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    Shanghai champions new racy image
Li Jian
2004-12-30 06:35

After managing to make Shanghai the final stop of the Fomula One in 2005, Yu Zhifei, deputy general manager of the Shanghai International Circuit (SIC), is focusing on how to sell Formula One tickets and attract more fans.

"We will build camps around the circuit during the 2005 Formula One China Grand Prix," said Yu.

"Many spectators came to watch the race out of curiosity this year. We are not sure if they will come again next year. What we should do is continue inspiring their curiosity and turn them into loyal Formula One fans."

The Formula One debut in China in September sparked many Chinese's passion for the world-famous race. Even though the high ticket price prevented many Chinese fans from enjoying the race at the circuit itself, Formula One has nevertheless become a term synonymous with fashion, dreams and the chic life-style.

Fans will have more to expect in 2005. As well as Formula One, Shanghai will host a series of top ranking racing events including MotoGP, the V8 Supercar Championship Series, and the Formula One water motorbike race.

"More and more racing events are looking for the opportunity to enter Shanghai following its success in hosting F1," said Qiu Weichang, deputy director of the Shanghai Sports Administration.

"We just can't believe they've come so soon," said Wang Wei, an official from the Shanghai-based Oriental International Holdings. "What could be seen only on TV in the past will appear right in front of our eyes."

After watching the race at SIC, Wang said he instantly fell in love with the sport.

"My room is now crowded with car models, posters and books on auto sports," he said. "Auto sports have become part of my life."

Wang is not the only one who has been transformed into an auto sport fan. Passion and interest in the sport is obvious throughout the city. Theme bars and fan associations have mushroomed and TVs in bars and restaurants have been tuned to channels featuring the sport.

Shops featuring F1-related merchandise and souvenirs are crowded with customers.

The Ferrari franchise that opened earlier this year has seen sales rocketing since July.

"T-shirts, flags and souvenirs with the Ferrari symbol sell well," said Li Yongjiang, general manager of the franchise.

An F1 theme park is planned to be built near Shanghai International Circuit.

"An auto sports culture is emerging in the city," said Li.

"I hope China will have its own F1 racers in three years. A local racer is a guarantee of a solid base of fans," said Yu.

The SIC also plans to build its own F1 team. The FRD Grandtour Tyre team has been established in association with FRD to cultivate future F1 drivers.

However, experts worried the expensive tickets would scare a large number of fans away.

The average prices of a ticket to the three-day race in 2004 were between 1,800 to 2,500 yuan (US$216-301). A ticket for a spot on the grass around the circuit was priced 438 yuan (US52).

According to the SIC, the ticket prices of 2005 Formula One China Grand Prix will increase by 10 per cent, except for tickets on grass.

"It is a traditional rule of F1," said Yu Zhifei.

"But we also take into consideration the purchase ability of F1 fans. The biggest source of fans in the future will be young people, especially university students," said Chen Xiyao, director of Shanghai Auto Sport Research Centre. "But they can hardly afford the expensive tickets."

"A solution to this problem is to increase the high-end prices while lower the price of tickets on the grass," said Chen.

New opportunities

"Formula One offers a golden chance for expanding business in Shanghai. The success in hosting the event shows the city is an energetic, fashionable and growing metropolis," said Yang Xiaodu, vice-mayor of Shanghai, at a meeting reviewing Shanghai's F1 debut in October.

Shanghai spent more than US$600 million last year building one of the world's best circuits and other relevant facilities.

"Although the cost was huge, the value F1 will bring in to the city is beyond calculation," said Chen Xiyao, director of Shanghai Auto Sport Research Centre.

Anting, a small town northwest of Shanghai, now claims to be China's Detroit following the building of the Circuit, and the racing event has given huge impetus to the area's network of car making, parts making and vehicle refitting businesses.

The centre will cover 68 square kilometres and total investments will top 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion).

"Without the China Grand Prix and F1, the automobile centre could not have been successfully built," said Yu.

"Events held here will help attract more investment for Anting." Car manufacturers are not the only beneficiaries. The racing industry will also bring income for Shanghai's hotels, land investors and the tourism industry.

A total of 20,000 people came to Shanghai to watch the F1, and they all required accommodation.

And now V8 Supercars is expected to bring in another 100,000, along with other events such as MotoGP and the China Circuit Championship.

More than 3 million tourists are expected to visit the circuit each year, with the city's scenic neighbours, such as Hangzhou and Ningbo of East China's Zhejiang Province, hoping to attract some of them.

The event is also a platform for Chinese companies aiming to drive into the international market.

Sinopec has broadcast its name to the world as F1's main sponsor. It provided the asphalt for the SIC track, which was commended by the FIA (Federation International de l'Automobile).

"It is a good opportunity for companies to promote their products because F1 is enjoying large coverage all over the world," said Qiu.

Local companies are trying to gain a foothold in the market. Shanghai Greenland Group, a Shanghai-based real estate company, has bought the rights to promote the V8 Supercar Championship Series Shanghai Round in the next five years.

"The company has taken a brave and important step into the auto sport industry," said Qiu.

"There is risk but we also foresee a bright future."

(China Daily 12/30/2004 page5)


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