Falling Crowd Numbers Force Assen To Contemplate Major Changes

The Dutch TT at the legendary Assen circuit could be facing major changes over the next few years. Falling spectator numbers are forcing the board of the TT Circuit Assen to take a long look at the event to try and turn the tide. The organizers have even gone so far as to put the day of the race up for discussion, and move the event from Saturday to Sunday in future years. Moving race day from Saturday to Sunday is just one of the changes under consideration for the oldest event on the MotoGP calendar - the race has been held near the Dutch city of Assen since 1925, and has been on the Grand Prix calendar since 1949, the year the series was formally inaugurated.

At the heart of the problem lies falling spectator numbers, a problem faced by races throughout Europe. Where over 200,000 spectators attended over the three days of the event back in 1990, in 2011 that number fell to under 100,000 for the first time. According to reports in the regional paper Dagblad van het Noorden, the board of the TT Circuit Assen have considered a number of measures to reverse that trend, and get more paying customers through the doors. A flying display by the Dutch F16 Demoteam was one of the attractions suggested, but organizational problems meant that this idea had to be dropped. Other measures, including an expansion of the Assen TT Festival, the cultural events surrounding the race including live concerts by rock bands, across multiple locations in the city, and adding high profile names to the bill. A delegation from the circuit visited the Le Mans GP in May, and were impressed by the scale of events that take place at that event.

The idea of switching the race from Saturday to Sunday would be part of those plans. At the moment, most of the activities happen on Friday night, making it harder for some fans to attend. If the race was moved to a Sunday, then the "Nacht van Assen", the major festival surrounding the race, could be moved to Saturday night and draw a bigger crowd. The original rationale for the race being held on a Saturday has disappeared; in 1925, when the race was first held, local churchgoers, members of the very strict Calvinist sect that dominated the area, decreed that no sporting events should be held on Sunday. The process of secularization that has continued as the 20th century has progressed has seen the numbers of people opposed to sporting events being held on a Sunday dwindle to almost nothing, opening the door to a switch for the Dutch round of MotoGP. The idea has come from the Assen TT organization themselves, the circuit's managing director Peter Oosterbaan told Dutch news service ANP, and had not been forced upon them by Dorna, the organization which runs MotoGP, though Dorna had responded positively to the idea of moving the date.

One idea which would need cooperation from Dorna would be to be able to appoint the title sponsor of the event themselves. Currently, Dorna arranges contracts with a number of sponsors and allocates title sponsorship along lines agreed with those sponsors. That, the Assen TT board said, left them with sponsors with no local investment and little chance to expand the scope of the event. The TT Circuit Assen is negotiating with Dutch beer brewer Bavaria to take on the role of title sponsor, a proposal which Dorna is currently considering. Though the circuit sees none of the sponsorship fee paid by the title sponsor, having a strong local brand like Bavaria would be a major boost for the event. Bavaria sponsors several other major events in the Netherlands, and would probably contribute significantly to the marketing and promotion of the race and the surrounding events. They would be likely to host their own major hospitality efforts at the event, contributing both directly and indirectly to the circuit. Having a strong local sponsor would boost the profile of the event in the region, create stronger ties to the local market and help raise spectator attendances.

There is no immediate threat to the continuity of the race at the moment, however. Rather the contrary: the circuit is hoping to break open the current contract that runs until the end of 2016 and extend it until 2021. That contract is worth US $3 million a year to Dorna, with the sanctioning fee indexed to a rise of 5% every year. Breaking open the contract early would almost certainly mean that the track would have to pay more to Dorna to organize the race, but having a contract in place until 2021 would allow the circuit to start long-term plans to expand the reach of the event and reverse the trend of falling visitor numbers. The TT Circuit may have to turn to the local government for support: though the facility has been entirely self-funding so far, expansion plans may require a financial contribution from the city of Assen and the regional authorities. A recent study showed that the Dutch TT at Assen had economic benefits for the region of around 100 million euros in 2010, and kept some 2100 people in full-time employment annually.

