Editorial

Champ Car's Surfers Paradise race promoter ''gets it''
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 October 21, 2005

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I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with Brett Murray in Surfers Paradise Thursday.  Brett, through his company BAM Media, is the Communications Director for the Lexmark Indy 300.  It's easy to see why this event is such a success. This guy is on it 24 hours a day 7 days a week. He eats and breathes "The Indy" as they call it in Surfers.

His cell phone is constantly in use.  In one hour he had 33 voicemail messages.  As we drive to the track he gets calls from countries all over the world.  This race is truly an international happening and the fact that it draws far more people than Long Beach from a country that has the population the size of Los Angeles, yet is geographically as big as the entire USA, says just how good the promotion is for this event. 


Brett 'Crusher' Murray

Brett, thank you for taking the time to be with us today.

BRETT MURRAY: Always a pleasure.

Q. You've, from what I can see, made this into the model event of all the Champ Car races. You're now in your 15th year. You have welcome parties, forums, black-tie affairs, and so much more. The media seems to be engaged. The crowd is probably the biggest if not one of the biggest of the year. There are more concession stands than at any race we've seen.  What is your secret?

BRETT MURRAY: I think this business is all about relationships. I developed a great relationship with the drivers. I've made sure that the key point of this event is the drivers. Obviously, they're the face of their teams. I've developed some tremendous relationships over the years with those drivers. I make sure anything they need, anything they want, we look after it. And in return, they give me their time. They promote their event. Guys like Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy have been tremendous supporters of this event. If I ask them to do something, they know most of the time it's going to be fun and it's going to be worthwhile. I never ask them to do anything that's not worthwhile. They have enough trust and faith in me to carry that through.

This year obviously we have Team Australia, which my company also looks after. I've been in the States several times this year. And I spent a year in the US in 2000 looking after PacWest. You know, I've got a lot of friends in this series. I think it's all about relationships and trust.

Q. I noticed just walking around the track, there are concession stands everywhere. On the commercial side of things, you seem to have a plethora of sponsors. This race seems to have it all.  I know normally a street race in the first few years, they lose money because of the start-up costs. From a commercial standpoint, is it profitable now?

BRETT MURRAY: Yeah. Look, the Queensland government is a 50% shareholder in this event with IMG, International Management Group. There's a cost to them every year of about $11 million. We don't consider that a loss, we consider it a cost because the return to the government, to the State of Queensland and Australia, is in the vicinity of $55 to $60 million.

The way I look at it, if you were guaranteed a five-to-one winner every time you went to the horse racing circuit, you backed a horse, knew it was going to win, would you put $10 million on it? You bet. You'd put everything you had on it. If you knew it was going to win, you're guaranteed a win, you'd be backing it. The Queensland government backs this event with $10, $11 million. What we return to the government, they almost get that back in taxes alone, in regards to media coverage, promotion of the state and Australia, and people actually coming here for the event.

I mean, this is a pretty special event. People don't understand. Long Beach is a special event in the US. What people don't understand is that the Long Beach event has a drive market of our entire country. I mean, they have 20 million people they can drive to that event. We have 20 million people in a country that's the same size as North America. It's a little bit different. We get 309,000 people over here in four days. If you're going to start comparing events and people, I mean, this is the best event in the Champ Car World Series by far.

A lot of people, a lot of events, have done a terrific job of trying to model their events on this. San Jose was a terrific event, Edmonton, same deal. They've used this as a model. Kevin Kalkhoven is a big fan of this event. So he should be. We set the standard down, I'm very proud we do.

Q. I guess the majority in attendance are Australians. Do you get a lot of people coming in from overseas?

BRETT MURRAY: We get a lot of North Americans, Japanese, Asian market. New Zealand is obviously a big market for us, too. New Zealand is a very big motorsport friendly country. They have a lot of great champions, Denny Hulme, those sort of guys. You got Scott Dixon in the modern era. A lot of people from New Zealand. But a lot of people from New South Wales, Victoria, Americans, international people, get on their global search, and we have a bit of a look from those states within our country. We have seven states within this country. We like to see them come in here. It would be like people coming from Minneapolis to California to see a race.

Q. You have been able to have a successful event without really any Australian drivers up until last year. Now this year there's a Team Australia. Has that helped a lot?

BRETT MURRAY: Yeah, I think the one thing that's been missing, we've been trying to get it for a lot of years, we've had some great support this year from Craig Gore and John Fish who teamed up with Derrick Walker to put Team Australia together. It's just been amazing. We've developed a good following this year and we're starting to see the fruit of all the labor this weekend. We got three cars this weekend with Will Power, Alex Tagliani and Marcus Marshall.

You know, we're going to see people hanging out the balconies with green and gold. We got people painting their bodies. We got people painting their cars. We got a person getting tattooed tomorrow with the Team Australia logo. There's some pretty serious stuff going on.

We had Jason -- we had David Besnard last year, finished seventh in his one and only Champ Car, which was an amazing performance. Jason Bright in 2000. He was running very strongly, about sixth or seventh, until he got involved in someone else's accident. Then Gary Brabham, in the early '90, Jack Brabham's son, ran a couple of races. We've had a couple of sprinkles, but now we've got a full-on team, Team Australia, in the Champ Car World Series, and the following has just been fantastic.

Q. Is this a model for other countries? Champ Car is negotiating for races in China, Japan, and Korea. Along the lines of what you have going here with Team Australia, should there be a Team Korea, a Team Japan, Team USA, Team Canada, Team Mexico, Team Europe, so on and so forth?

BRETT MURRAY: Yeah, well, I think, you know, obviously you got your sprinkle of Americans and Canadians. Canada are big supporters of the series. The best races outside of this race are in Canada, Long Beach, then the other North American events slot in behind that.

But I think, you know, if Champ Car goes and runs in China, one of the first thing they need to do is start looking at a Chinese driver to run in the series. In Korea, the same thing. In Japan, we've had a few Japanese drivers over the years. Hiro Matsushita was probably one of the most famous of those guys. I think there's -- you know, we're going to get back to a point where the late '90s, early double zeroes, we had this series where it needed to be. I think people need to be applauding Kevin Kalkhoven for the work he's done because he's done an amazing job. I mean, I was part of the whole deal for a year in 2000, and that was probably the pinnacle of it, that was probably the turning point to its demise in regards to how it was structured and politically all the things that went on.

I think in this sport, you need dictatorships. You look at Formula One, you got Bernie Ecclestone, you look at NASCAR, you got the France family. You need dictatorships, you need someone to take hold of it, grab it by the throat and do the absolute best they possibly can with it. I mean, Kevin Kalkhoven has done that. He's got a great team of people, people don't understand. Like, you know, 18 months ago, this series was on the brink of not even existing. Now we're at a point where we got 19 cars this weekend, we got new sponsors, we got new events, we got all this stuff happening. I think people haven't given enough credit to the people that have made this happen.

People have been, you know, they've been on top of the water all smiling. Underneath, they're paddling like hell to try and make sure this thing happens. I think that everybody involved with Champ Car needs to be applauded for the efforts they've put in.

Q. Thank you very much for your thoughts. It's a great event. My hat is off to you and your staff for doing a fabulous job.

BRETT MURRAY: Thanks, Mark. You know, I've been pestering you for a long time to come down here. It's great you are here. I think you're going to see some spectacular racing this weekend. Hopefully a lot of your readers and listeners will maybe get themselves down here because this is the No. 1 motorsport event in the world, I'm proud to say that. We've worked a lot of time getting it to that point. We'd love to have them all here.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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