It’s often difficult to determine whether
sections of the Australian media are one of the following: a) disingenuous, b)
obtuse, or c) genuinely ignorant about one of the only truly global sports.

Reading yesterday’s “announcement” in the
Herald Sunthat Fosters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the Australian Grand Prix, it
might be a case of all of the above.

OK, so Aussie beer brand Foster’s has sold
a chunk of itself to its existing distribution partner in the UK. While
that means that global sponsorship deals – like the naming rights to
the Grand Prix in Melbourne – have been ejected from the pub, who’s to
say that the blue and
gold logos won’t still adorn the Albert Park circuit through a local
deal?

While Fosters has always flowed at Albert
Park, Qantas was title sponsor between 1997 and 2001. To drill fear into the
hearts of Victorian taxpayers, is – to be kind to the sensationalist reporters
in question – at least premature.

More astute observers will also have seen
the European headlines nearly seven months ago screaming “FOSTER’S MAY QUIT F1”. UK
chairman John Dunsmore said in September 2005: “(F1) no
longer fits with (Foster’s’) core strategy”. Presumably, the very astute GP
boss Ron Walker did read the news, and, as F1 is no longer the cottage
industry of the 50s, a queue of alternate sponsors are preparing to fight for
the right to join the third biggest sporting spectacle in the world behind the Olympics
and World Cup soccer.

In truth, the change from
global to
regional sponsorship will (with a bit of luck) be little more than a
technicality both for the GP and for Australian Fosters bosses. And who
knows
what percentage of the defunct Fosters deal actually went into the
commercial
fees paid to F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone?

Maybe the gravel traps will
simply need
to be painted a cheaper shade of pink in 2007. Or maybe the influx of
new
sponsors, relieved that Albert Park will no longer resemble a giant
Smokemart from now on, will be happy to cough up the difference.

Peter Fray

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