ENSURING THE FUTURE
It’s been an incredible week of qualifying so far for fans watch the Isle of Man TT Races, with perfect conditions on course and a number of record breaking laps. So, ahead of the first race, we sat down the Race Promotor’s Head of Motorsport, Paul Phillips, to talk about the changes, challenges and the future of the Isle of Man TT Races.
Since the pandemic there has been a significant number of changes to the way in which in the TT is delivered - but what is it that’s driving these changes.
SUSTAINABILITY… BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT
The TT is undergoing somewhat of a transformation at present. Live global broadcast via the TT’s own digital platform, access to year-round content, a Fan Park, a new look 10-race schedule, and a new merchandise offering are just some of the headline changes, but there’s even more happening behind the scenes for the race organisation and across the delivery of the event as a whole. All with the single aim of ensuring the racing that fans know and love continues long into the future:
“We live in a changing world and the TT, as it has done for more than a century, has to keep changing to ensure it remains relevant and sustainable. And that word sustainable, which I think gets overused generally, is absolutely relevant here and is what all of the work on the TT that people have seen play out over the past two years is driven by.”
Fans around the world can watch TT 2023 Live on TT+
“We want the TT to be sustainable. And what I mean by that is that we want to ensure it is still here for many years to come, by continuing to benefit the economy of the Isle of Man, by continuing to generate the income needed to service the operating costs, by better managing the risks, by maintaining public, political and industry support and so on.”
“It is without doubt the most complex mass attendance event of any kind in the British Isle. It is totally unique and the challenges that are presented by staging it are significant and ever changing. So none of it is easy, but as a team, and when I say that I mean all of the people that work across the event, we are passionate about sustaining the TT, growing the TT, and improving it for everyone involved, year on year on year.”
A NEW LOOK RACE PROGRAMME
One of the most significant changes that fans will notice this year is the schedule, the new programme delivers more races with the inclusion of an additional Superstock and Supertwin race and of course, the most noticeable difference is the pinnacle of the event, Senior Race Day will now take place on a Saturday.
Making fundamental changes like this, isn’t something that happens overnight and most definitely isn’t something done a whim, a lot of consultation has to take place. Paul explains the rationale for bringing the new schedule into play and exactly how its success will be determined:
A new look 10 race schedule has been delivered for TT 2023.
“Some may not thing it The schedule as was, created a bottleneck in the middle weekend where the majority of fans wanted to book. Thousands give up each year due to non-availability, which is something that can’t be ignored.
“As a consequence we’ve seen a lot of customer dissatisfaction, with people saying they simply can’t book the trip they want. So the schedule change is an attempt to deal with that. To give two long weekend options as opposed to one, to effectively remove that bottleneck in the middle weekend, and to provide our fans with greater choice.
“There are a number of other considerations tied up into the whole project. We’re able to do some different things with practice and qualifying, and get more of that into the daytime when the conditions are at their best.
“We are able to make good use of the May Bank Holiday with two sessions in the day to open the event and throughout the schedule we are able to manage the time on track for the riders and officials versus the amount of rest time there is in-between with generally shorter road closure periods each time.
“More racing is what the fans tell us they want, so we now have two races for each class. And having more racing in the weekends is not only good for visitors, but also for fans around the world who watch the racing live on TT+, with more of that coverage now placed when they are more likely to be off work.
“The TT has been the only major sporting event in the world that I can think of that culminates in the working week. It doesn’t make sense really when you take a step back and look at it compared to all other entertainment events – sporting or otherwise.
“The Senior TT is our FA Cup Final, our Grand National, our Wimbledon Final, and we were staging it on a Friday when most people are at work and can’t travel or watch TV. Most of the visitors have traditionally left the Island before the main race, which is bonkers and can’t be left unchallenged.
“Success for this is a disruption to that traditional travel pattern we have seen over previous years. It’s not about brining more people at any one time, but about growing the overall attendance over the event period, growing the bed nights and growing the economic benefit the Island derives from staging the event.
“And in broadcast terms, it is about growing our audience and providing fans of the TT, both on event and around the world a better and more accessible event.
