Malaysia May Drop F1, Citing Poor Returns



KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 – Malaysia may scrap its Formula One race after 2018 due to mounting costs, falling ticket sales and competition from other venues, sports officials said Tuesday, potentially halting one of Asia’s longest-running races. With TV viewership for the Malaysian Grand Prix also ebbing, officials are due to meet later this week to discuss the future of the race after its current contract expires.

“The locals are not buying the tickets to watch F1. Meanwhile, if there is no economic value, why should we continue? We better take a temporary break,” said Razlan Razali, chief executive of the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) where the race is held, told AFP.

The race’s woes are the latest sign of trouble for Formula 1 which, according to official figures, has shed 200 million television viewers globally since 2008. Hopes for a turnaround have been ignited by US firm Liberty Media’s planned takeover of F1. The media, communications and entertainment conglomerate has agreed to buy out F1’s parent company CVC Capital Partners in a deal valuing the sport at US$8 billion (RM33 billion).

Razlan said Sepang, which can accommodate 120,000 fans, drew just 45,000 to last month’s running of the race, and race-day TV ratings also were poor. He noted that hosting F1 is “very expensive”. In comments on Twitter earlier, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said competition from other venues outside of Malaysia was also taking its toll.

“When we first hosted the F1 it was a big deal. First in Asia outside Japan. Now so many venues. No first mover advantage. Not a novelty. F1 ticket sales declining, TV viewership down. Foreign visitors down b/c (because) can choose Singapore, China, Middle East. Returns are not as big. I think we should stop hosting the F1. At least for a while. Cost too high, returns limited.

Falling returns

The Sepang Circuit opened in 1999 and hosted the first F1 Malaysian Grand Prix later that year. It has been a fixture on the calendar ever since and is one of the oldest races in the region. Razlan, however, said ticket sales have been declining since 2014. Malaysian state energy firm Petronas – the title sponsor that backs the championship-leading Mercedes team – has been badly hit financially due to volatile oil prices, which also has crimped the country’s economic growth prospects.

Razlan declined to offer precise figures on the race’s cost and losses incurred. By contrast, the MotoGP Malaysia Grand Prix, part of the world motorcycling championship has consistently seen strong local ticket sales and this year’s event set for Sunday is sold out, officials said.

MotoGP ticket prices are lower than those of Formula One, and both Razlan and Khairy expressed a continued commitment to hosting the motorcycle race. Razlan said last year they saw 85,000 spectators for our MotoGP. He told this to local media, adding that the circuit was targeting a record 90,000 spectators this year.

Last month’s Malaysian Formula One was touched by controversy when nine Australian spectators were temporarily detained for celebrating countryman Daniel Ricciardo’s win by stripping down to tight-fitting swimwear bearing a Malaysia-flag print. Displays of public indecency are frowned upon in Muslim-majority Malaysia. — AFP

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