PRESSURE IS ON UNTIL FINISH LINE FOR V8 BOSS

Written on the 9 October 2015 by Nick Nichols

PRESSURE IS ON UNTIL FINISH LINE FOR V8 BOSS

V8 SUPERCARS boss James Warburton concedes he can't relax until 3pm on Sunday after the big race has been run on the streets of the Gold Coast.

"That's when we've counted the gate and we know where we sit," he says.

It's a reaction typical of events promoters in any field, but for Warburton (pictured below) this year's burden is laden with expectations as the GC600 celebrates 25 years of fast cars and burning rubber in the 'flesh for fantasy' world of street racing on the Gold Coast.

The GC600, a key leg of the V8 Supercars series that was born from an extended and since ended flirtation with the IndyCar series, has become Australia's third-biggest sporting event.

It drew 185,000 spectators and generated $43 million for the Queensland economy last year. On the Gold Coast last year it created 72,000 visitor nights, with 33,000 of them from interstate or overseas. It's an interstate visitor rate that is higher in percentage terms than Melbourne's Formula 1.

Warburton is confident the numbers this year will crack 200,000 with the party line-up featuring Cold Chisel and the Robby Gordon Stadium Trucks.

The Gold Coast race is only topped by Adelaide's Clipsal 500 and the Melbourne Formula 1 as the country's biggest sporting event.

Clipsal attracts just under 300,000 visitors over four days, bigger than the crowd the SA capital used to draw when it hosted the Formula 1 in the 90s.

Warburton, who has been credited with reviving the GC600 after years of turmoil in the aftermath of the tumultuous Indy era, took on the role of V8 Supercars Australia CEO in mid-2013.

Many felt he may not have been up to the task in the wake of a revolving door at the top of the company following the vacuum created by the departure of long-time executive chairman Tony Cochrane a year or so earlier.

However, Warburton is proving his resilience in a field that is as much about image and story-telling as it is about a two-hour race.

Warburton has an interesting view of one of Australia's biggest sporting events that reaches a global audience of 275 million homes in 97 countries.

"In mainstream media we're still the best kept secret," he says.

"Whilst you look at the audience of V8 Supercars on the Gold Coast, for the rest of Australia and even in parts of Asia and the rest of the world, it's not really known or mainstream enough in terms of awareness."

That's where the stories start to play out, as Warburton touches on the traction of the company's digital strategy.

"We've been really driving our characters - that's our drivers, our teams - and we have been building a level of awareness and telling the story that it's the third most attended sport in the country, and the fourth most watched.

"And we are growing our fan base. Digital has been incredible in terms of extending our reach, more in terms of short-form content, website and Facebook reach and really just connecting with our audience more and building those characters."

While Formula 1 in Melbourne has managed to secure a long-term tenure for the race, with an extension to 2023 secured this year, V8 Supercars Australia is given a shorter lead by the Queensland Government.

V8 Supercars Australia currently has the rights to this year's race and 2016, but negotiations for the next contract are expected to start in earnest later this year. However, Warburton remains confident the event has proved itself after 25 years.

"We've had a very good history and we've put together a proactive five-year extension," Warburton says.

"We'd imagine by the end of the year we'll be in a position to talk about that. Discussions have been good and major events like these are exactly what Queensland tourism is looking for, so I'm very confident."

As for the GC600's growth prospects, Warburton says the 6 per cent increase in gate numbers last year may be harder to replicate in years ahead.

"As events mature, a 5-6 per cent yearly growth is a pretty big number. I think last year's event might have normalised out a bit.

"This year we have driven a significant investment back into the event and let's see where we net out after that.  We'd like to see it stay north of 200,000 (spectators), but events are tough and you have to keep reinventing and selling the message.

"Ultimately it comes down to your value proposition, so we have to continue to be very focused on value."


Author: Nick Nichols

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