Grand Pricks – the Singapore Night Race

No… I am not referring the group of nocturnal people, usually youths, who stagger out of bars and clubs in the wee hours of the morning, drunk, acting like complete ruffians and doing veritably close impressions of our national mascot.

Drunk Merlion. Image credit: Tan Kwang Yang

I am referring to how some people pronounce Grand Prix.

It is pronounced gr-orh-n pree. Come. Everybody. Say it together with me now. Gr-orh-n pree. Once more now with gusto! GR-ORH-N PREE! Yay! There you go.

Mispronouncing Grand Prix as Grand Pricks make it sound like the F1 is an epic gathering of obnoxious, rich and have nothing-better-to-do, insensitive, and inconsiderate dickheads. Of course it is not.

But you may be forgiven to think like that if you run a retail business in the Marina Bay area. If you are, then you would likely see your business drop by up to 50% during the whole Grand Prix period.

Marina Square on the Sunday of the 2013 F1 Singapore Night Race. Photo from ST by Kelvin Lim

Marina Square on the Sunday of the 2013 F1 Singapore Night Race. Photo from ST by Kelvin Lim

Or if you work in that area and are inconvenienced by the road closures. Not only people who drive are affected. Because bus routes will also be diverted, people who take bus to work in that area will also be inconvenienced. You may be forgiven if you spend that extra time you take to get to and from work cursing the Grand Pricks Grand Prix.

Given the adverse impact on retail businesses and inconvenience to people who work in the Marina Bay area, is it really still worth having the Grand Prix in Singapore?

In 2012, in response to a parliamentary question raised by then-NCMP Mrs Lina Chiam, Minster S Iswaran revealed that each F1 race in Singapore is estimated to cost S150million to organize. The government pays about 60% of that. He also told Parliament that the F1 Singapore Night Race generated about S$150million in incremental tourism receipts.

Minister S Iswaran then added that the Singapore F1 Grand Prix had yielded significant global branding benefits for Singapore. He also pointed out that a total of more than 360 million viewers worldwide followed the first four Singapore F1 Grand Prix races. However, he stopped short of giving an estimate to the dollar value of these benefits.

If we really look at Minister Iswaran’s answer, he did not fully address Mrs Chiam’s question. Which is not surprising. Ministers rarely address parliamentary questions completely.

But wait. Why do I say that Minister Iswaran did not fully answer Mrs Chiam’s question? Because he did not properly account for the externalities.

It seems that the measurable revenue in the form of incremental tourism receipts just about covers the direct cost of organizing the race. But what about the indirect costs in the form of loss of business for retail business in the race area and the loss of productivity as a result of increased travelling time of those who work in the area? In other words, how much are the negative externalities?

And yes, Singapore may have gained significantly from the global branding benefits that may have come with organizing the F1 night race. Yes, Singapore may seem to be a bit more hip and happening, a bit more vibrant and attractive to the global party-going rich because of the F1 Singapore night race, but… to what extent? And how much is that really worth? In other words, what are the positive externalities really worth?

Another bit of information that we should consider is the fact that the Singapore F1 night race seems to be losing its appeal. When it first started in 2008, about 100,000 people attended the race. In 2013, only about 84,000 tickets were sold. That is a decline of about 16% from 2008. This year, with the threat of haze hovering over the event, would the ticket sales be worse? In the light of its apparent declining appeal, taking into account both the positive and negative externalities, does it still make sense for us to organize the Singapore F1 night race?

Don’t get me wrong. I was extremely proud to see the Singapore’s stunning nighttime city skyline on TV during the 2008 F1 Singaopre night race, knowing that millions across the world would see that too.

The Marina Bay street circuit is illuminated at dusk after a downpour in Singapore September 11, 2014. The Singapore Formula One Grand Prix night race will take place on September 21, 2014. Picture taken with a fish-eye lens. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The Marina Bay street circuit is illuminated at dusk. Picture from: REUTERS/Edgar Su

But we need to be pragmatic. We need to do a full and proper accounting. Only then can we know if all that money, effort and pain that goes into organizing the F1 Singapore night race is worthwhile, or if we can use that money, effort and pain to do something that gives us a bigger bang for the buck.

And if at the end of a proper accounting, the evidence supports the conclusion that it is worthwhile to continue with the F1 Singapore night race, then we will need to think of ways to make it up to those who bear the brunt of the negative externalities. Why should those most affected silently endure the suffering foisted upon them? It is not fair and we should find ways of giving them a larger share of the net benefits, if any, of organizing the F1 Singapore night race.


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