What is IndyCar hiding?

The Edmonton Indy race remains popular with the public, was an artistic success Sunday, start to finish, and will return in 2013, the final year of its three-year contract with the City of Edmonton and the IZOD IndyCar Series.

But Octane Motorsports Events, the Montreal-based promoter, is seeking even more traction with the fans and especially the Edmonton corporate community to ensure the long-term survival of the event here.

“This is a major sporting event of international caliber, coming to Edmonton once a year, and not too many cities have the privilege to host an IZOD IndyCar Series race," Francois Dumontier, the Octane CEO, said in a news release Sunday. “To build a strong event, maintain the global visibility and the economic fallout for the host city, and ensure its continuity, the attendance is key, as is the business community joining as sponsors or corporate hospitality customers."

One thing in MacKinnon’s column got my attention: that the Indy folks don’t release attendance figures.

This is very odd, no?

I can’t think of any other major sports or cultural event that doesn’t release attendance figures. Why doesn’t Indy do so, especially as its promoters have gone asking to the city government for financial support to stage this event?

The Oilers, the Eskimos, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Winspear, even horse racing, can produce attendance figures and regularly do so.

So why not Indy? It strikes me this is a basic, simple way to ascertain the level of public support for an event.

How many people go? Does the public love it? Or are people indifferent?

I’ve been to the event once. It wasn’t my thing. I don’t like super loud and fast cars do little for me. That said, the stands looked full and other people seemed to be loving it well enough. Clearly, some folks are passionate about this kind of car racing.

But how many?

I’m not against the city or provincial government working with Octane, the Indy promoter, to keep this race going.

The government assists on all kinds of sporting and cultural events. Some of this assistance can be justified, if enough people care enough about the event or activity, if it has great cultural significance, and if staging it here provides a large benefit to the public.

Sometimes, however, these subsidies can’t be justified.

Take horse racing, another more fringe sport, but one that has pulled in more than $225 million in government subsidies in the last ten years. I can’t see any reason for that subsidy to continue, certainly not at that level.

As for IndyCar racing, I’m not sure. If I had the attendance numbers, I’d be more sure. Given that the city has previously invested millions in this event, and continues to lend a major hand through sponsorship, the attendance figures should be public knowledge, not some corporate secret. Edmonton Journal

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