At the moment, everything is up for discussion, however, and nothing is settled. The main priority of the circuit is to increase spectator numbers without raising ticket prices. Their task is currently made more difficult locally as the MotoGP series is currently only being broadcast on the Pay-Per-View sports channel Sport1, previous Free-To-Air broadcaster RTL having lost the rights at the end of 2009. Though the MotoGP race is still widely available - the extremely high level of cable saturation means that almost every Dutch household can see the BBC coverage of the MotoGP race for free, though it is not in Dutch and the BBC do not cover the support classes on the FTA broadcast - the drop in the numbers of spectators willing to pay for a ticket to attend the Dutch round of MotoGP at Assen underlines the importance of TV coverage in local markets.

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One of the most iconic motorcycle GPs, in recent years they have spent a lot of money to basically neuter this unique course, today it is a shadow of its former glory. I for one am not surprised that the numbers have fallen off.

The decline in attendance can't be blamed on changes to the circuit but to the overall decline of attendance in Europe signifying a shift in consumer preferences. If motorcycling becomes less attractive, then the number of potential spectators declines. Organizers have no control over this The best they can do is jiggle the event calendar to attract the most riders.

I'm afraid I agree with Nealio. Chopping off the circuit straight after the start/finish destroyed one of those great spectacles of the European GP circus, I don't think the aficionados forgive easily!

I'm sure lack of national TV coverage has a significant effect too. And whilst it is true that the age of spectators seems to have aged along with me over the last 40 years there are good attendances at many other European GPs.

Don't overlook that a MotoGP weekend is not a cheap day out; quite affordable for us 50 somethings with kids gone etc but not the case for many younger enthusiasts in these difficult times.

It's sad that this historic event is at risk, but I am not surprised. There has been a lot of talk about the reasons already on several websites here in The Netherlands, and the organisers (both of the Assen circuit and Dorna & Co) would do well to take note of those comments. It's as much because of changes to the track as changes to the sport.

As far as Assen itself is concerned, over the past 10 years or so they have made a lot of effort to ruin a great circuit. From a characteristic, long flowing track with a unique layout and a natural atmosphere in the grassland it has changed into a short track with a bunch of incoherent corners, surrounded by huge gravel traps, even more asphalt run-offs and in the new section big concrete grandstands a hundred meters from the track. Good overview yes, but no sensation of speed. Not to mention that it's impossible to identify the bikes that way, especially since the teams have removed starting numbers just about completely.
Apart from that, the exploding prices and strict regime for taking drinks etc with you are not well-received either.

It is a bit ironic to see that since Assen has mutilated and amputated the once much-appreciated and respected track, they constantly boast with the 'Cathedral' title, which was given by riders and spectators in the past.

But I think the bigger problem is that the GP's themselves have changed a lot. From three real GP classes with clear formulas it has gone to one MotoGP class with confusing double regulations and two clearly inferior support acts that only are meant as education classes. And because most viewers can only see the MotoGP race on TV (or none at all), the two other classes do not really live for the viewers anymore. People go to a GP to see the bikes and racers they see on television the whole year. Now that stimulation is much less.
Personally, I loved seeing and hearing the exotic machinery that represented the ultimate in racing motorcycle technology, in three different capacities. Now, that only is true for the MotoGP class.

And I really, really would like to see the teams think about us spectators more and give us back the big uniform numbers that make it easy to see who's who, because it is already hard on TV, but from the grandstands it's a disaster to see who's where, especially in the classes with many new riders. So people stay at home and watch TV. Or skip racing altogether.

Jet fighters and festivals are not the answer, bike riders want to see proper GP racing with the motorcycle brands they know and love.

How is the super-screen situation? I know I won't even consider a spectating spot if it does not have super-screen on a good viewing line. I check out the good non super-screen spots (Such as turn 3 at Phillip Island) during practice when there is little need to keep track of timing. Which is illustrative of my point you get a superior view of the race on the TV.

Replying to my own comment as I felt a little callous not mentioning the unrivaled atmosphere at a live race track. It's like a rock concert but for motorcyclists.

The way the track grandfathers seat sales, and how they sell their tickets in general make it extremely difficult to purchase. If you are a first timer, it's a huge pain. I know tickets are available from other vendors like MotoGP, but they only have tickets for certain parts of the track.

