Motorsport bringing in £100m to Northern Ireland economy
The economic benefit of two and four wheel sport in Northern Ireland has been estimated at £100m.
This was revealed in yesterday's report by the Northern Ireland Motorsport Taskforce, set up two years ago, and chaired by Ian Paisley, MP, a keen supporter of motorcycle and car sport.
Addressing a gathering of leading personalities from both sports at the Ulster Folk and Transport museum at Cultra, he said: "Our motorsport heritage is significant and is an important sector in Northern Ireland's economy and what we as a Taskforce have looked at is how we harness the economic benefits in this unique opportunity to recommend signposts for the industry into the future.
"We engaged with officials and those involved with motorsport from Scotland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man to hear about the arrangements for developing the different motorsport disciplines and for promoting and running specific motorsport events and their input contributed significantly to the development of this report.
"Indeed, one of our major contributors from the road racing fraternity was the late William Dunlop who gave a unique insight to the Taskforce into road racing in this country."
It may come as a surprise to many but that in the first ever independent study of the economic benefit of motorsport in Northern Ireland, the figure arrived at is approximately £100 million.
The two major two-wheel spectator events, the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix, were estimated in 2017 to generate a total of £10.2 million to Northern Ireland businesses, while additionally the study concluded that the events generated £20 million advertising value equivalent benefit.
Road racing legend Phillip McCallen, speaking at the report launch, said: "We have been looking for over 20 years for something like this to happen.
"For years, it has been talked about and then kicked into the long grass. For too long, volunteers have been organising our sport and it just about manages to keep afloat from one year to the next and with a bad, bad year, could well disappear.
"That should not happen. The North West 200, for example, has a worldwide following and is the envy of many. We cannot let that go out of existence, we need to continue to invest in safety, teams and riders to ensure there is a future. It was noted by someone earlier that the North West received £70,000 from the government last year.
"Compare that to the £10 million economic benefit; it's a drop in the ocean. Remember, competitors pay for the privilege of competing and entertaining at our events for monetary rewards that are pitiful in comparison to other sports."
Gordon Crockard, from a motocross point of view, gave an example of how in France: "Funding from their Motorcycle Federation, via the government, pays for instructors to coach and tutor the younger generation, who are the future of all our sports after all, two and four wheels. They then support them financially as they move up the ladder."
In fact, when you go back to European short circuit race meetings at Kirkistown 20 years ago, the French, Italian, German and Spanish Federations had two-man teams racing thanks to their financial input, with many going on to Grand Prix racing and even becoming World Champions - Max Biaggi, for example.
Safety, of course, is top of the list when it comes to all forms of Motorsport and it was noted that the Department of Communities has provided £715,000 of funding to improve safety at events since 2016, while a number of local authorities contribute financially and in-kind support to events in their jurisdiction.
The question being asked now is who is best placed to deliver a sustainable future for major motorsport events? Will it be individual clubs with the financial burden of making ends meet or the governing bodies along with the 2&4 Wheel Motorsport Group?
The task will be to consider how other regions address the challenges facing major events and collaborating on who runs the events to ensure a common purpose of safe, sustainable, inclusive and economically viable motorsport events - in other words, take the onus off a single club and spread the workload and financial risk around.
This report extends to 40 pages, offering many recommendations on all aspects of motorsport.
It is now up to the governing bodies to consider how best to safeguard the future of individual events, the sport in general and how to prepare future opportunities for our young talent as local, national and international competitors.