The many Melbourne Grand Prix secrets

There are many secrets surrounding the Melbourne Grand Prix.

For instance: why they are the only big event in Victoria which can’t seem to manage to accurately count the number of people who attend and have to estimate attendance? How can they claim, on their estimates, that each year is a new record attendance? What  real economic benefits, if any, accrue to Victoria? How the Kennett Government managed to ‘steal’ the event from Adelaide when in fact it was there for the taking because the SA Government thought it wasn’t worth the trouble and expense?

But the real secret is why Victorian Labor Governments have persevered with the event and have now poured more money into ‘winning’ the right to hold the Grand Prix until 2035.

Many years ago a retired Labor Cabinet Minister, when asked by the blog why governments persisted with it, confessed that it was a means of showing the Government wasn’t focused on inner urban trendies. Petrol heads could know they were really on their side.

Now, many years later, the rationale has probably changed and there is probably an element of not wanting to be seen as ‘losing’ the event to another State. This year the ostensible threat was NSW.

After all it might be as devastating to voter attitudes as losing the Logies to Queensland.

Subjecting the affluent inner suburbs to noise and pollution is a small price to pay for that even though the rise of independents may test that in elections to come.

There’s little price to pay for all this as the media slavishly reports all the false claims the Government and the Grand Prix make about economic benefits, attendance and never disclose that it is a loss-making business which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

And the false claims are many – starting with attendances. For some bizarre reason the Grand Prix claims it can’t electronically count attendance and has to rely on estimates. These estimates usually result in attendance figures being inflated by about 100,000 as demonstrated by the local Save Albert Park group with the help of the Victorian Information Commissioner.

It took a decade for the Grand Prix to actually confess its attendance figures were only estimates and then only after a 2006 investigation by the Ombudsman instigated by Save Albert Park.

The Grand Prix doesn’t have much luck when it comes to scrutiny by independent bodies like the Ombudsman. The Grand Prix told VCAT that it would be ‘cost prohibitive’ to count attendees but couldn’t produce any documents or analysis on which this claim was allegedly  based.

As the Save Albert Park Group points out the “Government’s so called ‘record’ attendance is also pumped up by every year by 64,000 staff and 40,000 free tickets, whether they were there or not. No attendance count has ever been done! With only 38,000 grandstand seats, the venue cannot accommodate the numbers claimed by government.

In contrast Save Albert Park got an independent expert to analyse crowd pictures of the event. The expert found that: “Save Albert Park learned by FOI that there were 26,838 grandstand seats and 7,781 corporate places in 2019 – total 34,619. And 10,000 extra seats this year lifted that to 45,000 seats, which could accommodate a maximum 180,000 attendances over four days – except that many are empty much of the time – especially on Thursdays.

“But all seats were no doubt full on race day 2022 when the Grand Prix Corporation claimed 128,294 attendances. So, with 45,000 seated, they must have had 83,294 on mounds and benches and with noses to the wire. Yet the 5.303 km circuit has only 10.6 km of trackside frontage – 7 km of which was monopolised by the 45,000 (as per above) plus services and access.

“So the 83,294 must have occupied the remaining 3.6 km at a trackside density of 23 people per metre. The telecast shows this is not true, in fact there was only a dense crowd on three mounds – about 2,000 to 3,000 on each, and a sparse crowd elsewhere. To confirm this, 83,294 were never seen on the telecast.”

A quick comparison of any annual AFL Grand Final campaign picture taken at the MCG with 100,000 patrons there is a dramatic illustration of the validity of this analysis.

A claimed television audience that is a few million over the top of the official race figure is another smoke and mirrors attempt and 70% of the published television audience comprised Melburnian viewers.

At least the audience claims are less fanciful than back in the Ron Walker era when race organisers argued the race attracted a TV audience of more than a billion. In another flight of fancy these total viewing race audiences over the four days were translated into comparable advertising rates and claimed as an economic benefit.

…and as for the claimed economic benefit a peer-reviewed study by the Auditor-General found the event caused a net economic loss to Victoria.

Needless to say little mention is made of the deprivation of access to parks and sporting grounds for months nor of damaging construction and dismantling to the park itself.

Of course the final irony is that successive Victorian Labor Governments have boasted of their climate change awareness and policies while subsidising an event which adds to climate risks and idealises noisy carbon emissions.