Build more hotels in the area.

I don't believe the track changes have affected ticket sales at all.

I don't have any sympathy after they butchered the track to put the hotel in on the circuit. They should have left the layout alone instead of butchering it up. Before this it was one of the great tracks on the calendar, if not the best. It gave Europeans a reason to make the trek to the Netherlands to see one of the best tracks. They made their decision and let the chickens come home to roost. The area is no longer on my bucket list and I have no desire to make any effort to go there. I'd rather go to Mugello. Call me a purist, but that track used to be absolutely beautiful.

Prof Powervalve hits the nail on the head.

Another thing that very much is overlooked is that there are no front-running Dutch riders.

A competitive local rider = greater crowds. It as simple as that.

Although I respect the TT board of investing a lot back into the circuit, and not filling their pockets and leaving the circuit for what it is (although the circuit was probably better left in its pre 2006 form), like a lot of circuits have done in the past. I disapprove of their relationship with the Dutch riders. On one hand the top riders of the late 70's-early 90's (Wil Hartog, Hans Spaan etc), are dragged back into the PR picture every year.

BUT they seem to forget about the new talent. There is no 'TT assen circuit' sponsor sticker (not even a small one) on Jasper Iwema's bike, so this kid can buy himself into a proper team.

From all those years the (mostly) Dutch crowds, have gone to the TT and spend a lot of money, the TT board should reserve a minor percentage for local rider sponsorship. It might even repay itself.

To be honest, the circuit can only do so much to support local riders. More of it is down to the Dutch federation KNMV and other motorcycling organizations, and they've been hard at work at that for the past couple of years. If you're in Holland, pick up the TT Special edition of MOTOR, which has an interview I did with Wilco Zeelenberg, where he also talks about what has been done. Now, there's the Molenaar NSF100 cup, there's the Yamaha YZF 125 R cup, there's the Moriwaki cup run by Ten Kate, all of which provides a cheap and gradual path into racing. That will take a few more years to pay off completely, but it's getting there. And of course there's Scott Deroue, currently vying for the championship lead in the Red Bull Rookies Cup. He's a fast and talented rider, and once he learns to lead a race and leave the rest of the field, he's going to be nearly unstoppable. Very promising indeed. So it's going to take a while, but the appointment of Barry Veneman as the national roadracing coach has already made a huge difference.

My point was not about organizing the growth of new talent, there has indeed been a lot of good effort done the last few years in The Netherlands. It is about financial support.

For many years the TT circuit has reaped the financial benefits of the Dutch doing well in the GPs. These guys drew large crowds to the circuit every year, resulting is sale of tickets, large amounts of beer etc.etc.

So my point is give something back to those riders. Scott Deroue is a great talent, but he will get nowhere with proper financial backing.

The fact the tracks been "neutered", in my opinion, has an awful lot to do with this. Assen was in the top 3 of European rounds for me to do. Now, after they've faffed about with it (yet again). To be honest, it's not even in my top 5. That coupled with no Dutch riders is going to have an adverse effect. Will be very interesting to see the numbers for the Moto GP vs. WSBK and BSB..

Being a destination known for it's variable weather can't help.
The forecast for this week looks dismal.
The first break in the weather will probably be WUP before the race.
Don't see the Honda boys making the improvements they need in tyre management to beat Lorenzo.

I have been there twice from Canada. I was surprised to find out alchohol is not allowed onto the property even if you are camping on site. Not sure if all tracks are like that, but I can see that being a turn off for a lot of people.

Friday night in Assen is completely mad, I am sure a lot of people never made it to the track for the race as a lot of people were still drinking when the sun came up.

Track changes or not, I'd go back. It's pretty easy to get from town to the track and to get out after the race.

Thanks. Haven't really seen the old layout in action (may have to go back and watch some of those races) but when I play SBK on PS3 I really like the new Ossebroeken and Strubben Hairpin.

