Queensland’s outback proves fertile breeding ground for sporting events

Many miles from the bustling metropolis of Brisbane, rural Queensland is providing a surprisingly adaptable platform for eye-catching sporting events.

As advocates of Brisbane’s successful campaign to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games have stressed from the outset, Queensland’s event-hosting capabilities sprawl way beyond the borders of its capital city.

Indeed, Queensland’s coastal destinations have become a hotbed of past and future major events – from Gold Coast’s 2018 Commonwealth Games in the south to Townsville’s 2024 World Triathlon Multisport World Championships in the north.

However, the depth of Queensland’s appetite for major events stretches further than many outside Australia, or even the state, may realise.

Birdsville Races

In a vast region that has a larger land area than France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the UK combined, sport is ingrained in locations that are well off the beaten track.

Deep in the outback, on the eastern tip of the Simpson Desert, lies the rural town of Birdsville. With just 110 inhabitants, according to the 2021 census, it is not a typical destination for an established and historic sporting event.

However, every September, the annual Birdsville Races are held, swelling the local population approximately 70-fold for a two-day horseracing extravaganza in aid of Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Organisers believe the “bucket list nature” of the event contributes to its ongoing appeal, with intrepid racegoers turning their attendance into a road trip.

Such is the influx of visitors, organisers have to work closely with a multitude of freight companies to ensure sufficient supplies, products and services are delivered within the constraints of fortnightly delivery schedules, although some providers offer additional support over the crucial period.

“We’re fortunate that we now have a lot of the infrastructure in place at the track to stage the event. However, event logistics continue to grow as we add new elements each year and the event also grows,” the organisers say, before adding that collaborations with travel providers, local businesses, the Diamantina Shire Council and partners like Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) are critical to the success of the spectacle.

“Working with TEQ has allowed the Birdsville Races to hugely expand their reach through their support of the Roadies, a newer concept in delivering a club experience for all ticket-holders and their travels to Birdsville. It connects more people on the ground with smaller outback communities, other ticket-holders and travellers within the many different routes to Birdsville.

“Being a part of the TEQ Events calendar has also benefited an extended reach to those who are not typically from the region or outback. Having the support of TEQ has certainly also boosted the event’s credibility and profile.”

Mount Isa

The Birdsville Races attract a significant number of visitors from New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, as well as eastern Queensland, plus occasional travellers from even further afield.

It is not the only show in the vast arid expanse of western Queensland, however.

Further north, the mining city of Mount Isa has hosted the southern hemisphere’s largest rodeo for more than 60 years. Meanwhile, the first annual Mount Isa Mines Indigenous Rodeo Championships took place in August, connecting visitors with the region and the local Kalkadoon people.

Meanwhile, the emergence in 2019 of the TEQ-backed Outback Queensland Masters (OQM), an annual six-stop amateur golf series spanning a region of one million square kilometres, shows that new events are still sprouting up.

Approximately 85% of the series’ players and spectators come from Queensland, with the 2,000-plus attendees staying for an average of 12 nights.

This year, players from over 85 golf clubs from Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and South Australia were in attendance, as well as two from New Zealand. In 2023, for the first time, Western Australia will also be represented.

“We’re not about attracting large event crowds, or profitless volume, but one that attracts high-value travellers, with a long length-of-stay and regional dispersal for Outback Queensland,” says Luke Bates, State Manager – Queensland & Northern Territory, Golf Australia. “We cap numbers at each location to ensure an intimate experience for visitors, and to ensure these small communities are not inundated with visitors they may not have the resources to cater for.”

High-value impact

The impact is significant for local communities. This year, the event generated 12,298 visitor nights for Queensland and 8,482 for Outback Queensland, with overnight visitor expenditure of more than AUD$1.7m (£1m/€1.1m/$1.1m).

The series is marketed on a year-round basis, including a combination of traditional, digital and social media, with a particularly strong focus on email direct marketing. Bates believes, though, that word-of-mouth from the first event has been key to ensuring sold-out editions in 2021 and 2022.

“We are always evolving and innovating the event experience,” he adds. “In 2023, to further develop spend, length-of-stay and visitor satisfaction, we are developing pre-event visitor experiences at each location. These will be specially curated and immersive experiences, exclusive to OQM players and spectators visiting Outback Queensland.”

Bates also points out that, with TEQ’s support, New Zealand is emerging as a growth market for the series.

“With our strategic partnership with TEQ, we have been able to undertake marketing interstate and into the New Zealand market,” he adds. “As part of the ‘It’s Live in Queensland’ campaign, the OQM has been featured in many publications and digital TEQ initiatives.

“The TEQ strategic partnership was also an integral factor in our partnership with the PGA, which has further assisted in credibility and profile for the OQM.”

With TEQ’s support, it is clear that opportunities will continue to arise for the OQM as part of the state’s eclectic sporting portfolio.

“We see a strong future for the event to strongly position it as an iconic destination event for Queensland,” Bates says.

“During the COVID-era more people have taken up golf in Australia, so demand domestically is growing.

“Into the future, we would like to grow the event to further develop new, high-yield markets for Outback Queensland, reaching into international markets.”

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