’s crown jewel”, the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix also has a huge fan in Carey. Re­call­ing his first ex­pe­ri­ence of the night race last year, the 63-year-old said: “What re­ally struck me as I ar­rived at night … that first im­pact of the city lit up, cars racing around the track with the city in the back­ground was just awe in­spir­ing. It was unique, it is some­thing that dis­tin­guishes the race here in Sin­ga­pore.

“Sin­ga­pore is a very im­por­tant race for us, it’s a sig­na­ture race for us … Sin­ga­pore in many ways is a gate­way to Asia, a city fa­mous around the world and the race here is spec­tac­u­lar when it’s lit up at night. It is a very dis­tinc­tive race and we want each race to have its own iden­tity and this race re­ally has an iden­tity that’s recog­nised around the world.”

While there is keen in­ter­est from the re­gion and world­wide to be a part of the F1 cal­en­dar, An­thony Indaimo, le­gal sports ad­vi­sor and part­ner at Withers Khat­tarWong, be­lieves that the big­gest fac­tor for ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween both par­ties is the host­ing fee for the race. Each edi­tion of the Sin­ga­pore race costs about S$150 mil­lion to or­gan­ise, with the Govern­ment co­fund­ing 60 per cent of ap­proved costs.

Indaimo said: “I don’t think it’s com­pet­ing cities (that’s the main fac­tor), I think it’s purely the fi­nances, but I think the fi­nances are purely a func­tion of what Chase Carey was say­ing.”

Tick­ets sales at the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix took a hit last year with its worst-ever spec­ta­tor turnout — over­all ticket take-up was 15 per cent lower than the av­er­age at­ten­dance in its in­au­gu­ral sea­son in 2008. Ac­cord­ing to a Sin­ga­pore GP spokesper­son, 10 ticket cat­e­gories are now sold out, with 15 ticket cat­e­gories “sell­ing fast”.

“Out of the seven cor­po­rate hos­pi­tal­ity and ex­ec­u­tive pack­ages, five are sold out with very few seats left for the two re­main­ing cat­e­gories and we are ex­pect­ing to sell out by to­mor­row close of busi­ness.”

How­ever, Carey is not too wor­ried about the fig­ures. Since tak­ing over the sport, Lib­erty Me­dia is look­ing into ways to en­gage with ex­ist­ing and new fans via dig­i­tal plat­forms and other en­gage­ments.

“In re­cent years we do not feel the sport was do­ing some of the things it needs to do to make sure it is cre­at­ing the ex­cite­ment and en­gage­ment with fans,” he said. “We’ve launched a num­ber of new ini­tia­tives at our events — we’re at the early stage, the tran­si­tion and own­er­ship of man­age­ment oc­curred only about six months ago — but I do think we have a fresh en­ergy and mo­men­tum to the sport.

“This year, our at­ten­dance has

Sin­ga­pore is a very im­por­tant race for us, it’s a sig­na­ture race for us ... It is a very dis­tinc­tive race and we want each race to have its own iden­tity and this race re­ally has an iden­tity that’s recog­nised around the world. Chase Carey (pic­ture) For­mula one ceo and chair­man

been up in al­most ev­ery race, so we got things go­ing in the right di­rec­tion and have a fresh en­ergy to it … we can do things to im­prove the sport on the track and im­prove ev­ery­thing around it and im­prove the abil­ity for fans to en­gage with the sport — for ex­am­ple, in dig­i­tal plat­forms where F1 didn’t de­velop its ca­pa­bil­i­ties in a dig­i­tal world. That’s so im­por­tant to­day for cur­rent fans, new, young, old fans to be able to en­gage, fol­low the sport, fol­low the things that make the sport so spe­cial.”

Indaimo also be­lieves that the own­ers’ ideas for fan and spon­sor en­gage­ment will help in­crease rev­enue for host cities. “It prob­a­bly is a ques­tion of the economics,” he said.

“But I think once they see what the vi­sion is for grow­ing the sport, spon­sor and fan en­gage­ment, for in­creas­ing rev­enue, then I think they should be at least en­cour­aged that they have a part­ner­ship with the new man­agers of F1 whereas it wasn’t re­ally a part­ner­ship be­fore.”

Com­pli­cated rules and multi-mil­lion-dol­lar bud­gets could also be a thing of the past un­der the new lead­er­ship, Carey in­di­cated. “We’ve let the cost of some of the teams get to a place that doesn’t make sense, some of them are spend­ing half-a-bil­lion dol­lars to race for the sea­son,” he said.

“The down­side is it cre­ates a com­pet­i­tive im­bal­ance. We don’t want to dumb the cars down … but make it health­ier for teams and those in­volved. It’s bet­ter to have an en­gine that’s not as com­pli­cated but still is state of the art. Those ini­tia­tives and cost … sim­pler, cheaper, louder, make it a bet­ter busi­ness for ev­ery­one.”

Photo: all that mat­ters

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