Formula E attendance figures grossly inflated by freebies, organizer admits

After months of repeated requests, the organizers of Montreal's controversial Formula E electric car race have finally revealed how many of the 45,000 people who attended the event actually paid for their tickets — and how many received freebies.

After months of requests, data on tickets sold released just days before municipal election

Incumbent mayor, Denis Coderre, did not comment Wednesday on the revelation. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Denis Coderre has repeatedly described this summer's Formula E electric car race as a success, but figures released Wednesday by the organizer indicate at least 20,000 tickets — more than 40 per cent — were given away for free.

Of the 45,000 people who attended the publicly financed race, only 25,000 tickets were "sold to the public and under agreements with partners and sponsors," organizer Montreal it's electric said in a statement.

​The balance was "distributed to different groups, such as area residents, numerous suppliers and current and potential partners in transportation electrifcation."

Montreal it's electric did not offer further details about the 25,000 tickets that were sold, such as a breakdown between how many were sold directly to the public and how many went to sponsors and partners.

The non-profit organization refused interview requests on Wednesday. 

CBC News reached out to some sponsors to see how many tickets they may have given away.

Hydro-Québec says it received twelve tickets, which were redistributed through promotions, as well as a 55-seat private box.

A spokesperson for CAA-Quebec said, as far as she knows, it didn't give away any free tickets, although its members were offered a discount price.

The Formula E race took place in late July near Montreal's Gay Village. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press )

'It was a disaster'

The Formula E race has been a major issue in the municipal election campaign, in which Coderre is trying to win a second term as mayor.  

His administration has, so far, committed to spending $30 million in order to host the event for three years. Montreal is believed to be the only city on the Formula E circuit that has spent public money on hosting a race.

Coderre, who in spring said he expected 60,000 people to attend, insisted on creating a race track through the eastern edge of downtown. Montrealers who live and work in the neighbourhood griped about street closures, lost business and other inconveniences, which lasted for weeks as the race site was set up and then torn down.

A poll conducted by CROP, and released this week by CBC News, suggested that 63 per cent of Montrealers had an unfavourable view of the Coderre administration's investment in Formula E. 

Heidi Miller, who organized a group of citizens angry at the Formula E, said the numbers released Wednesday demonstrate the event was a failure and criticized Coderre for continuing to say otherwise.

"You keep on insisting it's a success? Why can't you just be honest and say it was a disaster. It's not a success," said Miller, who speaks for a group called Formula Euh?

"Go back to the drawing board. Work. Do your homework. It's pretty obvious that this event was improvised."

For months, Coderre has dodged questions about how many people actually paid to attend the race, saying the final figures would only be released by the organizer after the Nov. 5th election. 

But as questions mounted during the campaign, Coderre recently began saying he had "no problem" with organizers making them public before election day. 

Montreal it's electric has, until now, refused to offer details about the event. In its statement, it said the numbers "meet the standard for the first edition of an event whose tickets went on sale just six months before the event."

It also noted that Montreal's turnout was more than double the 18,000 people who attended the Formula E event in New York City.

More questions for Coderre

The failure by Montreal it's electric to provide further details about the sales figures appears to have only prompted further questions about the event, questions that are again being directed at Coderre.

The candidate held a Facebook Live Wednesday afternoon to announce the composition of his executive committee, should he win a second mandate.

In the comments section, however, dozens of people (including some journalists) posted questions about Formula E.

Later Wednesday afternoon, in a radio interview on 98.5 FM, Coderre commented on the Formula E figures, saying that "there are things to improve, but it was a good first edition."

Coderre went on to say that a portion of the $24-million price tag went towards infrastructure repairs that were necessary regardless of the race.

He also said he's listening to Montrealers' feedback.

"We will form a citizens' committee to improve the situation for future editions," he said.​

Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante, who is running against Denis Coderre for mayor, said she still has many questions about the Formula E event. (Radio-Canada)

The incumbent's main rival for the mayoralty, Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante, said Wednesday afternoon that 20,000 tickets given away was an "enormous" number.

Plante said she too still has questions about the event.

"What were the economic benefits? Was it worth it for the citizens who felt trapped and the businesses that lost money?" Plante said.

She also wondered how many of the 25,000 tickets listed as sold were actually given away to corporate partners.

Marvin Rotrand, running for city council for Coalition Montreal, said the numbers will affect the future of the event.

"What most people don't know is this wasn't a one-time thing. We're on the hook for years two and three, and even if some of the costs are not recurring, there are inconveniences and there are additional costs I think we should avoid," Rotrand said.

"We should throw the ball back in the court of the promoter and say 'Hey, you want this race, you're gonna have to pay.'"

Plante said, as mayor, she would move the event to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, as opposed to having it downtown, or cancel it altogether, if contractually possible.

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