On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It not money down the drain


AT first impression, it may seem like a bad idea that will drain the country of more money. The economics of investing RM1bil a year for our own Formula 1 team may seem nonsensical to some.

But we must not overlook the economic benefits, including tourism promotion, that we can derive from having a Malaysian F1 team.

When we first took up the F1 challenge, the same apprehension – and even criticism – was made. Many questioned the rationale and wisdom of putting up an expensive race circuit where we Malaysians stood no chance of winning. More than a decade later, Singapore realised that it had missed the chance and has now seen the economic benefits of having an international event like the F1 on the island republic.

For us in Malaysia, it has become an annual event, bringing in the high-spending sports fans as well as the local crowd that has not thinned down. The Sepang Circuit in fact is now in need of more financial support for a major facelift and better facilities.

In 1997, Tourism Malaysia put its name on Rubens Barrichello’s and Jan Magnussen’s Stewart-Fords. Now, we are talking about having our own F1 team. A decade later, I am sure, is reasonable enough for the next step.

Last week, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia should view the F1 as an important instrument to promote Malaysia to the world.

He said Malaysia would have to pay US$1mil (RM3.5mil) just for a three-minute advertisement in Japan.

With the F1 race, Malaysia is shown across the globe for hours and we would not have to pay for these advertisements.

Dr Mahathir calculated that for advertisements alone in Japan, the cost may run into US$100mil or US$200mil.

Let’s not forget that at every race, which major cities take turns to host, the televised rights go to over 300 television stations.

Last week, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that the 1Malaysia F1 team would participate in the F1 race starting next year.

Look at the English Premier League. The only Malaysian symbol we still have there is the logo of AirAsia on the referee’s sleeves, and that is so visible that football fans cannot miss it. Neither can we miss the Korean slogan that runs across the side of Old Trafford, although none of us can understand it because it’s not in English. It’s a waste of money when nationalism is carried too far.

But the sight of two elephants walking towards each other on the electronic board to promote Chang Beer will capture our attention for sure. So will the corporate names on the jerseys of the big four – Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Can you imagine the global advertisement value of having the Arsenal stadium being called the Emirates?

AirAsia boss Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes understands the value of creating a global name in sports. He’s a shrewd businessman and those who know him will tell you he’s tight-fisted when it comes to cash.

AirAsia is already a partner of the F1 Williams team and is now part of the Malay­sian F1 team. Fernandes has also just launched the Asean Basketball League and put an Oakland Raiders theme on an AirAsia X long-haul carrier. (The Raiders from Dallas is one of the top teams in the National Football League in the United States.)

AirAsia is no longer just a regional airline. It is now flying international and is obviously looking for maximum advertisement coverage. And there’s no better place than the sports arenas – the football stadiums and the F1 circuits.

We may not have a Malaysian driver yet for our own F1 team. Fairuz Fauzy has been a test driver for the Spyker F1 team but at 27 years old, he’s regarded as too old for the driver’s seat.

But it does not really matter. We have to take a major step for that to happen. The Germans, Brazilians, Britons, French or Italians did not become F1 drivers overnight.

We are sometimes too quick to criticise and do not look at the wider picture.

Former F1 Ferrari boss Datuk Jean Todt became a minor political issue when he was picked to be Malaysia’s tourism ambassador. A high flier who has access to the rich and famous in the world, he took up the job because of his relationship with actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh.

But we must realise that doors are opened to people like Todt, and that includes the media bosses in Europe.

As it is, it has been confirmed that Todt will be standing for election to head the Federation International Automobile, the governing body of the F1 and other auto sports.

It certainly helps the Malaysian cause to have a friend in powerful places, and the tickets that we pay for Todt is nothing compared to what he can do for the country, which none of our noisy politicians can. Take, for example, international shoe designer Datuk Jimmy Choo. He’s an icon. In Malaysia, he’s almost unrecognisable but in fashion cities like London, Paris and Milan, he cannot even have his meal in peace as he is often interrupted by guests asking for a picture or an autograph.

Choo has unimaginable international connection. Ordinary Malaysians like us just do not carry that kind of weight.

A mere mention by Choo of the Pangkor Resort, and American soul singer Macy Grey was at the island giving him a telephone call, which surprised even him.

Many of us have not heard of London-based mural artist Annie Newman but the Sabahan is painting up a storm in Europe where her clients include footballer David Beckham and his wife Victoria, and Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp.

In her own way, she has promoted Malay­sia tirelessly and whenever there is an opportunity, Newman would introduce Malaysian cooking to her influential friends and clients.

The reality is that promoting Malaysia costs money but the returns have to be good. It’s a question of how we can leverage from it.