There are socio-cultural, economic and environmental consequences to locating major motorsports events in significant urban public spaces. Four case studies of motorsports events in Australian cities demonstrate how the symbolic significance of public spaces is an important part of the marketing of motorsport and its attendant commercial interests. This paper addresses the importance of reassessing the values underpinning decision-making about the location of mega-sports events, and examines several consequences of ignoring the challenges of peak oil and global climate change.
The prestige of a city's public spaces adds legitimacy to the sport of motor racing and the messages and impacts associated with motorsports events. The symbolic impact of motorsports events in these spaces is a powerful signifier of consumerist lifestyles. Their location helps to promote activities and products that are incompatible with a responsible approach to climate change and peak oil. These two challenges are now emerging as significant threats to economies and societies.
The case studies examine motorsports events in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Surfers Paradise. The locations of the events are significant in terms of national symbolism, historic cultural significance or their relevance as an international tourist destination. The case studies demonstrate that allowing motorsports events to be staged in significant urban places supports the growth of conspicuous consumption, pollution and the use of fossil fuels, both directly via the events themselves and in the long-term impacts on the behaviour of motorists and consumers. Motorsports events and their associated corporate interests represent many of the attitudes and behaviours that will need to be changed or abandoned to limit resource depletion and greenhouse gas creation.
The marketing of sports events should not be considered independently of the major challenges facing the world. Civic leaders have a responsibility to demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable future through a policy of reserving their city's significant public spaces for sporting events that are best practice models for sustainability. Motorsports events should now be considered 'out of place' as mega-events in a city's major public spaces.
There is a large body of literature on the marketing of places, where civic elites use a range of strategies, including icons, slogans and logos, changes to the built environment, and festivals and spectacles such as hallmark events, to change the image of their city (Gotham, 2002; Lowes, 2002b; Pawson, 1999). The need to cultivate a positive city image has assumed an urgency in cities throughout the world over the past three decades. In fact, as far as civic boosters are concerned "image is everything" (Gibson & Lowes, 2006, p.3). As a result, a whole industry has developed around the theme of place marketing.
Place marketing is an important strategy by which cities attempt to distinguish themselves in an increasingly global economy. Events corporations turn hallmark events into an industry in which cities and states compete for the opportunity to host "ever more spectacular, exotic and titillating attractions" to entice tourists and investors (Gotham, 2002, p.1737). The pursuit of hallmark sports entertainment mega-events is now a standard feature of place competition strategies adopted by cities jostling for position in the global fray (Smith, 2005; Stevenson, 1998). Such events have become part of the place marketing industry, where urban governance has switched from managerialism to entrepreneurism (Pawson, 1999). One type of major sporting event that is becoming increasingly important in image-making in cities throughout the world is the motorsports mega-event spectacle in an urban street circuit.
For the cities that stage them, however, mega-events are best viewed as "short-term events with long-term consequences". They are associated with "the creation of infrastructure and event facilities often carrying long-term debts and always requiring long-term use-programming" (Roche, 1994, p.1). Mega-sports events are highly political phenomena. The term 'political' here does not reflect the planning ideal of democratic or community-based planning processes, but rather the reverse.
"Hallmark events are not the result of a rational decision-making process. Decisions affecting the hosting and the nature of hallmark events grow out of a political process. The process involves the values of actors (individuals, interest groups and organisations) in a struggle for power" (Hall, 1989, p.219; cited in Roche, 1994).
Such a state of affairs fosters the culture of secrecy that is characteristic of neoliberal governance strategies. Politicians generally announce the securing of mega-sports events with tremendous fanfare, talking up the projected benefits in terms of investment dollars committed, jobs to be created and multiplied effects throughout the local economy. Where they provide inducements in the form of direct public subsidies and other assorted tax-breaks or tax-holidays, governments also reassure the community that all they are surrendering is money that they would not have collected anyway. Therefore, it is claimed, these deals represent a 'win' for all parties: not only for the recipient enterprise, but also for the government, its taxpayers and the wider regional economy.
