Sport as a tourism driver and city promoter is nothing new.
In fact, it most likely dates back to the early editions of the modern Olympic Games. After a successful revival in 1896 in Greece, the next two editions of the Games were held as part of the Paris Exposition in 1900 and the World’s Fair in St Louis in 1904. Both were not the most successful of Olympic editions ever held, but the concept of taking the Olympic Games to different cities has continued ever since and aside from the shot put events in 2004, the Olympic Games are no longer held in Olympia.
Tourism and sport are happy bedfellows, and once a sporting event has created a brand strong enough, it can pack its bags and play anywhere on the planet.
Later this year the Tour de France will once again start in the UK and the Paris-Dakar rally is now just the Dakar Rally and doesn’t go anywhere near Paris or Dakar. And the Stawell Gift should be held in Ballarat – more on that later.
This week it’s the turn of Major League Baseball to take their game on the road.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers arrive in Sydney for the opening day of the 2014 Major League Baseball season.
This isn’t a promotional match the likes of which we are used to seeing down under in the world game, this is the regular season, the season opener, on the other side of the world, and full credit to all concerned in pulling it off. What a coup for Sydney, baseball and Australian sport in general.
Major League Baseball hardly need the extra cash, so this is more of a branding exercise for the league than a money making venture, although its positioning in the Asia Pacific region will be enhanced and that can deliver significant financial returns to the league, clubs and players.
But sometimes it’s not about growth it’s about survival and sports and events need to consider moving to continue to exist.
That was the case with the Paris-Dakar, due to security threats.
The Hawthorn Football Club play home games in Tasmania in a very successful financial deal for the club.
And it was once muted that the Stawell Gift be moved to Ballarat.
Our company, Jump Media & Marketing, was the Stawell Gift’s marketing agency for nine years from 2005-2013 and it was a tough gig to keep the event alive in such a competitive market.
We were at the centre of the discussions with the City of Ballarat on helping Australia’s most famous footrace ensure its survival by moving down the highway. What started as an interesting debate at a New Year’s Eve BBQ with a friend, ended up with a formal offer that would have transformed the Stawell Gift.
At the centre of the debate was the question – could the Stawell Gift be held anywhere else but Stawell?
It was a big question; given the town’s name was part of the event title. But so too was the Paris-Dakar. And the Tour de France has toured Andorra, Belgium, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland in addition to France.
So was the Stawell Gift a race only to be run in Stawell, or where the concepts of ‘Australia’s richest footrace’ – such as the grass track, the unique finishing gates, lane ropes and coloured bibs worn by the athletes brand attributes that, if replicated, could be replicated anywhere. Like the Olympics, the Tour de France or the Paris-Dakar, if the major elements were the same, could the event survive beyond its traditional home?
The offer from Ballarat was six months in the making and in the end the City of Ballarat delivered a formal offer to host the Stawell Gift for five years from 2010 to 2014 in a cash and contra deal valued at $3.25million. Plus the benefits of a bigger town with 16 times the population, more accommodation, better transport links to Melbourne and the opportunity for enhanced tourism activations.
This compared to the $75,000 on offer from the Northern Grampians Shire.
As the Stawell Athletic Club’s agent, our recommendation was to take the offer and go, or reject it and never say a word…. consign it to the secret history department of the Stawell Gift Hall of Fame, to be released like Cabinet documents in 30 years.
The Club decided to use it as a bargaining chip and then Labour State Government stepped in and offered $310,000 over three years (a figure increased by the Liberal Government as part of their 2010 election promises) and the local Council chipped in an extra $10,000 per year and the event stayed in Stawell.
To this day, I wish the Stawell Athletic Club had of accepted the Ballarat offer, this Easter would be the fifth year of the deal and the Club would have been in a significantly stronger position to consider its next move – back to Stawell, or maybe somewhere else to the highest bidder as a product that a city would like to host.
Just like, albeit on a much smaller scale, the MLB season opener in Sydney this weekend.