So the Miami Grand Prix has been postponed at least until 2020.
This came as no surprise as a result of my recent discussions in the Silverstone F1 paddock, but it did get me thinking, what does this do for F1’s image in the US, and is Miami even the right location?
Let’s put the political machinations of hosting a Grand Prix in Miami to one side, let alone logistics and cash; in fact all are generally intertwined. That is a whole other article in itself. Miami is a complicated city. Look at the effort and time it took David Beckham to get an MLS franchise off the ground. However, why has Miami been chosen, and particularly on the financial terms not usually associated with hosting F1 races (with risk being shared between F1 and the Race Promoter)? After all, Austin (Circuit of the Americas (COTA)) and Mexico are already on the calendar. Would a West Coast venue not have been preferable? Arguably, Mexico and Austin detract potential attendance from each other, and I remember Bobby Epstein the President of COTA arguing that there could be a drop off in fans and they should not be back-to-back races.
F1 does need to continue engaging the US audience. NBC did a great job with its race content and shoulder programming in the US before losing the rights this Season (to ESPN and F1’s own OTT service). Miami is a fantastic city, but the cost and complications experienced by Formula E when they raced there in their inaugural Season must have sent strong warning beacons. Accordingly, I wonder: should New York or the West Coast have been the priority? Or even just a US venue which definitively could have been on next Season’s calendar, and which would have kept fans engaged and attendance high? After F1 issued the press release, some journalists viewed it as negative news and questioned why the release was even put out. Transparency and stock market listing of Liberty were referenced, but the counter to that is why is there not disclosure on all the other current race circuit negotiations?
Negativity in F1 is not a rarity. I know that brands look at F1 as a unique global sport but as a basket case at the same time. In that respect I think you need to take a step back and ask what does F1 currently stand for? The generic answer is “pinnacle of motor racing” but in the business world that doesn’t suffice for brands to part with big bucks. Formula E has clear ethos and messaging behind it, electric and sustainable, hence the manufacturers and brands flooding towards it. The city of Sanya in mainland China has been chosen as a race venue in Season 5 because it has the cleanest air and is aligned with the Chinese Government announcing the eradication of petrol cars (hopefully by 2030). F1 has generally gone where the money is available. During my tenure at FOTA (F1 Teams’ Association) I had a strong issue about lack of legacy left by F1 at the venues it visited, and it is heartening to see some change with the new ownership now operating F1. The Fans’ Festivals in City Centres are an excellent addition, and a great way for brands to get involved.
In respect of what F1 stands for, when I posed that question to sponsorship guru Robin Fenwick, CEO of Right Formula, his view was “I don’t think there’s a problem with ‘what F1 stands for’, the platform and opportunities in both are more important; however there is a clear sustainability message surrounding Formula E which is attracting brands. We should be comparing them with other global sports too.” Robin picked up on my Formula E sustainability messaging but raised an interesting point about comparing to other global sports. This was actually an exercise I did with the Teams prior to the 2012 Concorde Agreement, as we wanted to show Bernie we had done a detailed analysis and F1 was under-performing massively. Even on LinkedIn this week I saw a comparison with an infographic by the One Championship to F1 showing how Asia's largest global sports media property broadcasts to over 1.7 billion potential viewers across 138 countries around the world and has a bigger global Facebook fan base. F1 has been held back and is now being let loose on social media for instance, and is gaining huge traction, all of which plays nicely into the hands of prospective commercial partners, just as soon as they recognise what F1 stands for… in my opinion.
So in conclusion, I started off asking is Miami the right place for F1 to prioritise in the US, and went on to the negativity surrounding the race in 2019 being cancelled, which then led me to: what does F1 stand for from the perspective of commercial partners? Perhaps this article raises more questions than it solves, with topics that can be endlessly discussed, and not given justice in a short form article.
What’s your opinion? Get in touch on Twitter (@OWeingarten) and let me know.