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NW200 running at a loss despite huge crowds and TV reach of 800 million

Race chief Whyte calls for more financial support to keep free show on road

By Jim Gracey

Published 03/05/2016

Ready for action: Mervyn Whyte
Ready for action: Mervyn Whyte

The world renowned North West 200 motorcycle races are running at a loss, despite attracting a global TV audience of 800 million viewers, event chief Mervyn Whyte has revealed on the eve of another race week.

Audited figures revealed by Mr Whyte show a significant annual boost to the north coast tourism economy with an estimated total visitor spend of £4.5m in the area in 2015.

The wider media and PR value to the area, in terms of local, national and international exposure, as independently measured by Nimms Media Evaluation, increased to £10.3m in 2015.

Yet this country's biggest attended sporting event, attracting up to 85,000 fans from home and abroad over race week and over 50,000 on race day, has been running at a loss in recent years, Mr Whyte says.

And that has led the man known as Mr North West to call for increased financial support for the event, both from government and tourism agencies, and local business interests benefiting from the event which roars back in to life this weekend, building up to the big race spectacular on Saturday week, May 14. "Our operating costs have risen sharply to £850,000 in order to maintain and improve the high standards we have set, on and off the track," Mr Whyte said. "But over the past few years we have been left with a shortfall when the figures are added up, simply because we are not bringing enough in."

Mr Whyte stressed the event was not in danger of downsizing, or even disappearing, and acknowledged the support of existing backers. "We couldn't stage the North West without the funding we receive from our title sponsors Vauxhall, our individual race sponsors, the local Causeway and Glens council and TV rights deal with BBC," he said.

"To be fair, a lot of local business interests do chip in and we are grateful for all of that. But there are also business people in the area who are making a lot of money out of the North West and putting nothing back in. I'd like them to look at the bigger picture and see that a viable and successful North West means an even greater spin-off for them and they should invest in that. The benefits of supporting the North West are mutual.

"In addition, our current three-year deal with Tourism NI is coming up for renewal and, while you can never take any funding for granted, we'd be hoping for a continuation on the back of the figures we have commissioned.

"Those show a return of £50 for local tourism from every pound invested by Tourism NI." In 2015 a new deal with CBS delivered worldwide coverage of the Causeway Coast locality to 90 million homes in North America with global TV broadcasts to more than 800 million.

"Last year's estimated total visitor spend was £4.5m and visitor satisfaction, as measured by independent face-to-face surveys, rated at 97.5%, all which demonstrates the value of the North West in marketing Northern Ireland, and the Causeway Coast and Glens area in particular."

Most surprising of all, Mr Whyte said, is that the event's single biggest source of revenue comes from programme sales.

"We are unique in that out of crowds between 50,000-70,000 on race day, depending on the weather, only 5,000 are paying customers in the grandstands. For the rest, spread around the Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine triangle, it is a free show, and we would appeal to those spectators, if they have the future interests of the race at heart, to buy a programme in lieu of admission money."

Limavady man Mr Whyte, one of a 12-member management team heading up an army of 800 volunteer helpers, said: "Essentially the North West runs on a large amount of goodwill. There is no immediate threat to the race but additional funding from our current and new investors would mean the difference between struggling to balance the books year on year and securing the future of the event to make it even better."

Belfast Telegraph

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