The news that the Stawell Gift has been forced to announce a reduction in prizemoney is living proof that even icons are vulnerable.
It’s an event that without question fits into the time-honoured category, but after a couple of years without a major sponsor - even prudent management of reserves is not sufficient.
When Australia Post ended its long reign as title sponsor, it stayed on in a support role to ensure the women’s gift received prizemoney parity with the men’s.
But it was hard to replace in the key role – meaning that for the past two years, the Stawell Athletic Club has been forced to turn to the funds it had invested for a rainy day to provide for the men’s prizemoney and the television coverage.
Clearly that could not continue, and now the Club has made the only decision it had open to it for the time being, to reduce the cash for the major events.
That means the winners will receive $17,000 compared to the $40,000 pocketed by their predecessors in recent years.
It leaves the Gifts as still the richest pro sprint races in the country – but only just.
It’s important for Stawell it keeps that honour – but for sure it is now a sitting duck in that regard. For it will be way too easy for other races to at least on a once-off basis to try to trump it.
But way more important is perhaps to reflect on why an event which will celebrate its 138th running at Easter this year, with all the mystique, tradition and nostalgia that has been built up since it was first conducted in 1878, cannot draw a major sponsor.
Attracting money to sport is tough – even though the really big leagues and events make it look easy.
It’s never been easy but the parameters have changed.
What used to be a simple formula of equating a cash input with an appropriate mix of standard benefits like naming rights, perimeter signage, likely media minutes or column inches, free tickets and VIP privileges, is now way more complex.
Perhaps too many events have become dependent on government or tourism dollars and consequently too inexperienced in, or indifferent to, seeking commercial sponsorship.
But even more so is the need to constantly re-invent. For distant memories and past deeds will not be enough – as clearly Stawell is experiencing now.
The Paris to Dakar Rally now finishes in South America. Hawthorn plays homes games in Launceston. And it a very long time since the Olympic Games were held in Olympia – save of course for the shot put events at the 2004 Games.
The jury is well and truly out even before the new format of the Davis Cup rolls out, but it is vastly different to what Lleyton Hewitt and his fellow nostalgists would prefer.
Last year Stawell could have made a life-changing, but potentially life-saving decision – at least in the short term.
Easter in 2018 and the staging of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast aligned way too closely for the Stawell Gift. It was nigh-on impossible before the Games to attract any big names that might have been attractive to sponsors, spectators or telecasters.
But had the organisers been bold enough to move away from the traditional holiday date and stage on the weekend after the Games, the story could have been very different.
It would have been a risk, but the chances of attracting some really high profile stars to Central Park would have increased exponentially.
A decade before, the dilemma for Stawell was to contemplate not a change in date, but one of venue – by re-locating to Ballarat. The deal was very attractive and may have provided some long term security, but that call was too hard to make, even if it allowed a return to Stawell within a few years.
One of the main opponents was local government, yet apart from presenting the grass track in pristine condition every year, they don’t seem to have done much to invest in the future of what it surely one of the Northern Grampians most precious treasures.