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January 17, 2003

Paul McNamee

John Pandazoupolos

Geoff Pollard

John Thwaites


JOHN LINDSAY: This is an important announcement relating to the Australian Open. We are joined by the Honorable John Pandazopoulos, Mr. Geoff Pollard, President of Tennis Australia, who I'm sure you're all familiar with. We've also got the Acting Premier, the Honorable John Thwaites, next to him. And, of course, Paul McNamee, Chief Executive of the Australian Open. Without further ado, I'll hand it over to Geoff just to give you a bit of background.

GEOFF POLLARD: Thanks, John. The Australian Open has certainly grown over the past decade to clearly Australia's biggest sporting event. You know that over 500,000 people come here each year, TV goes into over 150 countries, and because the TV goes for a fortnight, it's well over 3,000 hours of coverage all around the world. The economic benefit to the State of Victoria was estimated last year as being $189 million. This year we've clearly expanded our horizons to recognize that the Australian Open is the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific region. It recognizes the demographic fact that this is where we are, that part of the world, we are the Grand Slam for this part of the world. The other Grand Slams are in Europe and the United States. In Europe and the United States they have access to probably 500 million people in Europe, and the same north of the Panama Canal. We are here as the Grand Slam not just for 19 million people in Australia, but for a couple of billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. So we are committed to growing and developing this event in the total Asia-Pacific region, which is Asia and all the countries there, as well as the Oceania Pacific countries. It's pleasing to see the growth in tennis over the last couple years in Asia . Obviously, we're very excited that last year's Asian wildcard became not just a main draw player this year, but one of the seeds. He may have lost to Mark Philippoussis, but the development of tennis in Asia has really taken off. We want to play our part in that. We want Asia to be part of the Australian Open, being the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific region. I want to say today to John and to John, we welcome very much the assistance that the government has now kindly offered us to help us develop the Australian Open in the Asia-Pacific region and make the Asians feel even more welcome than they are now here in Melbourne. John, and, John, the Premier and the Government, thank you for helping us in this objective.

JOHN LINDSAY: I'm going to ask the Acting Premier to just outline how we will be working together.

JOHN THWAITES: Well, thanks very much, Geoff and Paul and John, my colleague. As we all know, Victorians love sport. We love hosting the Australian Open, which is one of the premier sporting events in the world. I'm very pleased, therefore, to announce that the Victorian government will be committing $1 million of funding over five years to help market the Australian Open as the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific. We've brought for the funding this year so that $125,000 will be paid this year, and then the rest of the million dollars over the following four years to help market the Australian Open into the Asia-Pacific region. We really want to help badge the Australian Open as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific. If you look at the growth in sport across the Asia-Pacific, you see this is the place to be in sport. Obviously, with the soccer, the World Cup, huge attention on the Asia-Pacific. We in the Victorian government see this as a tremendous opportunity also to market Victoria and Melbourne into the growing market of the Asia-Pacific, some two billion people. Many of them are sports mad. Probably tennis is a newer sport for them. This is an opportunity to market not only tennis and the Australian Open, but also the great benefits of Melbourne and Victoria. The Australian Open provides an enormous boost for the Victorian economy already. It just keeps going from strength to strength. We are attracting about 500,000 visitors. Last year the Australian Open generated an estimated $189 million in economic benefit for the state. This extra funding provides an even greater potential for growth in the Australian Open, for marketing into Asia and the Pacific and attracting more overseas visitors here to Victoria. Grand Slam events are a very big business these days. We believe that this government assistance will help with that business development of the Australian Open and provide even greater opportunities for it into the future. Thank you.

JOHN LINDSAY: Now I'll just hand it over to Paul McNamee, really just to elaborate more specifically on how this tournament will be able to utilize this support.

