MAY 13, 2005
The next battle for the BRDC
The battle for control of the British Racing Drivers' Club is over but now the club must face up to the more important problems it is facing, including the most important issue of all, which is to make the club meaningful again to racing drivers and create a desire for young British racing drivers to want to be members. Once BRDC membership was a badge of honour but over the years that image has slipped and the youngsters of today see little reason to join a club.
In addition there is the philosophical question of what the club should be in the future and whether holding on to Silverstone and struggling to fund the British Grand Prix is the right thing to do or whether the club would be better served as a charitable organization helping the sport by supporting young racing drivers. While there is a valid argument that someone needs to run the British Grand Prix, the competition for races is such that the costs will continue to rise as long as the current financial system in F1 remains as it is, and the government is unlikely to help until the things change because the history between Prime Minister Tony Blair and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is such that it is almost impossible for any financial assistance for the event without there being a political scandal. When competing with huge government-supported schemes such as the Grands Prix in Bahrain, China and Malaysia, it is hard to see how Silverstone can survive, even with its undoubted historical significance, particularly as F1 is insisting that the track be substantially rebuilt.
The BRDC has a number of plans to boost revenues and transform Silverstone into more of a motor racing "theme park". This could be very successful but there needs to be very careful planning as the theme park industry is not a licence to print money as some people think. Profit margins are low and competition is increasing all the time. Disney has famously struggled with its resort in Paris while it is less well publicised that Lego is considering selling its four parks in California, Denmark, Germany and England.
There is much competition in the UK with a whole new generation of parks being built to compete with the established names such as Chessington, Longleat, Thorpe Park and Alton Towers. There are any number of large scale theme or leisure parks in Britain now competition coming not only from "white knuckle" adventure parks but also from zoos and wildlife parks, historic properties, museums and art galleries. Even retail venues are now adopting themes in an effort to compete. In addition to all of this the competition is growing from cheaper leisure alternatives such as movies, video games and the Internet. Technologies are constantly changing and that means that, in order to stay popular, theme parks must constantly invest in new attractions, which cuts into the profit margins. At the same time, the tourist attraction business is changing with a greying population which is changing the market. In order to be successful, therefore, Silverstone must have a very clear understanding of the specific needs and behaviour of its target audience. It must also understand the significant role played in the theme park industry by merchandising.
However, according to research we have read, the key issue in the success of a theme park is its location. A park needs to be located within easy reach of a big city with good public transportation. Silverstone now has better road access than once was the case but it is still difficult to get to by an other means. In addition to that there are going to be planning restrictions on what Silverstone can do in the future. The South Northamptonshire Council says it wants to "ensure that the economic benefits that the circuit brings to the area, as well as the tourism spin-offs, are not undermined" but has a number of restrictions and has stated that "a balance must be struck between enabling the future development of the circuit and its related facilities, and the need to protect the environment of the surrounding landscape". It has also made the point that its planning policies will only be valid on the basis that the Grand Prix will continue to be run at Silverstone. However it says that it will adopt "a more pragmatic and flexible attitude in respect of the other parts, subject to any necessary safeguards."
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