The first real global contest for professional tennis each year is the Australian Open: the preceding international games in Brisbane, Hobart and Sydney are comparative warm up bouts.
The news machine and social-media reach frenzy with announcements of the gladiatorial capacities of sport warriors soon to face each other in the arenas of Melbourne Park. They talk of athletic prowess, of the rivalry between star players, of the likely impact of a new coach and of the hunger for the championship never won. They also tell of personal pains, mysteries, of niggling knee strains, of the possible effects of asthma, and of the need to withdraw for unknown reasons.
But not every event causes such hype among fans and media about the sport, its warriors and Melbourne.
Take for example Melbourne's Formula 1 Grand Prix, which has its own warriors, brings with it the same paraphernalia of gladiatorial ambition and upset and offers the same capacity to trouble or confirm the heroes of sport.
Yet far from the big love-in of the Australian Open, the Grand Prix's four days in March is full of writhing, arguing and argumentative news footage. But why?
The Australia Open has grown with the city. It has a home in the city. There are few that will remember the first game in 1905 (or its grass court roots) but the event remains grounded, physically and emotionally. The modern grounds are part of the Melbourne and Olympic Park development, a testament to Melbourne's crowning glories – as host of the Olympics of 1956 and the Commonwealth Games of 2006, respectively. Between these major great events, in 1985, the Victorian government decided to build a national home for tennis. Built in 1987 the Rod Laver Arena – the battle ground of many Australian Open finalists, was at its centre. It remains the centre of the Australian Open.
Following negotiations between the Formula 1 Grand Prix supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, and the then Victoria Premier, Jeff Kennett, the Grand Prix arrived in Melbourne in 1996. This followed ten years of residing in Adelaide. Like the Australian Open its presence in Melbourne parkland helps determines much of its attraction. The Albert Park has a history in which sport is certainly significant. However its the complaints over the event's impact on the natural and community resources, cost, noise and displacement that are picked up by media.
So why, in a city in which sport events are so key to its identity has F1 Grand Prix been so difficult to adjust to?
Melbourne has a brand and it is a strong one. The brand is the result of a story that people understand. It has resonance. Sport is a core theme in that story. As part of that theme of the city story, the Australian Open resonates well. It is my belief, and there is much research to support me, that the liveability and attractiveness of any city rest within the story it tells.
The Australian Open and many of Melbourne's other great sport events have a beginning (see above), a middle (often a physical legacy, such as a stadium) and an end (the event we experience each year). The Formula 1 Grand Prix story isn't (yet) such a well constructed story. The F1 Grand Prix didn't start here (some say it was forcibly removed from its Adelaide home). There isn't a physical legacy to see (it is temporary, as are most of the structures it requires) and the end is still unsure. To be grounded it needs all the elements of a story.
The future of the F1 may be as short lived as the 2015 agreement that has been made by Bernie Ecclestone and the Victorian government. It could be shorter. Or a better story construction may be found and the event be better managed for arrival in the minds, memories and imaginations of the audience and residents. It could be a more resilient part of the Melbourne story. It could be a strong Melbourne brand element.
Until then, all eyes will be on the skirmishes of the Australian Open – a true marketing success. It's a favourite, and it speaks of the exertion, the bravado and the passion that the populace understands. It's like being back at home, right. My home, right.
Lecturer, Events Management, School of International Business, Faculty of Business and Law, Victoria University,
P: (03) 9919 4037