By BBC Sport NI.
Next year’s North West 200 must be allowed to run at 100% capacity in order to be financially viable, says event consultant Mervyn Whyte.
The international road race has been cancelled for the last two years, with the organising Coleraine and District Motor Club surviving on government grants.
In the latter stages of 2020, limited numbers of spectators were allowed to attend sporting events in Northern Ireland, but a cap on numbers would not work at the North West, says Whyte.
“We would need to get back to where we were in 2019,” he said.
“If were were told that we couldn’t have 15,000 people coming through our paddock area, that we were limited to 500 people, then it just wouldn’t pay at the end of the day.
“There wouldn’t be enough income to pay your overheads.”
The event, one of the biggest on the international road racing circuit, was cancelled just once (in 1973) throughout the Troubles, while it was also unable to go ahead in 2001 due to foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Back-to-back cancellations in 2020 and 2021 have tested the event’s financial capabilities to the limit, and while Whyte is confident it will return “bigger and stronger than before”, organisers insists it cannot run with limited capacity.
“The North West 200 costs us roughly £1m, there’s a massive amount of work in bringing in £1m,” Whyte said.
“The general public really don’t appreciate that. It’s a not-for-profit event, it’s a free-to-view event. It’s not like football, rugby or events where you go through a turnstile and you’ve been charged.
“We are blessed that we have a lot of people who support the event financially. That’s a major plus, but we need people to support us financially again in the future.”
With no event-generated income since 2019, Coleraine and District Motor Club received funding through the Executive’s Sports Sustainability Fund, while they are hopeful of securing an interim payment from Tourism NI soon.
Organisers took the decision to cancel the 2021 event in January, even deciding that the mooted contingency dates in August were too great a risk to pursue.
“We looked at it and debated it long and hard. We wanted to give the competitors and spectators ample warning, but it was the right decision there is no doubt about it,” said Whyte, who stepped down last year after 20 years as event director.
“The whole vaccination process is going well at the present time, but if we had of went ahead with the event and something had have happened on the north coast, the blame would have been on the North West 200.
“We have a lot of residents on the course, a lot of stakeholders and sponsors, and we have a duty of care to them at the end of the day.”