Radio jocks shock Walker

06/02/2008
NEWS STORY

In a fairly hostile interview on SEN 24-hour Sports Radio, Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss Ron Walker, defended the Melbourne event, despite some no-nonsense interrogation from the shows two hosts, who made it clear that as locals they don't feel the city needs the race, far less that its taxpayers should continue subsiding it.

Dismissing their claims as "ratings chasing", Walker said: "This goes out to 350 million people in more than 132 countries.

"No other race in the world gets that," he continued, "and that's huge publicity for Melbourne. 23,000 people come to Melbourne from America and Europe to see the race, all the hotels are full, all the hotels are full...

According to Pitpass' sources however, these figures appear to have been plucked out of thin air, but we digress.

The hosts point out that according to the official data, there were 100,000 fewer people at the 2007 event than in 2006. Walker interrupts claiming that the actual figure is 42,000 and that this is due to the clash with the World Swimming Championships in 2007 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

"Ah, but come on," says one of the hosts, "if there were so many coming in for the swimming surely there would have been some sort of 'flow on' effect, with them attending the Grand Prix?"

Walker dismisses the claim by saying that due to the clash of dates, and the fact that many hotels were pre-booked for the swimming, the highly popular V8s couldn't run, adding that the series was also absent in 2006 due to the Commonwealth Games.

At this point, the show's hosts tried another angle, claiming that Bernie Ecclestone, who had said that he doesn't want the event in Melbourne, is putting a "gun to the head of the city"; "either cash up, pony up (!), find more money for this event or we're going to take it elsewhere!" A threat that will sound familiar to race fans in Britain also.

"We're being held to ransom by Ecclestone," says the host.

"No we're not," says Walker, sounding a little flustered, "The fact is, it's a commercial operation. The fact is that President Putin wants a race in his own home town of St Petersburg, and Russia's prepared to pay a phenomenal sum. You've got the Prime Minister of France pleading with Bernie to let the Grand Prix stay in France because they love the publicity of what it does for France. You've got a Korean race which has now been signed off, there's one in Turkey and Dubai's got one.

Clearly not having picked up on the fact that Walker said Dubai, which we either have to assume he was confusing with Abu Dhabi or that Bernie has already found a middle eastern replacement for Britain's race, one of the show's hosts wades in once again.

"I put to you that not one extra person would go to Paris because France has got Formula One," he says, "I put it to you that that is absolute hogwash to say that there is any extra tourism in France because it's got a Grand Prix."

"Oh, you're just chasing ratings mate," fumes Walker, "you're the most uninformed radio interviewer I've ever encountered, I wish you'd read the facts."

At this point the other radio host joins in; "Oh come on Ron, ratings don't come into it, fact is he doesn't like the Grand Prix, and I don't either."

"Have you ever been?" says Walker, clearly exasperated.

"Yeh, and I can't think of anything more moronic," the host responds, not admitting that, according to Pitpass' sources, he works for Channel 10, host broadcaster of the Australian GP. "Anyway," he continues, "is Bernie Ecclestone fair dinkum (!) about this, are we going to see another Grand Prix beyond 2010?"

"I've got no idea," says Walker, now sounding weary, "it's a matter between Bernie and the Government. The Government will play a very straight line on this because if it doesn't work for the taxpayers of Victoria they won't have it."

At which point, one of the hosts asks, as you would; "Ron, may I just ask, what's in it for you? Do you make money out of Melbourne having the Grand Prix?

A short pause, and then....

"That's an obscene statement," says Walker. "We started doing these things back when the state was $33bn in debt, when morale was low, when there was no industry investment. We'd lost The Olympics to Atlanta, and I went out in an honorary capacity, I scoured the world for events, and now we're the best event capital in the world, does that answer your question?"

"Well," says one of the hosts, "I don't think it does...."

"Oh this is nonsense, it's just obscene," says Walker, "anyway, what's your next question?"

"Do the other countries lose money?" asks one of the hosts.

"Yes they do," is the response, "because it costs a lot of money to put on. The main cost in Melbourne is the $26m to cart all the equipment in for the event, to erect it, dismantle it and send it on its way. That's where all the money goes.

"We want it in Albert Park because it shows a huge silhouette of Melbourne at its best, in the summer months," Walker continues, "and that's what it's all about."

"Asked about the cost of the proposed night race, which has since been ruled out, Walker replies: "In capital costs around $45m, and an extra $7m a year to put them up and take them down."

So the bottom line," begins one of the hosts, "is that it's got to be economically viable or else Melbourne's going to lose the Grand Prix?"

"Yes," says Walker, "but you don't make money out of Cricket either."

"Well hang on," says a host, "you've got hundreds and thousands of young Australians playing the game so it's good for their health."

"And there's a huge industry in motorsport," Walker hits back, about to make silly mistake. "More people attend the Grand Prix on the Sunday than attend the Grand Final, 129.000 people go to that race, against just 97,000 for the football.

"But if you could get 150,000 in to the MCG for the Grand Final day you would Ron," says the host.

"Ah, you're just chasing ratings....."

Anyway, other than the Dubai gaffe, if it was a gaffe, it's worth pointing out that despite what Ron says, the V8s were there in 2006, maybe he simply wasn't watching.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 06/02/2008
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