But the facts are that these sorts of deals are difficult, if not impossible, to justify on economic grounds (Chalip & McGuirty, 2004). Moreover, the processes for clinching them are even harder to justify against basic principles of good government. In practice, it is difficult to assess the details of the claims made about particular assistance packages because governments generally keep the analysis and budgetary costs of the assistance to themselves. This raises its own problems in terms of transparency, accountability and due process. At the extreme, it opens the door to suspicions of nepotism or even corruption. More generally, when public scrutiny is hindered, there is more risk that an ethos of 'can do' entrepreneurialism will swamp more cool-headed 'should we do?' decision-making. Importantly for this paper, it is possible that rather than providing benefits for the marketing of a city in an international marketplace, mega-sports events such as motorsports spectacles provide marketing advantages for the sport itself, and for all of its associated corporate interests and sponsors.
Given the political economy of event tourism strategies (Gotham, 2002), it is hardly surprising to find claims that special events have been oversold in the past 20 years, since "many groups in the economy have their interests linked to the promotion of events" (Dwyer et al, 2003, p.16). These groups include the event promoters, tourism bodies, the governments and events corporations that focus largely on 'winning' events for their state, the politicians who can claim victory over other states in the marketing of their cities, and the various corporations (e.g. cigarette and alcohol companies) who can use the excitement of a large event in a significant location to promote their products (Arnold et al, 1989; Chalip & Leyns, 2002). Not only are special events used to 'market' or 'sell' a city to potential consumers, but they are increasingly used by corporations as "key devices to shape their brands' images" (Gotham, 2002, p.1748). For example, brewing companies use sporting spectacles as a macho vehicle to appeal to young males (Crompton, 1993).
While there has been considerable debate about the actual benefits of mega-sports events for the cities in which they are hosted, there has been relatively little discussion of the ways in which the sport itself benefits from being located in a city. More importantly, how does the sport benefit from being located in particular, prestigious or highly valued parts of the city? There has been little research investigating the way in which the location of sports events is a potentially significant component of the marketing of the sport, and of all its associated products and activities. Just as cities are in increasing competition for investment, so too are different types of sporting activity. Sports are no longer seen simply as a form of exercise and entertainment. Many sports, including motorsport, have grown into fiercely competitive multi-million dollar industries.
It is important that a geographic perspective be adopted to examine the ways in which the marketing of particular types of sport can benefit from decisions about their location within urban areas.
Objectives and conceptual framework
This paper has two aims. The first is to explore the ways in which the location of motorsports events in Australian cities might be an important component of the marketing of this sport and its attendant commercial interests. The second aim is to consider the wider significance of the location of motorsports events in significant public spaces in the context of the challenges of peak oil (the peak of oil production globally) and global climate change. In particular, the paper addresses the question as to whether it is now appropriate for mega motorsports events to be given the boost to their marketing that comes with being staged in a city's most significant public spaces. This paper addresses the importance of re-assessing the values upon which decision-making about location is based, and it examines consequences of ignoring the challenges of peak oil and global climate change.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The conceptual framework for this paper is outlined in Figure 1. This illustrates the links between place marketing and motorsports marketing through the location of motorsports events in significant public places.
When a motorsports event (or any major sporting event) is located in a significant public place as part of a place marketing strategy (e.g. to promote a 'vibrant' image for a city), this can also change the meaning or symbolic significance of that place. For example, when a major motorsports event was staged in the Parliamentary Zone in Australia's national capital, this changed the meaning of this place: from that of a carefully developed national symbolic place for cultural, legal and governmental uses to a place of commercialism, merchandising and sponsorship (Tranter & Keeffe, 2004). Also, the sporting events themselves benefit from their association with the symbolism of significant public spaces. Thus the 'location' of an event can provide a boost to the marketing of that sport (as explained below).
The boost to motorsports marketing that comes from being located in significant places also increases the impacts of motorsport (see Figure 1). These impacts (actual and symbolic) support the growth of conspicuous consumption, pollution and the use of fossil fuels, both directly in the events and in the long-term impacts on the behaviour of motorists and consumers (Tranter & Lowes, 2005, 2006). Each of these is linked to the major social/environmental challenges of peak oil and global climate …