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The importance of Formula 1 in the East

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The importance of Formula 1 in the East
Sep 24, 2010, 2:04 PM

I've spent the first part of Friday hosting the Business of Motorsport in Asia conference at the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) - a high octane ga...

I've spent the first part of Friday hosting the Business of Motorsport in Asia conference at the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) - a high octane gathering of Asian business leaders who were there to hear from speakers including Bernie Ecclestone, Tony Fernandes, McLaren's Ekrem Sami, and the marketing supremos of Shell, LG and Diageo.

The event was organised by SGX together with sponsorship agency JMI and it was attended by almost 200 delegates.

It was widely agreed that Singapore has performed miracles to establish itself as one of the most important events on the F1 calendar, equal with Monaco. This is the race that most CEOs from companies involved in the sport come to. Certainly for European execs, being seen to lord it up on boats in Monaco is now verboten within their companies, whereas Singapore is seen as a "must do".

"People used to say, ‘Go west, young man,’ but now the world is moving east,” Ecclestone said. “Formula 1 has gone worldwide and we have opened a lot of people’s eyes to the sport, but it has taken us a long time to achieve that.”

For an increasing number of sponsors, the sport's growing profile in Asia is a key reason to enter, certainly that was the case for UBS, which makes is debut this weekend on signage around the track.

From the Singapore side, the arrival of the F1 race here, now in its third season, has galvanised the business community, as the Minister of Trade Mr Iswaran observed,

“The impact of F1 is far reaching and can be felt beyond the tourism landscape,” he said. “It has galvanized companies and community groups to ride on its momentum and organize events around the F1 race to involve the community and businesses at large.”

One of the most impressive presentations was from the boss of the Singapore Sports Council, who showed how the country is backing up its flagship Grand Prix by investing in grass roots motorsport programmes. It's quite clear that Singapore has a well thought out strategy based around the GP and it isn't a white elephant. It's been such a success already it's hard to imagine where this GP will be in 10 years time. And by then the benefits of its grass roots programmes will have kicked in.

Almost a third of the races on the current F1 calendar take place in Asia, and next year the addition of India will continue that trend. Several of the speakers observed that as roughly a third of the global economy is in this region that balance is appropriate.

Naturally this comes at the cost of European races and striking the balance between races on classic circuits in Europe and ones which struggle to find a following is something F1 needs to achieve as it balances heritage with expansion.

But clearly not all races in this region are as successful as Singapore. Malaysia doesn't do all that well in terms of ticket sales and certainly all the corporates now shun it in favour of Singapore. Likewise Japan. The race in Korea next month already looks something of a concern.

Fernandes and his Team Lotus are working hard to help the grass roots in his native Malaysia, so time will tell if the sport takes root there.

There is optimism about the race in India, however. A sports mad nation with its own F1 team - and potentially driver - it's also a key market for many of the companies involved in F1. If they learn from the way Singapore has gone about things, then it should work out fine.
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