PAUL McNAMEE: Thanks, John. To start off on the campaign itself, we already are out there marketing the tournament in Asia. For example, we did magazine advertisements in Japan and Korea in the last three months, also in the Tennis Masters Cup program in Shanghai. We've done press ads in Shanghai, Beijing, Malaysia, and Singapore in the last few weeks promoting the coverage on the tournament. We appointed an Asian Marketing Manager, Richie G, last year to specifically commit to marketing the tournament in the Asian region, which was a significant commitment of resources to appoint a manager to that position. For three months now we've been doing in-flight advertising on Qantas, on their worldwide network, and also on Singapore Airlines' global networks. We've been advertising the entire month of January. I guess that kind of gives a snapshot of the sort of things we're doing. It's a very important area for us. As Geoff mentioned, 48 percent of our global television coverage is to the Asia-Pacific region. That's a reach of over 160 million homes. For example, just this year we've had two breakthroughs with network coverage in Indonesia, a very important market for us as our nearest neighbor. Also, this year for the first time, we had network coverage on KBS in Korea, a market of 18 million people. Also Lee Hyung-Taik with his great performance winning Sydney and playing Andre Agassi here; that was very important. Also, Cho, the Korean girl whose match was televised yesterday in Korea. So they're all very good breakthroughs. Of course, we can grow that campaign more strongly with the financial support that the government's going to give us. But I think the messages are even much more important than the money itself. As Geoff said, the message is, and as the Acting Premier reinforced, the badging of the Australian Open as the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific. We at the end of the day want the Australian Open to be the home Grand Slam for Asia, not just for the Aussies. We want young Asian players to dream about one day coming - maybe not winning the Australian Open in the short term - but certainly to playing in the Australian Open, as the Chinese girls who came here this time, hoping to play, got a game in the Australian Open. But it's also not just for the players. It's a possibility as John, the Acting Premier, mentioned, spectators, more and more visitation from the region to come to Melbourne and to see all the sites that are on offer here. And also for television viewers throughout Asia, particularly in China we've got CCTV reaching over 500 million people in the region, seeing images of Melbourne being done. In fact, we had images of Melbourne in the opener to all our international TV coverage this year, which was a very good step. So I guess the first step is for Asians to dream about the Australian Open as their home Grand Slam, as the Aussies do. Secondly, the development of Melbourne Park as a center of excellence for the Asia-Pacific region. Again, we've appointed a resource there in Peter McNamara, who's heading that up. Of course he's coaching Mark Philippoussis, and this week it's turning out to be a pretty important role for Peter McNamara. But Peter McNamara part-time will be heading up the positioning of Melbourne Park as a center of excellence, which gives us an opportunity to welcome young players and people from Asia to come and develop their games and tap into the resources here. We'll be doing cooperative arrangements with tertiary educational institutions, for example, RMYT, so that you can have tours both learning English or studying something, and also coming and playing here at the center of excellence. They're the sorts of things we're doing. We're about building bridges to the region, opening our arms up as Melbournians and Australians, a hand of welcome. Tennis is in a leadership position in this region. We have an impeccable history in this sport, No. 1s going from Jack Crawford all the way through to Lleyton Hewitt. We have the opportunity to play a leadership role, engage in the region, and basically do the right thing. That's what we're about. I'm so pleased that the government has recognized that symbol of building bridges to Asia and making everyone welcome here.

JOHN LINDSAY: Thank you, Paul. Are there any questions from the floor?

Q. Just one to Mr. Thwaites. Given the level of prize money and sponsorship that the Open attracts, do you think the Australian Open really needs taxpayer money?

JOHN THWAITES: Well, there is tremendous benefit for Victoria and the taxpayers of Victoria in the Australian Open. It attracts money to our economy; It attracts overseas visitors, interstate visitors. This additional funding from the state government will actually leverage many more dollars from overseas into Victoria. Over time, this is where Victoria needs to be placed, and Australia, that is in the Asia-Pacific market. We can use our premier event, the Australian Open, to do that.

Q. Geoff, you spoke about numbers before. What have the numbers been like for the tournament this year so far? Are they up or down?

GEOFF POLLARD: Well, I think we're heading to a final figure that is just somewhere over 500 million ...

JOHN PANDAZOPOULOS: That is really good.

GEOFF POLLARD: Sorry, 500,000 (laughter).

JOHN THWAITES: We will get there, with this sponsorship probably.

GEOFF POLLARD: 500,000. But the first couple of days were slightly down, but the fourth day was slightly up. Last year we were setting records the first couple of days, but it fell apart when all the Australians were out by Wednesday. This time, as you know, we've got a few Australians still going today, tomorrow, and hopefully right through. So I think there's a good chance we'll pick up some more in the next couple of days. The first three days were down; the fourth day was up. Who knows what today will bring, but it's a pretty good draw out there.

Q. Have you noticed any downturn from an international point of view, international visitors, traveling, or anything like that? Have you been able to gauge whether we're getting more or less in the current sort of world climate?

GEOFF POLLARD: I know Qantas have taken more packages this year than they took last year, so if that's any indication, the numbers are up. Internationals, to my knowledge, the numbers are roughly the same. We'll see more as it gets towards the final. They have a tendency to want to see the finals. As far as I know, the numbers are going to be up.

PAUL McNAMEE: Just on the numbers there, the crowds were down the first couple days. Obviously, the heat was a factor. But they've obviously been up the last two days. TV ratings have been -- they're back at levels we haven't seen for years. (Inaudible) they hit a 30 in Melbourne a couple of nights ago, which is getting back there. We haven't been there for a long time. The TV ratings are substantially up from last year, so the interest level's been really good.

JOHN PANDAZOPOULOS: If I can add, the economic impact study that was announced last year, $199 economic impact with the Australian Open (inaudible) to the Victorian economy that the international visitation had increased from the previous impact study. If it's consistent with the 15 percent growth in international visitors into Victoria in the last two years, some of that, of course, will be as part of the increase of the Australian Open. I'm pretty confident about that.

Q. Paul, you mentioned that you and the Acting Premier want to badge the Australian Open as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific. Also, you want Asian players to be able to dream about coming here. Have they sort of not felt welcome to be able to aspire to it in the past? Why is there suddenly a push to do it?

