Former Supercars boss calls for ‘big time’ GC600 review

V8 Supercars chairman Tony Cochrane

Former Supercars chairman Tony Cochrane

Former Supercars boss and now Gold Coast Suns AFL Chairman Tony Cochrane has taken a scathing swipe at the organisation he once headed and this weekend’s Vodafone Gold Coast 600 in particular in a newspaper column today.

Cochrane criticised the direction of Supercars and claimed it had lost its status as a mainstream sport in Australia in his regular weekend column in the Gold Coast Bulletin.

While critical of current management, he also has several cracks at former Supercars CEO James Warburton, without actually naming him.

“Doubt I will make the effort to even wander over and watch this weekend,” Cochrane says about the event which he spruiks he saved on three occasions.

“Supercars, or whatever its latest name is, has become a bit of a sideshow without a lot of show in recent times.

“Sport is meant to be a lot of things, but being predictable is NOT one of them.

“Having one team, and one manufacturer pretty much sweeping the pool all the time is, in a nutshell, boring. It needs a major spruce-up, it needs to find new sizzle, new characters and new ideas if it wants to be a mainstream sport again.

“It lost its way on free-to-air TV and its press coverage has diminished, the exception being Bathurst.”

Ironically, Cochrane’s call for ‘big time’ review of the Gold Coast event including the re-introduction of an an international category comes a day after it was revealed that Supercar management was looking at the possible introduction of NASCAR to the streets of Surfers Paradise as soon as next year.

The column also comes among recent and regular speculation that Cochrane and at least one former colleague have been involved in talks to buy Supercars from Archer Capital.

Cochrane was involved in the original sale of Supercars to the private equity firm in 2011 and remained as the category Chairman for another 16 months before controversially leaving the post.

Archer Capital has made no secret of that fact that the category is for sale.

See below for the full Cochrane column in today’s Gold Coast Bulletin

Following my recent column on rugby union on the Coast, a few challenged me to write like that on one of my favourite sports.

I’ve had a successful career across various sports/entertainment projects in many parts of the world over a long time.

One of the ways I have achieved that is that I call it as it is – I’m a kind of ‘no bulls..t guy’.

I have, for the most part, been able to see the bigger picture, read the trends and try to get ahead of the game, and admittedly getting it wrong at times. I like to challenge and to be challenged.

In this article I’m challenging our home town – the Gold Coast.

Of late, influencers, both from Government and on the GC have asked me my opinion on the future of the GC 600.

So, do I love motorsport? Absolutely. Do I think this event needs a serious review and new thinking? Big time!

And any review must ask all the tough questions.

Now I know both the sport and the event well. I led the charge to save it – three times.

The first time was in 1995, when it was haemorrhaging cash as the inaugural IndyCar event.

I stopped an $80 million sea of red ink and turned it into a winner for both the Coast and the then Labor Government.

The second time came with a change of Government when it nearly didn’t survive the undertaker and only the new Premier, Rob Borbidge, at the last moment stood up for the Coast and cleared a path.

Thank God for a GC Premier!

The third near death came when some clowns decided to inflict us with the A1GP in 2009 (as bizarre as it comes, pure madness on a grand scale). I played more cards than are in a deck to keep it alive and turn it into an all V8 Supercars race.

After a bad start, I found a true friend for the event in another politician Phil Reeves, the then Minister for Sport.

I think Phil thought I was possibly certifiable, but he backed my team’s plan and we grew another event life.

Critically we were able to garnish the Government support back then because among the factors going for V8 Supercars was our international events we had in the Middle East and upcoming in the USA. That, along with a strong and improving international TV following, gave us real credentials.

The last CEO of Supercars made a PR stunt out of announcing pending new international events for the sport in Asia.

Unfortunately, all of these have taken place in an Asian Country called – Mirage!

This is not how to build confidence and win over governments or tourism bodies. You can’t have a serious show if the main act has lost some of its shine.

Supercars, or whatever its latest name is, has become a bit of a sideshow without a lot of show in recent times.

Sport is meant to be a lot of things, but being predictable is NOT one of them.

Having one team, and one manufacturer pretty much sweeping the pool all the time is boring. It needs a major spruce-up, it needs to find new sizzle, new characters and new ideas if it wants to be a mainstream sport again.

It lost its way on free-to-air TV and its press coverage has diminished, the exception being Bathurst.

Bathurst is special and unique – the holy grail. Again I spent a long time securing the funding to completely rebuild it, so my level of understanding is probably without peer. The GC 600 needs to find something “special”. The Fox Sports coverage is top quality live motorsport and from the numbers watching on that platform, it has a niche market and a niche audience.

