The South Australian government is basking in the huge success of this month’s packed sporting calendar, but there are questions over the secret deals struck to lure the events to the state.

Crowd capacity for this year’s LIV Golf tournament — which wrapped yesterday — was increased by 50 per cent to about 120,000 over the three rounds, while more than 250,000 football fans attended AFL Gather Round games over four days earlier this month.

“We’re only interested in making investments in events that deliver a return to the South Australian economy,” Premier Peter Malinauskas said on Wednesday, before the start of the 2024 LIV Golf tournament.

The AFL Gather Round attracted more than 250,000 fans this year.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Dylan Burns)

“We were able to get both LIV and Gather Round early because we were first movers — we took a risk, and that risk paid off.

“Now, of course, every other state government wants a piece of the action.”

The combined economic impact of the 2023 events was close to $150 million, according to the South Australian government.

But just how much money it had to spend in order to bring them to SA in the first place has not been revealed.

University of Melbourne arts and culture professor Jo Caust said that was something taxpayers should be concerned about.

Jo Caust says taxpayers should be concerned that the cost of luring the events has not been revealed.(Supplied)

“I think they [the South Australian government] are very focused on sport, and it’s a popular activity that’s going to win a lot of friends for the government,” Dr Caust said.

“It seems also though that they’re quite willing to allocate money to those activities without really going through any process.

“The fact that it’s taxpayers’ money does place an expectation that we are aware of what’s been given.”

‘Why would we want to spend more?’

The state Labor government’s Major Events Fund was established in 2022 — the year it was elected to office — with an initial funding commitment of $40 million.

That’s since grown to $73 million.

But the money used to attract and stage the LIV Golf tournament and the AFL Gather Round did not come from that fund.

Mr Malinauskas insisted publicising the details of either arrangement could backfire.

Peter Malinauskas says revealing the cost of bringing major events to SA could backfire.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“If I say [to the media] how much Gather Round costs us, two minutes later the New South Wales government is on the phone offering more to the AFL to take it off us,” he said.

“The idea is to keep these events, not lose them.

“Why would we want to spend more on something that we’ve already got?”

Dr Caust said she was concerned by an “absolute lack of transparency as to who’s getting what”.

The premier has previously indicated the state government spent less than $20 million on the inaugural AFL Gather Round in 2023, but would not confirm the exact figure at the time.

Major sporting events ‘changing South Australia’s image’

Sport, tourism, and event management expert Sunny Son, from the University of South Australia, said there would “always be debate about the costs” of attracting major events.

But Dr Son said the potential economic and social benefits were well established.

“Cities [around the world] are investing a lot of money in events, because events are recognised as an effective tool to promote the city as a place to visit, work, study [and] invest,” she said.

Dr Sunny Son says SA already has a reputation for arts, food and wine events.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

“They are very effective in building and strengthening the image of a destination, for example, the changes in perception of South Australia’s image, which is a great outcome of those sports events.”

Dr Son said South Australia already enjoyed a strong reputation for the arts, as well as food and wine events.

“By having these major sports events, we add different elements to our destination image which is more vibrant, and we demonstrate our capacity to host major sport events using our existing facilities,” she said.

“We can attract more people and a different target of people from interstate and [overseas] … who can spread positive word of mouth.”

Hosting major sporting events like LIV Golf brings ‘different elements’ to the state’s image, one researcher says.(ABC News: Rory McClaren)

She said research into the impact of major events had also revealed benefits to general wellbeing in the community.

“We talk about mental health wellbeing in the community nowadays a lot after [the pandemic], so providing these events for people to enjoy, and to socialise … can enhance [the community’s] wellbeing,” she said.

Dr Son said major sporting events also provided important opportunities for people working in the industry to build new skills.

The arts ‘neglected’ in South Australia

But Dr Caust said she did not believe the South Australian government was striking the right balance between its support for major sporting events and the state’s arts and culture scenes.

She said while the government was investing unknown sums into LIV Golf and the AFL Gather Round, arts institutions were suffering.

“This state was a leader … in aspects of the arts,” she said.

It’s unclear how much was spent to bring LIV Golf to SA.(ABC News: Rory McClaren)

“The fact that that has been neglected so dramatically over the last decade or more has been quite upsetting on many levels.

“You have a situation where the cultural institutions along North Terrace are very neglected and are having to look at all kinds of ways to keep going.

“At the same time, we have a situation where music venues are being obliterated in this state, including the Crown and Anchor.

“We used to be the leader in terms of per capita funding, and now we’ve gone to right near the bottom.

“For whatever reason, [political support for the arts] has declined in our state.”

Mr Malinauskas said the state government had invested significantly in the arts over the past two years, including through funding injections for the Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival, and upgrades to the Festival Centre.

“Let’s just look at the facts because sometimes people are inclined to make an assessment on a vibe rather than the facts themselves,” he said.

“I’m really proud of the fact that this is a government that is committed to culture in every respect, not just sporting culture but culture in respect of our arts.

“It’s so much of our cultural fabric.”