Taylor Swift was not being paid $1 million to perform two songs at the Melbourne Cup, Victoria Racing Club chair Amanda Elliott said on Thursday, but precisely how much she would be paid remained under wraps by the organisation.
“We won’t be releasing any information about what it cost, but I can very comfortably say we haven’t over-indexed on entertainment this year,” VRC chief Neil Wilson said.
“If you were to compare last year and the year before as a proportion of spend, we’re very similar.”
Last year’s line-up was headed by English soul sensation Sam Smith and featured local acts The Presets and Amy Shark.
This year Birds of Tokyo, Owl Eyes, Dean Lewis and Ball Park Music were among the acts booked to provide non-equine thrills across the five days of racing. But the biggest name by a massive margin was Taylor Swift.
Nabbing the Nashville-based superstar was a deal “months, not weeks” in the making, said Wilson. “It’s been a very strategic and considered approach to getting the right artist. Having an entertainer like Taylor Swift with her reach … there’ll be a mixture of traditional race people and we would expect quite an uplift in an audience outside of that, as well, looking to see her perform.”
The VRC and the state government both insist that no money has come direct from state coffers to lure the singer to Melbourne for her only live performance in the country. “It’s all out of the VRC bank account,” said Wilson.
Nor does securing her services have anything to do with the battle between Melbourne and Sydney for primacy in the spring racing carnival stakes.
“I’m not interested in some confected contest with NSW racing,” said Victorian Racing Minister Martin Pakula. “The Victorian Spring Racing Carnival stands alone whether you measure it by crowd size, wagering, entertainment, tradition, the quality of racing or the quality of the tracks.”
Whatever the cost, signing Swift fit with the VRC’s stated aim of “increasing global attendance to, and coverage of, the Melbourne Cup Carnival” through a mix of “racing and non-racing (fashion, culinary, style, entertainment) content” to be disseminated “across global social platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter)” as well as the VRC’s own channels and those of its new broadcast partner, Network Ten.
In other words, it should extend the brand well beyond its traditional audience of Australian racing fans.
Last year, according to the VRC’s 2018 annual report, 83 million people watched the Melbourne Cup in the United States, 160 million in Europe and 300 million in Asia.
This year, Wilson anticipated a global audience of 750 million – at least some of whom would tune in to see Taylor Swift.
He also expected her to help boost the numbers at Flemington after a disappointing turnout for 2018’s rain-soaked big day.
“Last year we had 53mm of rain, and a lot of people didn’t come. This year we’d be disappointed if we weren’t around 100,000," he said.
"How much of that is a result of Taylor Swift being there, I’m not sure but I think we can expect a lot more interest on the day from people who wouldn’t ordinarily have been there or been watching.”
Karl is a senior entertainment writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.