US Grand Prix organisers expect second largest F1 crowd - COTA committed to F1 long term
The 2016 US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas is expected to attract its second largest crowd after organisers put guarantees in place to r...
The 2016 US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas is expected to attract its second largest crowd after organisers put guarantees in place to refund fans if the event is hit by severe weather as it was last year.
The 2015 race weekend at the 5.513-km track near Austin was badly disrupted by storms emanating from Hurricane Patricia, which caused the race’s second practice session to be abandoned and qualifying was eventually postponed to the morning of the Grand Prix.
Although the race took place as planned and Lewis Hamilton won for Mercedes to clinch his third world title, the facilities around the circuit struggled to cope with the heavy rainfall and the organisers lost millions in potential revenue as fans stayed away. As a result the race day crowd was the lowest since the event joined the Formula 1 calendar in 2012.
Ahead of this year’s US Grand Prix, the organisers implemented a bold strategy to entice back fans left dissatisfied with last year’s event. As well as heavily investing in infrastructure with 12,000 new parking spaces and solid walkways to fulfil a ‘no mud’ pledge for those attending the track during the weekend, a special ‘no rain guarantee’ was offered to fans that bought their tickets before 4 July.
This means that if there is over two inches of rain in the 24-hour period before the 2pm race start time, COTA will refund 105 per cent of ticket prices for anyone who bought a reserved seat on a three-day weekend pass or a Sunday-only reserved seat. Those fans will still allowed to attend the race if such a scenario comes to pass.
“They still get the race, plus they get all their money back plus they make a profit,” COTA CEO Bobby Epstein told JAonF1. “That was one of the more creative things we did and that was for people that bought tickets prior to July 4. So they had about three months to do that and a lot of people took advantage of it.”
Ticket prices have also been lowered by an average of 11.5 per cent and the infrastructure investment aims to make transportation to and from the track easier for fans.
“We lowered capacity for this year so we could ensure that we’d deliver a great experience for people and [provide] an easy transportation experience,” said Epstein.
“We’ve built an entire bus depot this year to move 25,000 people smoothly and we’ve promised them a less than 55-minute wait guarantee. They won’t wait longer than 55-minutes and we did that also because it’s our fifth year anniversary celebration.”
Music superstar Taylor Swift will perform at the circuit on the Saturday night – “as a reward for the people that did come and give them a little extra sweetener included in their ticket,” according to Epstein. There also will be additional entertainment and attractions laid on all around the vast COTA facility throughout the three-day F1 weekend.
“As a result of [all of] that, we saw a big spike in ticket sales and we expect to reach capacity,” said Epstein. “On the Taylor Swift day we hope to set a record for attendance for Saturday qualifying and so things look good. I think we’ll have our second best attendance, second to the first year [in 2012].”
COTA committed to USGP
The US Grand Prix’s future at the Circuit of the Americas was uncertain heading into this year after the Texas state government announced it would cut its contribution to the track’s hosting fee and the race was listed as provisional when the record 21-race 2016 calendar was first announced.
But this year’s USGP was established as going ahead shortly before the season got underway and when asked if COTA was committed to hosting the race in the long run, Epstein confirmed it was.
“I certainly think so,” he said. “The company itself is very healthy, it had a good year, we made some good internal changes and the company is looking good.”
Liberty Media “excellent for the sport” in the US
Last month, it was revealed that the US-based Liberty Media Corporation had begun the process of buying F1, which led to much speculation that it will try to grow the sport’s presence in America in the coming years.
Epstein reckons the sale will be a boost to F1’s impact on the US market and outlined his hopes that Liberty Media will be able to encourage continuous coverage for the championship in the country.
He said: “I think it’ll be excellent for the sport. My concern is as a promoter – are they going to promote the sport in the US – and think it will give it more year-round presence, which is what we need as a promoter.”
The Liberty takeover has raised the possibility of a second US-based Grand Prix taking place alongside the race in Austin. It’s CEO, Greg Maffei, has suggested adding events in Las Vegas and Miami.
The US Grand Prix first took place at the Circuit of the Americas following a four-year period where F1 did not visit the country after the deal to host the event at Indianapolis ended in 2007.
Epstein believes that if Liberty introduces another US race in the future it would cause a short term hit to COTA’s ticket sales as the sport’s fanbase in the country needs to be built up before there are enough supporters to attend two races. But he believes two races could eventually co-exit, and flourish, if the level of support for F1 was increased.
“Until you build a bigger fanbase in the US, it’s hard to think that there’s going to be a lot more tickets purchased for F1,” he said. “So at first, since you have a limited fanbase in the US, I’m sure you’re going to divide them up [by introducing another race], and in the first couple of years it would hurt as a promoter. But, in the long run, if having more races in the US and on TV in the US builds more fans, it’ll be a win.
“So I think in the short term it will be a little hurtful, but in the long run it could be a tremendous benefit.”
Only two drivers have triumphed at Austin since it joined the F1 calendar – Hamilton, who has won three times, and Sebastian Vettel.
The world champion will be trying to add a third consecutive COTA win at next weekend’s race, which Epstein hopes will take place in much better conditions than the washout experienced in 2015: “If it’s like [yesterday], people are going to be talking about how great the weather was, it’s that beautiful.”
What do you make of COTA’s efforts to attract fans to the US Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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