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S’pore GP organisers in the driver’s seat

Grand Prix organisers have upper hand in renewal talks with Formula 1

After negotiating Singapore's current Formula 1 deal, Bernie Ecclestone said in 2012 that the hardest thing was explaining to the authorities that "we don't race for free".

Four years on, Formula 1's chief executive appears to be frustrated again as he tries to keep one of the most glamorous races on the calendar after its contract expires in 2017, at a time when Singapore is weighing up whether the event still makes economic sense.

With the nation's tourism industry increasingly diversified, a stronger country brand than when it first hosted the event in 2008 and with other major sporting events in the bag, Singapore seems to have the upper hand in the talks with Formula 1.

Moreover, Ecclestone and F1's new owners, US cable TV mogul John Malone's Liberty Media, face a new risk – with Malaysia pulling out of a new deal, they could lose their presence in South-east Asia, one of the world's fastest-growing regions, altogether.

Formula 1's 86-year-old commercial supremo first told German magazine Auto Motor und Sport that Singapore does not want to host a race any more, then clarified that he did not want to lose Singapore.

What it suggests is that negotiations are getting tougher.

"I think Singapore has come in and negotiated hard and realised it is in a position of strength to do so," said James Walton, head of the Sports Business service line at Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia.

"This is one of the top-ranked grands prix... and one of the markets that the key sponsors of F1 are most interested in."

Singapore's government funds 60 per cent of the $150 million it costs to host the race each year. Analysts say it is weighing the costs and benefits of staging the event in the future and, according to Ecclestone, a decision is expected before the new year.

The Singapore event is one of F1's most popular races, taking place at night on a street circuit with spectators entertained by music acts such as Beyonce and Justin Bieber, while TV viewers get a bird's-eye view of the skyline.

As a top wealth management hub, the Republic is a natural draw for the region's affluent people, a key target of Formula 1 sponsors such as Hugo Boss and Tag Heuer, a luxury LVMH brand.

But the significance of that is bigger for Ecclestone than for Singapore, which also hosts events such as the tennis' WTA Finals and the Rugby 7s series that bring over 100,000 visitors each.

Tourism is a bright spot in a slowing economy. In the first eight months of this year, before September's Grand Prix, the number of visitors was up 10.3 per cent from the same period last year, at 11.3 million.

Tourism receipts grew 12 per cent to $11.6 billion in the first half of this year.

For sure, Singapore has benefited from hosting the Grand Prix.

Since its 2008 debut, the event has generated $150 million in tourism receipts every year on average, except for 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis.

- Reuters.

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