CONTINUING TO EVOLVE
With fans noticing a raft of changes, Paul explains why the event continues to evolve and improve however after this year many of these changes will be far less noticeable to those outside the organisation:
“2022 and 2023 has seen a fundamental reform of the event, and after this year I predict a more settled short to medium term future for the TT. The work that has been done will continue to be finessed and improved, and the benefits of this work will be increasingly realised over this period.
“The changes currently in the pipeline for 2024 and beyond are perhaps less high profile than we have seen over the past two years; focussed more on the race organisation, risk management initiatives and infrastructure.”
“But… you never know what is around the corner, and in March 2020, we were gearing up for a fairly unchanged TT and none of us knew what was around the corner and how everything would change in our lives almost overnight.”
“So I would never rule anything out, because as the world changes, habits change, technology changes, the TT, as with any event, needs to be ready to adapt to the situation around it.”
It’s no secret that road racing events across the UK and Ireland have been facing an ever-increasing number hurdles in recent years, with some facing a question mark over the long-term sustainability of the event. The question so often being asked is, is it the same for TT? And, how are the growing number of challenges being managed? After all, with digital media allowing fans from around the world more access than ever the interest in road racing continues to increase:
“The TT has faced the exact same challenges as we have seen in Ireland in terms of cost increases around things like insurance. In fact, the rate at which some of our fixed costs have increased post pandemic, post Brexit and post the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the challenge of making ends meet has been an awful lot more significant for the TT I suspect.”
“I know that there is a view in some areas, that the Isle of Man Government will fund the TT at all costs, but that is completely inaccurate. The TT faces the same financial pressures we see right across public spending, and how we are dealing with this challenge at the moment is through the work that is being done to grow audiences and with that generate more sustainable – there’s that word again – income streams.”
“And when I say that these income streams are sustainable, what I mean is that this income is primarily derived corporately. So that’s sponsorship, licensing and broadcast income. It’s generating income in such a way that the fans aren’t the primary contributor, and at the same time they can benefit from these primary income sources be that from more TV coverage, offers and incentives from our sponsors or more and better licenced products.
New range of merchandise available to purchase worldwide and on-event
“This year alone we have signed new long-term sponsorship deals with brands like Carole Nash and Metlezer, as well as extending our relationship with our headline sponsor Monster Energy. We’ve rebooted our visual identity and that is driving a range of licensing deals covering things like merchandise and gaming. And we are making more and more content which is being monetised through advertising as well as broadcast distribution.
“This means that the areas where income is derived from the fans, who are of course having to consider what they spend their money on during a cost of living crisis, we can give better value for money, by reducing the cost of the things they directly purchase such as programmes and tickets and providing access TT+ free of charge. Although the live coverage on TT+ is not free, the feedback from fans so far is that it’s still incredible value for money.
“And at the same time we can service our increased fixed costs on things like insurance, directly from the increases in income, rather than the public purse.
FUTURE OF THE TT
With clear plans in place to ensure the long term sustainability of the TT and worldwide access to the live broadcast there is potential for the TT to deservedly gain recognition as a global sports brand. What is the vision for the TT and is there a change in the TT’s audience?
“I very much believe in the TT in terms of its potential appeal. I’ve always thought that it was a sleeping giant and over the past two years I think we are finally starting to get things in a place to see it realise that full potential.
“We are growing audience and finding new fans at a remarkable rate at the moment, whilst at the same time giving existing fans more of the things they like the most – racing and coverage of the racing and racers.
“At its core, the spectacle of TT racing is simply unbelievable and anyone who finds it can’t help but be impressed by that. So in this age of normalised high-speed internet access and mass consumption of video, the TT is well placed to become a much bigger sports property than it has been over the past number of decades.
“There are generational and territorial gaps in our audience, which we are starting to address, but this isn’t about replacing one group with another. We are very focussed on accessibility and we want fans of all ages and nationalities to be able to access the TT either as a visitor with boots on the ground, or as a fan of the event through consuming the content we produce year round.
