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Where Have The Fans Gone?
By Ivor Craine

Ken McKinlay

The Guardians' description of a few years ago describing Speedway as the sport with men on 500's watched by 500 has reached the stage where it overstates the crowd size. Where have the fans gone and what can be done to win them back?

There was a time where one in every 130 Britons attended a speedway meeting every week of the season, Coventry as a third division club had an average crowd of 14000 and Rye House attracted 3000 to non league meetings. The aggregate attendance at five England vs Australia test matches was well in excess of 200,000. What a contrast with today.

Today's sport is far more colourful than in the past days of black leathers and innovations such as the deflector are great improvement but the atmosphere is totally lacking in near empty stadiums which don't have the prestige of former stadiums such as Wembley, Hampden Park,. Odsal, Wimbledon etc.

Presentation needs to be improved. It can take up to three hours to complete 15 heats or less than 20 minutes of race time. Today's spectators need to have continuous action maybe cycle speedway, BMX or even marching girl competitions could fill in the gaps and would help to attract younger fans

Second halves with match or handicap races would add variety to meetings. In Melbourne the highlights of the night were six man 4 lap handicap races on a 440 yard track with stars such as Ken McKinlay, Jack Biggs, Peter Moore and Jack Geran starting from up to 260 yards behind with developing riders like Peter Vandenberg, Ray Cresp between them and the novices off the gate. Three heats with the first two qualifying for the final. Surely this sort of events in second half would brighten up the evening in sharp contrast to the almost predictable results of the match heats. Cut back the match heats from 15 to 12 to give time for second half events.

If Sky need 15 heat matches the three handicaps could be included. Three riders from each team in the first two with first to third qualifying for the final. It may lead to a final with more riders from one team than the other but that's no more ridiculous than the current double points rule

Pity to see the Exeter revival failed their innovative idea of looking for an indoor facility was great but in all honesty was probably impractical due to size required. It would have been ideal with the English summer this year where rain offs have put a question mark against several tracks reopening for next season.

 

This article was first published on 12th November 2012


 

  • David Pickles:

    "It is so sad to see our great sport dying on it's feet. Maybe people don't feel they get value for money, 15 heats is not really much for £20 including programme in the Elite League, and not much less in the Premier. Trouble is, if we cut back to, say, 13 with a full second-half - remember the days when half the crowd vanished anyway after the league match was over? So, what to do? How about extending matches to 18 heats for a start. That would at least give supporters something to get their teeth into. Cut out guests for another thing. Imagine Rooney playing for Liverpool in a title decider versus Man City? Ridiculous. Increase the points limit to 50, that way each team can have enough decent point scorers to cover absence. And how about the most contentious of all - amalgamate urgently the Elite and Premier Leagues back into one British League. It worked in 1965 and can do so again. Oh and by the way, do everything we can to bring on the rising young stars. A successful England team would do wonders for the sport. We know we are up against it where press publicity is concerned, but if SKY do pull the plug after next season as is now being rumoured, speedway could disappear without trace in a short space of time."

  • Steve Haire:

    "Where have all the fans gone? There all stopping at home. Like pubs and clubs, speedway is too expensive for an evening's entertainment. Unless you offer people something special/extra they're going to stop in doors and watch speedway or socialise, it's a lot cheaper and convenient. The problem with the running of speedway is firstly, as Ivor says people want to be entertained for the full 2-3 hours, not have to stand around for ages waiting for a re-run whilst medics return to track or riders sort their bikes out, secondly supporters don't want rules changed every season, they don't want second halves, just take a look at how many people are still on the terracing at tracks that do have a second half. 7 riders a team, 15 heats, double tactical with no restictions when used, luck will happen no matter what format is used. Lastly, no points limit, let promoters build a team they can afford! No sport has suffered spectactor wise because of a dominant team/individual, if anything crowds increase. In short promoters need to keep their product simple, cheap and entertaining, then people will start coming back."

  • David Cohen:

    ""...20 minutes of race time". This for me is one of the reasons why paying to watch league speedway just doesn't cut it any more - it is not value for money."

  • Kev Foster:

    "Its a bit like football, the sportsmen think they are worth all the money in the world and are better than they are at what they do, so they want far too much money, More races may help the sport and better value for money but more races is more pay for the riders less in the pot, just look at berwick speedway £12 to get in is better than £15, back in the 70s we had proper juniors in the break, mind they all had their offs more than once but it was good to see. It all boils down to cash, no good paying £13000 out when you get £10,000 in, "

  • Kev Foster:

    "When the crowds were big at Newcastle (70s) you were standing shoulder to shoulder and spilling your cup of tea, the riders were looked upon as film stars. After the meeting had ended folk used to block the way out of the showers so they could see a glimpse of their hero, I remember Tom and Joe Owen having to push like hell just to get to their car, and having a crowd outside Ron Henderson's house when he was here. Not anymore most riders now can walk through the crowd and no one even looks their way, it has totaly changed to what it was. The smell of castrol R, the noise , the speed, etc."

  • John Hyam:

    "My main memories of crowds at London tracks: when I first started following the sport at New Cross in April 1946 the 22,000 average gates. Then the last days at Wimbledon in 2005 with an average 700 attendance - yet also at Wimbledon in the late 1940s I stood among 20,000 plus spectators. And marvelling when more than 80,000 - also in 1946 - turned up at the Empire Stadium for a Wembley-West Ham clash. As the article's author Ivor Craine asks: "Where have the fans gone?""

  • Andrew Gallon:

    "Where (or, more pertinently, why) have the fans gone? For me (and I'm sure many other former speedway supporters), it came down to abysmal value for money. Dull racing, woeful facilities, amateurish presentation, laughable rule changes, the scrapping of second halves, the length of time required to complete meetings, rip-off programmes etc etc. In short, a joke sport. I've attended one meeting in the last four seasons - that was at Leicester and, to be honest, I was bored witless by the inaction on the track. I imagine their crowds are now well down on that first season. If speedway cannot hold on to fans like me (I was a regular at Halifax during schooldays, covered the sport as a journalist in Middlesbrough and made it my business to watch a meeting at every track in Britain), I'd suggest it's in deep, deep trou ble. A shame, but it's simply not the spectacle it was. And yet, because I'm looking at this website, I clearly retain a residual interest!"

  • Robert Rogers:

    "I think Andrew has covered the problem well, now lets hope that somebody at the BSPA will listen, although I feel not much chance. For many of the reasons listed I have not renewed my Season Ticket for my team, but may instead just pop-in for an odd meeting once the weather improves. Again like Andrew said, my heart is still in the sport and have recently supplied information for the new National Speedway Museum, but untill it is brought back to a professionaly run sport, I will only follow via such sites as Speedwayplus. Perhaps new blood will bring the sport back as it did in the early 60's when the sport last nearly died. I think the clue is there is not one team in London, the country's Capital, with the Midlands now Speedway's stronghold."

  • Nigel Woods:

    "Yes he has covered it well but I would like to add that the price to get in is far too high for one, let alone a family, but also for me the tracks in Britain are poor, today's bikes are faster making so many of Britain's tracks one line only. I find watching racing from overseas better than at home."

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