I will try and now do this, in some detail, and try and answer as many of the points raised as I can as well as giving you all a more in depth insight into where the TT is right now, where it is coming from, where it is going to and its role in the wider road race scene.
The first little bit of ideology to get your head around is that each and every one of you commenting on this subject are die hard road race enthusiasts. Like me, you are totally interested in the racing and the peripheral events and festival activities that go along with these events are of little interest. The piece of information that is crucial to understand however, is that you, the die hard fan only make up a small percentage (around 30%) of the paying public at the Isle of Man TT and as event organisers we have to try and accommodate the needs and desires of all those who want to experience the event, not just the true racing enthusiast.
I see some people comparing the UGP and NW200 to the TT from a racing point of view, which I don’t think is really that relevant given the differences between them, but it is good to compare them from a demographic and economic position. The North West 200 is the commercially viable, bells and whistles road race of Ireland which is loathed by many of the die hard enthusiasts. The Ulster Grand Prix is the enthusiasts favourite and a must for any true fan. The North West 200 has a bright and explicit future – the Ulster Grand Prix is fighting for its life because of increasing costs and diminishing revenue.
Here’s some approximate statistics you may not know about the three Internationals which I’d like to throw in at this point.
TT 60,000 average per race day
Spectators travelling from outside of Ireland or IOM
All this is relevant for the point I am trying to get to, and that is that to put on a high standard motorsport event, costs a lot of money, simply because it is dangerous. So if the UGP costs x to set up the circuit, times that by four for the TT etc, etc. In real terms the budget to run the TT currently stands at around four times the budget for the NW200 and six times the budget for the UGP. In fact the total amount paid in start and prize money at the TT is more than the entire budget to run the UGP! The expenditure to run the TT currently outweighs the income by a factor of 11 to 1.
Cost is the biggest threat to all road racing, but specifically the TT. The Isle of Man TT is a celebrated brand in world motorcycle sport, and in terms of importance, much bigger than the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix. This is good and bad – good that it gains so much interest from the industry and the media as well as the fans and bad because it runs from inside a goldfish bowl and there is constant pressure from all angles to maintain and improve standards.
The standards of marshalling and medical cover at the TT are very high, but this comes at a gargantuan cost. This year alone around £80,000 has been spent on marshalling and £60,000 on direct medical cover. We also have a second medical helicopter now ensuring the air med response rate is the best in the world.
The circuit set up costs are enormous. On top of the long thousands already spent, this year we invested £40,000 in new safety barriers. Following an audit carried out only today, another £100,000 will be spent on more new equipment in time for TT 2007. I could go on and on, but I want to give you a cross section of the costs involved so you can get a clear picture.
Recently the TT’s future had become unclear, with out of date policy, disorganised commercial opportunities, miniscule input from the industry and dwindling media interest. This had an effect on the sport as a whole and just before and just after the turn of the century real road racing as a whole was struggling in all sorts of areas, but in particular, financially. This has changed in recent years, with the industry supporting the TT to a level not replicated since perhaps the early 70’s, media interest in the event at a decade long high, increased commercial interest and for the enthusiasts, closer and faster racing than ever before, with countless new ‘stars’ capturing the imagination of the fans. This has benefited the sport as a whole as can be seen by the bulging road race paddocks, tremendous racing, countless new road race venues etc, etc
The TT still provides the foundation to real road racing, providing the nucleus for riders, teams and manufacturers to get involved in road racing, as well as the vast infrastructure in place on the Isle of Man for all bike sport. Take away the TT and you would take away HM Plant Honda, TAS Suzuki, AIM Yamaha, Klaffi Honda, Uel Duncan Racing, John McGuinness, Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson, Martin Finnegan, Bruce Anstey etc, etc from the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix and national road racing. I am sure some people might disagree with me and if that is the case, why not ask these people, including the organisers of the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix? I am sure you will find that they concur with my judgement. So take away the TT, you take away these riders and teams, and despite what the true enthusiasts amongst us might want to believe, you take away the majority of your earning potential, which is essential to run your event in the first place.