“We want to retain the existing fan base and give them a better event, whilst at the same time attracting new fans to the TT, and to make sure that we can deliver an event for them all to enjoy for many years into the future.
QUALITY OF ENTRY
With the racing action for this year’s TT about to get underway and some incredibly fast laps already achieved during qualifying, is the quality of entry for the TT improving? Many fans will notice a reduced number of riders on the grid, but how does the TT continue to attract and retain new riders?
“The TT is a piece of entertainment ultimately and I think that sometimes gets forgotten. So it is really important that the racing is as good a spectacle as we can possibly produce, by attracting the best riders and the best teams to the event.
“And that isn’t easy because the TT is such a challenge in so many ways. For both riders and teams it is a huge commitment that has to be prioritised over everything else that they do for the rest of the year. The costs are high, the risk profile is high and the duration is longer than anything else they do.
“The TT and road racing in general has lost some real talent in recent years for a range of reasons, and we need some of the new younger riders we are seeing starting to develop, to continue to move up the pecking order and start to challenge for honours in the coming years.
“In terms of what we do to attract riders to the TT, it is ultimately about creating the best event possible; with the best opportunities for them to further their careers and an environment they can come into which is supportive and accessible.
The bigger the TT gets in terms of audience and awareness the better the rewards are for those taking part, so that is an important by-product of the work we are doing to sustain the event more generally.
What we aren’t doing is dangling a carrot in front of anyone, or pressuring anyone to do something against their better judgement. And this strategy has been successful for us, and what we see is that the TT itself will make some of these guys into stars over time.
Riders like Conor Cummins, James Hillier, Dean Harrison, Jamie Coward, Davey Todd, Nathan Harrison and many more were virtually unknown before they started riding in the TT, and as they have progressed at the event, their profile has risen exponentially across the sport.
Even Peter Hickman admits that his career was saved by taking on the TT and doing well at it; and we all know how the rest of that story went. The events pre TT haven’t been kind to us this year unfortunately, with a number of riders ruled out through injury. There isn’t much we can do about that, and it isn’t the first time this has happened and won’t be the last. However we still have a mouth watering line up, and it feels like the battles at the front are going to be a bit closer than last year with all the main protagonists coming into the TT in great form, on great equipment and riding for great teams.
Statistically speaking the racing at the TT is now closer than it has ever been and I suspect this year will be no different with races won and lost by small numbers of seconds.
Paul has talked about ensuring the long term sustainability of the event, but what will the TT look like in 10 years’ time?
“I expect the TT to still be an important event for the Isle of Man, for the motorcycle industry and for fans of the event over that period.
“In order to do so, it will need to remain relevant, and that means further evolution. We can already predict more focus on things like environmental sustainability as one example of growing considerations, but it is impossible to predict what is around the corner that will impact how we do things next.
“All I can be sure of, and recommend to whoever is in a position to influence that future direction, is that you have to be able to adapt to survive otherwise you will become extinct. And whilst I know there are some of the more traditional fans who are uncomfortable with the way the TT has changed in recent times, few could argue that it currently has a secure future.
“And that security comes from the way in which it has changed. The alternative is perhaps evidenced by what we are seeing in Ireland where there will be only three races across the North and South of the country this year and the future of the sport in that country has become very uncertain.
Paul has over 15 years’ experience working on the TT, but what is it after more than a decade that keeps him and his team passionate about the event?
“The TT has been in my life since the day I was born. I grew up on living on the course, influenced by a father who was and still is a TT super-fan, and surrounded by friends and family who are all massively into it.
“I am passionate about it and always will be. However that passion has changed over the years, whereby now it is more about doing the best job of delivering it with my colleagues, and increasing the benefits it brings to our Island, which as my home, I am equally as passionate about.
“And right at this moment, with the progress we are making, and the growth we are delivering, in what is a very challenging climate, I’ve never really enjoyed that involvement more.
“The satisfaction comes from making things happen and getting things done. From being innovative and from delivering outcomes. And from getting to work with great people both in my own team and across the event.
“I feel lucky to get to do this and lucky that I get to work with so many really good individuals.