Goodbye Glasgow and hello Gold Coast. The Commonwealth Games will return Down Under in 2018 and already there are bold projections: Gold Coast Games Federation chair Nigel Chamier expects the creation of 30,000 jobs and a A$2 billion windfall.
Over the next few years marketers will spruik the branding and the tourism opportunities. But the reality is these mega-events cost more than they earn, and the Gold Coast Games will prove no exception.
The federal government has already allocated a one-off grant of A$156 million to assist in infrastructure development, but warned further funding must be met by the Queensland government. Already the latter has committed to underwrite A$1.1 billion for Games’ infrastructure projects.
The Gold Coast defeated Sri Lanka’s Hambantota in securing the hosting rights. That they were the only two bidders indicates the Games’ diminishing importance and market. The Games’ image was tarnished by the 2010 Delhi fiasco, which ran 250% over budget.
Glasgow will also exceed budget projections. On current estimated costs of ₤563 million, the Games are already £200 million over their initial budget forecast.
It’s unlikely the Gold Coast will get value for money, as its Games will face more significant challenges than Glasgow’s.
No names, no Games
The sporting landscape has changed and the cycle of Olympic Games and world championships has lessened the Commonwealth Games’ importance. While in the 1950s the sporting world was amateur and the Games were second to the Olympics, now top athletes are highly paid professionals competing in lucrative meets. They prefer to bypass events that don’t pay, or may damage their brands.
Furthermore, the Games compete for space in a cluttered sports market, diminishing their relevance in major sporting nations. Athletics, swimming and cycling are the Games’ major selling-points to television networks and sponsors. Attracting high-profile performers in these sports is essential to the Gold Coast Games’ success and marketability.
Name swimmers will be there because most are Australian, but the real problem will be luring track stars. Track and field is the major attraction for broadcasters and marketers, but as Glasgow revealed the Games no longer have the international standing to lure name stars.
Though 800m Olympic champion David Rudisha ran in Glasgow, the world record marathoner, Wilson Kipsang, and Olympic and world champion, Stephen Kiprotich, did not. Nor did the Kenyan and 2013 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) female marathoner of the year, Edna Kiplagat. They preferred to compete on the lucrative world marathon running circuit and the $US8 million IAAF Diamond League.
The leading Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake also wasn’t there, despite competing in a Hampden Park meet before the Games. Much was made of Usain Bolt’s appearance in the Jamaican relay team, yet he bypassed the individual sprints. For an athlete who commands appearance fees in excess of US$250,000 per meet, victory at the Games offered few tangible benefits, while defeat would have damaged the Bolt brand.
His much-awaited run in the relay merely reflected the tokenistic approach to the Games of the world’s best athletes.
Furthermore, the Gold Coast Games may be hit by Australia’s age-old tyranny of distance. Major drawcards may decide the Gold Coast is too far away and bypass the Games for the Diamond League or the European road cycling season.
Waiting for ratings
As the major drawcards prefer more lucrative events, the Games’ marketability to prospective broadcasters and advertisers lessens.
The Ten Network acquired the Glasgow Games’ rights for A$30 million six years ago. Though ratings during the Games were solid, no Australian free-to-air network has as yet expressed interest in the 2018 rights. This suggests television networks are weighing up if the Games offer value for money in an increasingly cluttered sports media marketplace.
Scheduled for early April, the 2018 Games will compete for media space with the start of the NRL and AFL seasons and the culmination of the A-League, EPL and Champions League.
Though the Games will leave the Gold Coast out of pocket, they will offer Australians an opportunity to revisit our commitment to the Commonwealth. Tradition dictates Australians will still compete. We are a conservative and sentimental sporting nation – we love Lords, Wimbledon and Twickenham too much.
But perhaps it’s time to rethink our sporting loyalties. We are economically and strategically dependent on Asia and maybe sport should follow suit. We joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.
After 2018 it’s time to do it in the pool, on the track and at the velodrome and sign on for the Asian Games. They have a bigger market and are more relevant to where we sit in the world.