What does the future of the ARC hold?
- 8th November 2006, 9:19am
There was a time when the Australian Rally Championship required little more effort than that of organizing a top-level club event or, at best, a round of a state championship. Particularly in the 1980s and, to a lesser extent the 1990s, experienced car clubs around Australia battled to secure ARC rounds as part of their club’s annual calendar.
It was deemed to be an honour for clubs to be awarded an ARC round, and club members came out of the woodwork to assist their club in running the events. Even then it was sheer hard work but, with events being run with dedicated teams in charge, these events did get off the ground and, in most cases, ran very successfully.
Clubs often generated a small profit or just broke even, but the drain on club resources year after year began to take its toll with many clubs finally conceding that the effort wasn’t worth the return. (There are many clubs that readers could name who have run ARC rounds in the past and that no longer are in a position to do so, primarily because of the ‘burn out’ factor).
There were other factors that convinced individual clubs that there was only pain to be gained from hosting an ARC round. The increasing number of safety requirements demanded by competitors and by CAMS only made events more expensive and labor-intensive, as did upgraded communications, special service parks, A – A timing and many other factors.
By this time only the larger city-based clubs, with help from other clubs in their state, could successfully run an ARC component, but this too, was dependant on obtaining a sponsor generous enough to pay for the shortfall in income revenue. In several notorious cases, clubs who had previously run very successful rounds but who could no longer comply with CAMS requirements were quickly deleted from the calendar in favour of other rallies that were keen to fill the vacancies.
Even so, there were still people putting their hands up to run an ARC round, but increasingly often they were people who were originally part of club-based organizing teams and who could see some financial gain to be had by taking over when clubs decided to no longer apply for an ARC event. Planning and running an event no longer involved clubs having countless sub-committee meetings and working bees after normal working hours, developing from an amateur operation to an actual business operation.
In the main this worked well through the nineties, and even today there are clubs who still, with the help of their members, continue to host an ARC round each year. But the trend increasingly was for private individuals to take over the reigns themselves by bankrolling a particular round, securing a major sponsor and running their rally as a professional business venture.
As has been evidenced over the past few weeks, promoting and profitably running an ARC round is very much a balancing act. Just getting sufficient entries to supplement the sponsor’s contributions enabled directors to generate a small profit but CAMS (and later ARCom) slowly, but surely, raised the bar in terms of infrastructure required at each round.
They argued that if manufacturers (whose cars and stars were putting on a show for the public) deserved a more professionally-run event, then new initiatives would need to be put in place to accommodate them. We have seen these improvements appear in areas such as mandatory refuel areas, corporate hospitality, greater safety requirements, pace notes, recce, mid-stage communications, licensing requirements and so on.
Yet even if individual promoters were balancing the books, it did not take into account the enormous pressures that it put on their family and business lives. So intensive is the work required to run an ARC round these days that it is necessary to set up and staff a full-time rally office if not for all of the year, then certainly a large proportion of it. All at a cost, of course. With additional requirements in the areas of OH & S, insurance and legal liability, the wedge is being driven further into the event requirements on one side and the ability of individuals or clubs to provide it on the other.
There is little doubt that it will only be a matter of time before there is a situation where no club or individual in the country can afford to plan, promote and run an ARC round, taking into account the level of manpower needed, the time available and the financial commitment. At the end of the day a successful event relies almost entirely on volunteer assistance – when it becomes necessary to reimburse this volunteer manpower base or start paying key officials, the task becomes nigh on impossible.
The intention of this story is not to put a negative slant on the Australian Rally Championship and its future, merely to point out that there is a real need to reassess the way that rounds are awarded and run.
If the long term viability of the ARC is to be assured, then it seems that the huge ‘circus’ that the ARC has developed in to, can only be guaranteed by turning the whole thing into a business supported by promoters who treat the whole thing as a business venture whose shareholders expect to gain an annual return from. In this model there would be no place for sentimentality or generosity simply to prop the event up.
Black figures on a company balance sheet would be the final decider of an event’s profitability and longevity. And that would mean that there may no longer be a place for clubs or well-intentioned individuals to consider applying for the right to run an event.
The Australian Rally Championship has become a victim of its own success and its own high standard of requirements. In some ways this is no bad thing. What this success has done is to ensure that the ARC is now no longer entirely a sport – it is now big business and we must adapt to that for the Championship’s long-term future. Whether we like it or not.
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