PAUL McNAMEE: I think in international sport Asia was really the lost empire a little bit, to be really honest. You have the very sophisticated tennis markets of Europe and North America and South America when led by Guillermo Vilas, Gabby Sabatini. Those markets were very sophisticated. Asia was really, I think, politically and in tennis terms a little bit the lost empire. It's such a - potentially - a great market for the sport. All of the manufacturers are based there. I think they really needed a home in the sport. I think Australia and the Australian Open, as the superpower of the region -- there are very few things, I mean sport is one of them, but particularly tennis, there are very few areas where Australia is really a genuine superpower in the region. Tennis happens to be one of those. But I don't think we were exerting the leadership role as we could have. So we've started the ball rolling. But in relation to the dollars and taxpayers' money, I mean, this, in relation to the budget of the tournament, is reasonably humble. We obviously are under pressure as well to try and make a profit and then invest that in Australian tennis. That's clearly what the stakeholders of Tennis Australia are looking for. It's not necessarily easy for us to suddenly peel layers of money from the small surplus that we've got and put it in Asia. It needs a cooperative effort. The dollars are reasonably humble, but the principle and the message is powerful, is very powerful.

GEOFF POLLARD: Asia has always had an interest in racquet sports. I mean they are world leaders in table tennis, badminton, and middle Asia in squash, for example. So they understand racquet sports and like racquet sports, but I think always felt tennis was beyond them. Michael Chang certainly opened up the potential, even though he's an American. The fact that tennis is back in the Olympics has suddenly meant that all the Asian countries now have a growing interest in tennis. And then as Paul said, that's where all the equipment is made. I think the potential is unlimited.

Q. How much does it cost to sort of put on the Australian Open? Can you give a rough figure?

PAUL McNAMEE: It's over 50 million. It's a lot of money. We do it tough. We're also in a very competitive sports environment, domestically and internationally, for sponsorships. Television rights, everyone knows about the downturn in television rights internationally. Everything's off about, minimum, 30 to 50 percent. There's been some notable collapses in international television the last couple of years. So we're working very hard at growing this tournament and being globally competitive and becoming a global market event. So it's very competitive for us as well, where we put our funding. But you know what, Asia is important to us. The government, the Victorian government, has said Asia is important and building a bridge is important. We'll do what we can, but the symbols are sometimes more important than the money. The reaction we're getting from Asia and the Asian players is wonderful. Paradorn Srichaphan felt it was such an honor to be opening the tournament on Rod Laver Arena after getting a wildcard last year. So they're powerful messages.

Q. Paul, with this grant, this million dollars for the push into Asia, do you expect or do you think there will be interest over there with companies for putting in sponsorship dollars into the tournament, into tennis over here?

PAUL McNAMEE: Look, I would hope so. I mean, at the end of the day in Australia, we're 18, 19 million people. We haven't got the critical mass, really, to have an annual global event. We have to have a larger critical mass. With Asia, between two and three billion people, potentially gives us that critical mass. So of course it makes business sense to be engaging with the region, and for sponsors to be saying, well, a partnership with the Australian Open is also a partnership with the region. Certainly, Heineken and IBM, two of our major sponsors, recognize that fact and it's been a huge motive for them being involved in the tournament. So I think from the business perspective it's clear that that makes sense. But I think what's more important is the political and social perspective of what role Australia and Victoria and Melbourne can play as a good citizen in the region. I think those messages are very important and we get that right.

GEOFF POLLARD: And our major sponsor is Kia, by the way.

Q. Mr. Thwaites, do you want the tournament to continue to be in January?

JOHN THWAITES: Well, I think the January tournament has been tremendously successful. It does fit in well with holiday time, with the weather. It fits in very well with the sporting calendar in Melbourne. So we, of course, believe that's a very appropriate time to hold it. The actual time, of course, is a matter for Tennis Australia, and they've, I think, indicated that they support when it is.

Q. Will the government actively oppose if there are any moves to change the time?

JOHN THWAITES: Well, we see our role more to be cooperative rather than opposing. So we always work very well with Tennis Australia. We would obviously want to be consulted about issues like that. We believe that the January time is very good. We do have a very busy sporting calendar here in Victoria, and it's important that the Australian Open gets the best possible exposure within that calendar.

Q. Just on another issue, if I can, with what happened overnight and this morning, is it time for the Medical Practitioners Board to come in for a bit more scrutiny?

PAUL McNAMEE: We had a few injuries here yesterday (laughter). We could use some more help here.

JOHN THWAITES: I think the Medical Practice Board has done the right thing in acting quickly to have a hearing. They've now, as I understand, suspended this person. The Medical Practice Board has to weigh up a lot of factors and evidence. They have to do that in a way that is fair to the public. I believe in this case they've acted very promptly.

Q. Do you think they could have acted quicker, though?

JOHN THWAITES: Well, the Board acted very promptly, I think. They had a meeting called yesterday afternoon. They've now made an initial determination. There is an issue, obviously, over the Christmas period sometimes with court documents and the like. But we're just into January, and the Board has already acted.

JOHN LINDSAY: This is obviously a separate issue, so we'll finish with tennis if there are no more tennis questions.

End of FastScripts….

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