COMMENT: Birdman grounded – but what now?

DM154887a.jpg Worthing Birdman Competition (Sunday). Edgar Scukins. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150816-230638008
DM154887a.jpg Worthing Birdman Competition (Sunday). Edgar Scukins. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150816-230638008
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The beach was buzzing on July 12, 2014, as Birdman Ron Freeman wowed thousands of spectators with a record-breaking 159 metre flight.

Hours later – and after the Herald had carried the news, of course – his achievement was the talk of news channels all over the world.

It signalled the completion of a two-decade quest for the Lancashire veteran, with the achievement bringing him to tears.

One year later, when his rival Tony Hughes won the jackpot, headlines were limited.

It had been done before and was old news.

Sadly, it seems Worthing Birdman has now run its course, with organisers Worthing Town Centre Initiative pulling the plug on the event last week.

Regular readers will have noted my support for the event staying in the town, following well-documented concerns for its future in recent months.

But approaching the issue in a cold, businesslike manner, it was clear the event in its current form was on life support. With rising costs and little economic return, the event was too big a burden for the businesses of the town – which had funded the spectacle for eight years – to continue with.

I am sure Birdman could have been made into a success. But it required a revamp to create a new challenge for competitors to reinvigorate press interest.

Organisers also needed to devise a way of filtering visitors back into the town centre, instead of what really happened – thousands flocking to the beach and then heading home. For all this, the cost was likely to soar and a major sponsor would have been required.

We now have a huge void in our summer calender. What will attract visitors to the town, now? The council closed the door on funding Birdman but must work with the TCI on alternatives. Street Velodrome was a start but certainly not enough to plug the gap.