Sports

Is the humble car race a dying art?

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Related Story: Van Gisbergen nabs back-to-back wins in Supercars opener in Adelaide

The State Government is putting a lot of faith in Robbie Williams.

The English singer-songwriter and superstar entertainer is the headline act at this week's Adelaide 500 and it is hoped he will bring back the people who deserted the event last year.

How many didn't bother attending?

Plenty.

In 2017, the attendance at the four-day event was the lowest since 2004, down almost 20,000 people on the 2016 figure.

The gate on the final day was the lowest since 2002.

This was not a good sign for a government that has committed $9.6 million to the event over the next four years.

V8 driver Scott McLaughlin celebrates

So, is car racing a dying art?

In Adelaide, it's certainly a dwindling one.

"What you have … is a shrinking demographic and we've noticed this over the past few years," Sport Minister Leon Bignell said.

But he believes it's more about attracting new people to the event.

"If we just keep going after the same audience, it's going to be diminishing returns in terms of the number of people who come to the race."

External Link: Robbie Williams promo

Mr Bignell has his own explanation for the decline in 2017 — no final-day concert.

Last year, the Adelaide Festival's opening was the same night as the Adelaide 500's final concert, prompting a decision to offer a concert involving Paul Kelly and Neil Finn at Elder Park — about three kilometres from the race track.

"We thought as a government it would be crazy to have two free concerts on the one night," Mr Bignell said.

"It was a mistake going away from a Sunday night race concert so we're putting that back and we haven't gone for some small name, we've gone for Robbie Williams and we've also got Cold Chisel on the Friday night and Live on the Saturday night.

"We know the concerts have huge pulling power. The biggest crowd we've ever had was when we had Kiss performing."

Kiss at Adelaide V8 race

Mr Bignell said in future, the car race itself won't necessarily provide the audience growth it was looking for.

"We've got a core group that are very important to us and that is particularly the blue and the red teams, the Ford and Holden supporters," he said.

"It's really important that they come along but we also want to make sure that if we are putting on this fantastic event, which is the biggest domestic motor sport event in Australia, that we get as many people through the doors as we possibly can."

To that end, the television commercial for this year's Adelaide 500 features passing flashes of Supercars interlaced with jet fighters, stunts on motorcycles, dragsters, various other categories of racing cars and, of course, concert footage.

External Link: Adelaide V8 TV commercial

The 2018 event is the 20th edition of the race through the Adelaide streets.

In many ways it is a showpiece for the Supercars carnival that travels around the country from March through until November.

The first race on the calendar in Adelaide effectively sets the standard for all the others.

Television numbers still strong despite event falls

Despite the decline in the Adelaide attendance last year, Supercars general manager of corporate affairs, Cole Hitchcock, will not entertain the thought that there is a finite audience for the championship.

Mr Hitchcock said total attendance across the 15-event Supercars season was up 3.1 per cent in 2017 compared with 2016.

"We are growing our audience but in different areas," he explained.

"There might well be fewer at the track but it doesn't mean there are less people viewing the sport, it's just they're consuming it in different ways."

The average ratings across free-to-air and pay TV grew in the same period by 16 per cent.

Mr Hitchcock also noted the success of the Supercars brand across all media.

The championship is the third most-watched sport on pay TV behind the AFL and NRL, its website visits increased 28 per cent in 2017 and overall media coverage was up 20 per cent.

Shane van Gisbergen of Red Bull Holden Racing Team wins the Adelaide 500

For his part, Mr Bignell is convinced the attendance figures for the Adelaide 500 will pick up again and not only because of Robbie Williams.

"We know kids have short attention spans so they're not going to stand there on the side of the track watching cars race pass them for hours on end," he said.

"We need to make sure that, to keep this a family friendly event, that we put things on for the whole family.

"There's all these different kids' things on there, there'll be face painting, a giant water slide, there's a Disney zone, a car racing tech hub and there's a Lego zone, so all these sort of things."

In short, the event seems to have a simple philosophy — let me entertain you.

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