I agree cutting up the old layout was a disaster. But I am always surprised to hear that many Dutch TT visitors are not even aware of the (exact) changes done in 2006. Most are not hardcore motorcycle(racing) fans but visitors who can just about name the top six riders and are not even that much into racing. And I think here lies the problem: this group is shrinking. Motorcycle(racing) is more and more becoming a niche in the Netherlands, only for the hardcore fans.
Motorcycles (and racing) are out of fashion. In Italy, motorcycles are for the cool dudes. In the Netherlands, motorcycles are for middle aged single men with no taste. And I am one of them.

I live in Sweden, where we had some great races, and racers, in the top classes 30+ years ago. Since then the top classes of motorsport, including F1 and MotoGP have vanished from Sweden.
Pretty much all international racing is gone(except for a rally which might also disappear soon from the looks of it).
No new circuits have been built, club racing has been killed by noise and safety regulations, and the media does not publish any news regarding motorracing other than who wins in F1, or whenever someones dies in RR.
There are no longer any swedish drivers or riders in the top classes, and even if there are a few talents they have no way to make it up there since they cannot get enough sponsoring. And they cant get sponsoring because there is no public interest in motorsport(or so they say). Its all become a big catch-22.

The biggest reason for it is our government who has opposed motorsports and views it as something dangerous, noisy and an environmental hazard. Same goes for the media, who is run by left wing journalists with the same views(everything with an engine is bad).
No one dares to make any investments in motorsports. Its all soccer or athletics(sooooo boring). It's has left many of us racing fans in despair, and those who can afford it travel abroad to watch some real racing.

Lets just hope and pray that motorsports wont have the same fate in the rest of the world as in Sweden.

For me the circuit has been robbed of it's essential appeal. I travelled from Australia to Europe for the first time in 1998, and having a number of rounds to choose from in the time frame, chose Assen.
Big trip to get there, crazy party atmosphere in the campgrounds, entry to circuit, excitement. I could hear the 500's on track and rushed up the back of the nearest spectator embankment. As I reached the top Alex Criville came snaking and wriggling through the kink after the start/finish straight at unimaginable speed, and set off into the old loop, gracefully connecting the short straights between the kinks. Forteen years ago and I remember it like yesterday.

Impossible to believe that they willingly destroyed that old circuit, and replaced all the good bits with squiggles seemingly recycled from Sachsenring, leaving only small fragments of the original flowing layout remaining.

Maybe this has nothing to do with the downturn in attendance of the partially interested masses who probably make up the bulk of the ticket sales, but to someone who considers themselves an enthusiast, the changes to the circuit are simply an insult.

Two reasons I agree with wholeheartedly!
I have been banging on about the race number issue for ages now, it beggars belief that the series promoters think that it is acceptable to treat its paying public in this way!!
In my view space should be made available on the front and side of fairings for clear uniform numbers. If sponsors can't accept that, and I believe that they would if it had been pointed out from the start, then stuff them! I have attended many GP's over the years and find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between team mates, identify riders who are not on familiarly liveried machines and know what is going on further down the order!
Now we don't have side facing numbers at all!!
I have no plans this year to attend any GP's for the first time in years, partly it's down to this issue, I can't be bothered bringing binoculars to see what's going on when I can see much more on TV! I may just have a couple of decent holidays instead?
This issue alone makes me wonder if Dorna have a handle on the viability of racing at all, if they are not willing to get the simple things right, how can we be sure that they know what they are doing with complex issues like regulations?

As far as the Assen track is concerned, I attended for the first time in 1984, they had just shortened it then too, much to my disappointment, but at least I was told it retained a lot of the full tracks personality. When I went in 2006, I felt like I could have been at any crappy Euro track and haven't bothered to return!

Getting on to other possible reasons for declining attendances, the racing itself in the MotoGp class is becoming boring. Get the factories to accept a formula which gives us more parity of the teams and riders. F1 has hardly any car manufacturer teams, in fact Mercedes only fund a race team, if their funding went, that team could be called anything!
Manufacturers are not in business to race, race teams are, the series can do without manufacturers and be more competitive and a greater spectacle if it adopted the F1 model. Who knows we may see a rider and team from outside of Spain or Japan winning a World Title once again!

This should be extended down through the capacity classes, they should be regarded as GP's in their own right, not feeder classes for MotoGp!
Moto2 should get their own engines, preferably 500 twins, to make them relevant and not some one make series on speed!