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How the Melbourne Grand Prix became more than a race

Posted on December 17th, 2018 in Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership, Speaker Interview

Since the Grand Prix’s inception in 1928, it has been hosted at 23 different venues. Perhaps none are as iconic as its current location in Melbourne, which has been the home of the Australian Grand Prix since 1996.

As the first event in the annual Formula One calendar, the Melbourne Grand Prix holds a special place in race–lovers’ hearts. Roughly 300,000 people attend annually and thousands more tune in to watch in Australia and overseas. However, the Melbourne Grand Prix has become about much more than just the race.

We spoke with Andrew Westacott, Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO, to find out how – and why – the Melbourne GP has become more than a race.

Broadening the Grand Prix’s appeal

Older fans and racing purists are content to watch the race, but modern racegoers are there for more than just the cars. The Grand Prix styles itself as an entertainment company, promoting not just the GP but Melbourne and Victoria to a wide gamut of people. With the shift from race day to social event comes the need to entertain a wide variety of patrons.

Racegoers are discerning and want the best in off-track entertainment; a day at the Grand Prix is an immersive experience that goes beyond the circuit. Even people who aren’t fans of motorsport can get a kick out of the atmosphere and excitement of the event.

As Andrew puts it, “It’s got to be backed up with the best in the world from an off-track entertainment programme, the best food and beverages and hospitality, and experiences that surprise and delight.”

The Grand Prix nowadays is a festival of food, music, entertainment, hospitality – and of course, sport – a safe, fun day out to be enjoyed with family and friends. By creating this festival atmosphere, the goal is to have every guest leave thinking ‘I didn’t expect to have such a great day at the Grand Prix’.

Maintaining a high standard

The key to the Grand Prix’s broad appeal is a thorough ‘benchmarking’ process against other motorsport events. Andrew Westacott explained that the Grand Prix is constantly striving to meet and exceed expectations set by other international events.

He said, “We benchmark ourselves against every other Formula One event around the world. We benchmark ourselves against every motorsport category and every motorsport race in Australia. We benchmark ourselves against every international event in Melbourne.”

But the benchmarking doesn’t end there, in order to broaden its appeal, the Grand Prix must stand up against other events and experiences from everyday life.

He added, “We benchmark ourselves against every experience that people have in their day-to-day lives, whether that’s a restaurant, the theatre, art, culture, going to a hotel, going to the movies. What we’ve got to make sure is that the customer experience at the Formula One Australian Grand Prix is as good as you’ll get anywhere in the world.”

The challenge of running this major event annually is keeping it fresh. The Grand Prix aims to raise the bar each year by building on previous successes and making sure the media, the teams, spectators and viewers are seeing something fantastic every year.

The global appeal of the Grand Prix

Formula One is a global business. It can be talked about in the same breath as the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup – except instead of once every four years, the Formula One season takes place annually. Because of its global popularity, Formula One is broadcast to around 185 countries and territories, giving the Melbourne Grand Prix massive international appeal.

The Melbourne Grand Prix is a golden opportunity to market Melbourne, Victoria and Australia to international viewers and potential tourists. It has the unique position of being the first race of the annual Formula One season – 2019’s race taking place on 17 March – meaning there are millions of international fans eagerly anticipating the race each year.

The Melbourne Grand Prix’s timeslot – 4.10pm on a Sunday afternoon – is one key factor in appealing to the global motorsport marketplace. This Australian–friendly timeslot is also perfect for Asia, showing just after lunch, and Europe where it shows during early-to-late morning.

Marketing the Grand Prix internationally

With a growing interest in motorsport, whether it’s Moto GP or Formula One, the Asian region has become a major trading partner of the Grand Prix. Marketing Melbourne to Asian viewers through the Grand Prix is an excellent chance to brand the city internationally and put the city’s best foot forward.

The Melbourne GP has utilised popular Chinese app WeChat as a marketing tool with its Asian demographic.

Andrew explains, “We’ve embarked on a programme of marketing via WeChat to make sure that we’re getting into the Chinese market, and also the Chinese nationals who are resident here in Melbourne, to get them to come along to the event. It has been wonderfully successful in year one, and we’ll be expanding that in 2019.”

All the marketing in the world, however, is only as good as the service delivered on the day. The Grand Prix fosters a culture of pride and excellence within its staff in an effort to provide the best possible experience to race–goers and fans.

For Andrew, the work ethic and culture of his team are of paramount importance. He said, “This is about the pursuit of excellence. It’s about teamwork, it’s about a cultural pursuit of excellence in everything we do, and it’s not just my passion for delivering that excellence, it’s about the passion of every one of our 50 staff, employees, the voluntary board, 600 suppliers and about 12–14,000 accredited staff who work at the event across the weekend.”

What started out in 1928 as a race for motorsport enthusiasts has grown into an international – standard event. Through dedication to entertainment and an ingrained culture of excellence and passion, the Melbourne Grand Prix has taken on a life of its own and become far more than a race.

To hear more from Andrew Westacott and how he and his team are positioning the Melbourne Grand Prix, book your ticket to The Business of Events, 7- 8 February 2019 at Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park.

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