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Free-to-view nature of North West 200 makes balancing books difficult, says chief

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North West 200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte (right) with Stanleigh Murray, Clerk of the Course, during last year's race week.

North West 200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte (right) with Stanleigh Murray, Clerk of the Course, during last year's race week.

North West 200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte (right) with Stanleigh Murray, Clerk of the Course, during last year's race week.

North West 200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte says the free-to-view nature of the famous road race is a serious nuisance when it comes to generating much-needed revenue to run the event.

Last week, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council pledged £60,000 to Northern Ireland's biggest motorcycle race, which North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said had rescued the sporting spectacle "from a treacherous position".

Last month, race chief Whyte was forced to cancel the 2020 North West 200 as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ruling out the prospect of the event taking place later in the year.

Planning for the 2021 meeting, provisionally scheduled to take place from May 11 to 15, is under way, although race organisers can expect to find it more challenging than ever to secure sponsors next year as a result of the knock-on effect of the Covid-19 crisis.

Although grateful for the council's financial backing, Whyte admits there is still much work to do before the international road race returns next spring.

"I had been working with the council for a period of time and that money was ring-fenced for the North West in 2020," he said.

"With the cancellation of the event this year, the money will be a big plus because we had done a lot of spending and we'll be able to put the rest towards 2021.

"After we cancelled our event in May, we've been involved in paying back refunds and we've a lot of expenses to pay as well."

The North West 200 generates around £12million for the economy but, unlike other sporting events, the organisers are unable to charge an admission fee. They rely heavily on revenue from sales of the race programme, paddock wristbands, grandstand and hospitality tickets.

Whyte said: "The key thing is that it's a free-to-view event and it's not like any other sport. You can essentially park your car in Portrush and walk from the Metropole through to the start area and watch the racing. It's not like football or rugby, for example, when you have to pay to get into a stadium.

"Yes, people might buy a grandstand pass or a programme, but whoever decides they don't want to part with any money can basically come and watch for nothing.

"The North West is massive for the local economy itself because it brings in around £12million, so to lose that this year is a major blow to the area and also to Northern Ireland as a whole."

Belfast Telegraph