I hope now we are all in agreement that as far as motorsport goes and in this case the Isle of Man TT, money makes the world go around and as much as we the true fans might not like that fact, a fact it is. So to move forward, and ensure the event maintains and improves standards in all areas, additional investment is required. We have been working with our partners for some considerable time, safeguarding and redesigning the brand (which will be launched on the first day of the bike show), aligning our commercial contracts so they work in tandem, and taking all the earning potential areas of the event to a new professional level for the future. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will be announcing details of a long term title sponsor for the event, the first in its history. All of this is vitally important to having motor cycle racing on the Isle of Man, not just the TT, after this year.
Then there is the fans and what they want. I’ve read the disgruntled comments and the stuff about us not listening and in particular the comment about me asking for feedback and then ignoring it. As those people who sent me feedback will vouch, I replied to each e-mail and each point in each e-mail, so don’t think it was ignored. There were around 50 pages of correspondence, and it was all digested and acknowledged.
It is disappointing people think this, but entirely understandable going by some of the things that have happened in the past. However, for the past two years we have carried out independent market research on our fans, and we think we pretty much know what they want, who they are, where they come from, where they stay, how long they stay for, their social status, their average spend, their satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the racing/entertainment/accommodation etc, etc.
On top of this we have carried out wide ranging consultation with the competitors, teams, manufacturers, organising bodies and partners, the media, suppliers and many more groups with an interest in the event. Using this information, we know where to take the event, and the success will be finding the balance between giving the die hard fan the racing spectacle he wants, the corporate visitor looking for a red letter hospitality day, the ABC1 looking for a little bit of everything, the nostalgia fan looking for a Goodwood type experience – the list goes on.
So what do we know? Well without going into too much detail, some of the things we now include –
TT fans consider the event value for money over all with 32% considering it excellent and a further 29% giving it a good rating. However 82% of visiting fans believe the travel is average or below. Over 40% of the fans want to see high quality classic and nostalgia events at TT 2007 and most importantly 92% of the visitors say they will continue to return to the Isle of Man for the TT in the future. We also know that the most popular on track activities are the Superbike/Senior and Sidecar races sharing 40%. Contrary to opinion on here, parades also score highly. 60% rate the atmosphere as excellent and just under 60% rate the overall experience as excellent.
Going into racing specifics the biggest desire is for more top riders and teams – this far outweighs any of the other suggestions. With our programme and practice schedule we can achieve this as we have shown over the past two years taking the entry to a new level that is set to be totally eclipsed in 2007 in all classes.
So are we succeeding and are we giving the fans what they want? To make that decision we need to look at the results.
• 2006 was forecast as a low year for spectators, yet there were more than either of the last three years.
• Our safety standards and medical standards are the highest they have ever been.
• Media interest is renewed and building ahead of the Centenary.
• A new long term title sponsor is due to be announced helping secure the future of the event.
• The industry rates the event as credible and important again and will support the Centenary to a very high level.
• The racing is faster, safer and closer than ever with countless new riders making the grade and massive team support in the paddock.
• BBC Grandstand are committed to the event long term.
• TT DVD sales are second worldwide in the bike sport market only to Moto GP.
• Considerable financial investment has been secured from the IOM Government for new projects including the Grandstand Redevelopment.
At the moment only the very bare bones of the TT Centenary Experience are in the public domain and over the next few months, there will be a string of exciting announcements and you can be sure that the overall experience will be one not to be missed.
I will be the first one to admit that we will not be able to please all the people, but what I can promise is that you will enjoy yourselves and more importantly, the event has a long term future as a high class, high powered and innovative motorsport event. It means everything to me and I’ll do anything to ensure that my last statement is true, and unfortunately for me, that means eating a fair amount of sh*t, but I can live with that!
Sorry for going on for so long, but if Magnus Magnuson ever asks, this is my specialist subject.