Willowbank News and Media
Q&A with Tony Wedlock - Chairman, Willowbank Raceway
Article Date: 30 June 2015
Were you surprised by ANDRA’s email to the members on Monday morning?
Yes we were as we had been in discussions with Michael Fotheringham and he wrote to us as a group on 25 June and gave the tracks seven (7) days to respond. He personally signed and issued the member email only four days after sending the email to the tracks.
It’s the same with the minutes from the meeting that took place between the tracks and members of the ANDRA board in Ipswich on 6 June.
Correct protocol is that it is the responsibility of the Chairman of the Meeting to write and distribute the meeting notes, but Mr. Fotheringham took it upon himself to draw up a biased, one-sided set of notes, call them minutes, and distribute them without consulting the tracks or getting the Chairman of the Meeting to sign off.
We believe it shows the contempt that certain members of ANDRA’s management and board have for Australia’s three major tracks.
Did the tracks ask for the CEO’s contract not to be renewed and if so, why?
Yes we did and we did so due to a number of issues, not only regarding his performance as ANDRA CEO but also a number of incidents of personal conduct unbecoming for the head of a National Sport.
Did you ask for Division Directors Terry Jongen and Phil Parker to resign from the board as well?
Yes we did, as the three tracks believe the attitudes of Terry and Phil reflect an anti-track sentiment, and for the sport to prosper the board needs to understand and consider the interests of all the sport’s stakeholders.
However, given Phil’s service to the sport and his illness we suggested that he should be allowed to retire at the conclusion of his term.
It’s worth remembering that the three tracks – Sydney Dragway, the Perth Motorplex and Willowbank Raceway – are also members of ANDRA and contribute significantly to its operations, Michael Fotheringham suggesting in our meeting on 6 June to the tune of over $700,000 annually.
What about the threat to create a new entity, which ANDRA has called Drag Ltd Version 2?
The sport’s prosperity rests on the health of the Group 1 racing series, and we believe a commercially oriented management structure and professional promotion of the series is critical.
While it had its critics, Drag Ltd was successful in building the profile of that series and showed that commercial input is necessary, and as the last four years have seen all available metrics for the sport and the series decline, then it is time for that to change.
I think it is important to remember that ANDRA was an active shareholder in Drag Ltd with a 25% stake, and was actively involved in all facets of that company, so for ANDRA to scaremonger by branding our proposal “Drag Ltd V2” is plainly ridiculous.
ANDRA chose to walk away, and after withdrawing the Group 1 rights from the company in which it was a shareholder (which arguably had ASIC ramifications) it then proceeded to go to extraordinary lengths to criticize what the entity had delivered for the sport – which was considerable.
However, it is also equally important to understand that none of the directors that were originally involved with Drag Ltd are currently involved with either the tracks or ANDRA.
I think the really important point to consider is that unlike Drag Ltd, our new promotions company will have direct involvement at a board level by professional racer representation. In fact the professional racers will own a part of the company and these details are being finalised as we speak.
What about the claims that you demanded reduced costs for the tracks?
Our request was that we were seeking to have costs for both tracks AND racers to be reduced, and we asked that ANDRA conduct a full review with a view to ensuring reduced costs across the board.
Did the tracks threaten to move to the IHRA?
While ANDRA would like the racers to believe it was threatened, that has never been the case.
Like any business, our responsibility is to ensure our tracks are operating efficiently and profitably, with profits reinvested back into the venues for the future strength of the sport.
To ensure the development of the venues in recent times we have explored a number of options for both sanctioning and insurance.
We only went looking at the options with the IHRA and other local and offshore sanctioning bodies after we believed we had no other alternative.
We held meetings with the IHRA and had the IHRA inspect and sign off on all our facilities. They provide similar services at significantly reduced costs.
But collectively the three tracks have over 50 years of investment in ANDRA and our intention has always been to work through and resolve our issues, and attempt to find some common ground.
Do you refuse mediation?
No, we were offered mediation and accepted provided our main points, all areas critical to the sport’s best interest, were agreed in principal. Those main points were dismissed out of hand, so from then on mediation is pointless.
What is the issue with the television coverage, ANDRA claimed it attracts 340,000 viewers per show on SBS?
Those numbers are far from correct.
In fact, according to official Oz-TAM ratings, this week’s Speedweek program on SBS featuring Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle from the Fuchs Winternationals attracted just 39,000 viewers across the five capital cities.
With regional numbers added, its viewership would top out at around 50,000 – one-sixth of ANDRA’s claimed numbers.
The previous two episodes officially attracted 45,000 and 29,000 viewers across the five capital cities, again, all a long, long way from ANDRA’s claimed numbers.
Our issue with the TV deal extends to the coverage being shown on SBS, a channel not in front of viewers’ minds. Our sport is buried in the Speedweek program, the program is not drag racing specific, nor does it show up on TV guides as drag racing, and the program itself is poorly branded and packaged.
We do not believe it represents the best option for the sport and, quite frankly, the sport deserves better.
We are aware that it has been suggested to ANDRA that a change to 7Mate may have increased the value of the television but this was rejected outright, which to us demonstrated a lack of understanding of the needs of the sport.
I would suggest that a better question would be are we getting value for money with the current investment in television and given the recent review of the ratings the answer would be firmly “No”.
What is important to understand is that the bulk of the funding for TV comes from the sportsman racers, a situation that I do not believe is in their best interest.
The contribution paid by all racers as part of their entry fees for the TV levy at the recent Fuchs Winternationals totaled $32,800, and of this $20,600 was collected from sportsman racers.
That money is better off back in racers’ pockets than going to a second rate TV show.
As such, all three tracks have confirmed that effective immediately, all events where a TV levy has been imposed will have an immediate reduction in entry fees. No longer will we be pseudo tax collectors for ANDRA.
You have said that part of your goals is to reduce costs across the board?
Where possible we want to bring about cost savings to all competitors and this is evident by the immediate reduction in entry fees. We will be considering additional measures to bring about savings to racers like we did at the recent Summit round run at Willowbank.
What does ANDRA contribute to the track’s events?
Let’s put this in perspective. At the recent Fuchs Winternationals, ANDRA took its sanction fees, the license fees, the racer TV levy, and the track’s TV levy. It had free signage for its sponsor Summit, took significant trade stall space for free, and took in $30,000 in merchandise sales.
On the other hand, the Willowbank board faced an expense bill in excess of $800,000 for the event and it carried 100% of the financial risk.
Yet, we have ANDRA wanting to tell us how to run our business and having zero financial input or risk…
We must remember, ANDRA’s championship is simply a collection of successful events run by tracks around the country. ANDRA throws an umbrella over those events and claims them as its championship.
The venues schedule, fund, advertise and promote the events, taking all the financial risks along with the racers.
The tracks hold copyright to the major event names such as the Winternationals, Westernationals and Nitro Champs.
What we are proposing is a successful, promoted championship in its own right that will bring credibility and profitability back to the sport.
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