That’s great, awesome for them and for those fans – but niche market and huge Government dollars to support a major event do not make for good bed partners.

Has it lost its way as a challenger major sport?

And here it has found a common companion in rugby union.

Our biggest annual event spend is getting ‘same old/same old’ and it’s not attracting big interstate and international visitors anymore.

Plus, we have the same routine being played out now for some time up the coast in Townsville, and recently added, down the coast at Newcastle. So, when once we were special, we are now just another street race, albeit in a unique and spectacular setting. But remember the setting is ours – the event is meant to add extra exciting sizzle.

The rock and race format of 10-12 years ago is becoming fatigued when you have the line-up we catch this weekend.

And of course, that is exactly the format in every other street race location, so again it’s reasonable to ask how our biggest annual GC event can step up?

We should demand to be special, be unique – Government money goes in, so the people want top value (as should the Government).

With FTA TV numbers half what they were in the event’s heyday and attendances of both general public and corporates also down, it is more than reasonable to ask: Is this great value bang for our taxpayer buck?

The contract for the event with the State Government and specifically TEQ is coming up for renewal.

So now is as good a time as any to question: Can we do this better?

What could we add or alter to make it something unique and special again? Or of course they could just roll it out again as is for another five years.

The Gold Coast with its unique and stunning backdrop should have a large-scale and, if possible, global event.

Do we consider finding a new location and expand the event into an international one with maybe an international motorsport partner?

I strongly believe that is a debate worth having.

I’m sure the new CEO of Supercars is up for that debate if he wants to retain so much Government funding, or at least he should be.

So, it’s one thing to challenge the status quo; therefore, it’s reasonable to put forward what could be an alternative or addition?

We start with a couple of big positives. We have a superb location and we know we have a State Government and a Council on-side, keen to host and in part finance a major event on the Coast.

Let’s think big, let’s think outside the box.

Who is leading this discussion? Let’s hope TEQ are giving it a real full-court press. Let’s also hope Gold Coast people are actively involved, after all it’s our event! (Don’t bother to send the clowns who did the Comm Games closing ceremony, thanks all the same. We can only take so much pain!)

If we stay with a major motorsport weekend as the cornerstone of our biggest event annually on the GC with or without Supercars – what might that look like? Or is it time to consider something brand spanking new?

I don’t know and right now I’m getting splinters in my bum sitting on the fence!

But soon it will be time to get off the fence.

If we stay with motorsport I think we really only have two choices, both American.

Either a return to IndyCar or NASCAR. Both have credible international audiences via TV platforms – NASCAR easily the widest reach and the deepest pocketed of sponsors/corporate partners and has a real following in Australia with some of the biggest names in world motorsport.

Both bring challenges to the track design and costings. Both would involve serious international airfreight, and both will require payment in US dollars, hardly our friend on the exchange rate. However, either motorsport category would give the event real international appeal and credibility, important in a tourism-based city.

Forget non-events like Formula E – as a spectacle. This makes glaring at a blank wall for two hours seem like pure action-packed excitement!

Supercars could be a double in either event, sharing billing provided they commit to sprucing up their show.

Or if you believe their previous CEO they could depart for the rich pickings they have on offer in Asia. Don’t put a lot of money on this piece of twaddle.

The ultimate moment of truth for a new motorsport event to rejuvenate a major showcase on the tourism capital of Australia. What a cracking debate!

Alternatively, do we get out a fresh whiteboard and start again – thinking up a brand-new event?

Wow – there’s a challenge, a challenge we should at least investigate and see what falls out. Never be afraid to explore the great unknown.

Sure, you might fail – but to quote Vince Lombardi – the only time success comes before work is in the dictionary!

Clever organisations and people in the world of tourism marketing and events have paid great attention to detail on creating special and unique events that they own the IP. This then gives them continued ownership without having to pay out massive rights fees year on year as they end up controlling and owning something truly unique.

The Tour Down Under in Adelaide is such an event.

Yes, the first few years are hard toil, you need to work overtime to get it established and build your audience, sponsors etc.

But long term it pays off in massive dividends and can’t be simply stolen or whisked away elsewhere.

Locally, the Gold Coast Marathon is a shining example of this philosophy at work. Massive tick to them.

So, lots to think about.

It’s an important, critical part of our tourism and marketing of the Gold Coast, so let’s put the effort in and get it right.

The GC 600 is here. Let’s all hope it delivers big time and is a great event, all the hotels full, tourists everywhere spending big and huge FTA TV ratings.

Doubt I will make the effort to even wander over and watch this weekend – that’s not a good sign from a former committed loud spruiker of this event weekend. My opinion is, the event can’t afford to lose any spruikers, loud or otherwise.

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