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“Thoughts on Formula One, Austin and the USA”

December 6, 2012

A potential standoff may be developing between the FOM/FIA and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) with regards to the scheduling of the 2013 US Grand Prix.

Next year’s Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas is set to run on November 17th, while the Texas Longhorns are scheduled to play against the Oklahoma Cowboys at the DK Memorial Stadium in Austin.

Like this year, the US Grand Prix also clashes with the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway.

While there is not a direct match-on-race clash, some look toward the price and potential scarcity of hotel rooms as well as excess traffic in the Austin area throughout the weekend as a potential sticking point.
Yet while these are important points, surely they are dwarfed by other matters such as a lack of state and nationwide media coverage for the event at a time when a strategy for national growth is required.

Retorts based around the idea that opposing fans rarely cross paths may not be as relevant as often assumed when one examines the wider picture of territorial promotion.
Indeed might be rather difficult for Formula One to “cross paths” if it simply does not exist in the eyes of the public due to a lack of exposure and if this is about growing the sport North American for sponsors, the crossover runs the risk of potentially losing traction.

Realistically Formula One has next to no footing in the US at the moment and pretending otherwise is fanciful thinking. By clashing with both the NASCAR finale and the Texas Longhorns, the category merely showcases a lack of appreciation of event structures beyond its own borders.
Addressing date equity could help it find a better placement in order to take advantage of its new broadcast deal with NBC / NBC Sports.

In terms of television numbers, a collision might be best avoided, as football coverage and news would simply get suffocate Formula One.
On Speed TV, the recent US Grand Prix was viewed by 500,000 viewers – the station’s highest number for a Formula One race for many years. In a country of over 314 million people {note 1} where sport is king, 500,000 is simply nothing.
A rethink of dates would help this slightly, but I fear as long as the Austin Grand Prix takes place in November (during NFL season); the race will never be a national feature, but will it ever be so?

Motorsport is a niche product in a country where car buying appears to have peaked and where for the first time ever female car owners outnumber their male counterparts. Times are changing, the demographic is moving and motorsport as a whole is not as a big player anymore.
Through the 2012 season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drew on average 5.8 million viewers during prime time broadcasts across Fox, TNT, ESPN and ABC throughout 2012 {note 2}, while the average numbers for the chase portion of the Championship dropped to 4.15 million viewers (as the NFL kicked into action); down 16% on last year.

Should Formula One genuinely wants to succeed in the US, it needs to address its position with regards to other sporting entities and events. Otherwise it is simply wasting its time.

Oh and if anyone believes F1 is in a position to dictate, well…

{note 1}
According to the US Census Bureau, the population of the United States is approximately 314,892,546 people as of December 5th, 2012.

{note 2}
NASCAR suffered a drop in viewership in 2012, down 11% from last year according to Sports Media Watch. Out of thirty-three races that could be compared directly to 2011, twenty-two suffered a fall in viewership, with twelve of those registering a collapse of more than 10% in numbers.

Broadcasts on ESPN suffered the worst declines, with ten of their eleven broadcasts filling the bottom rungs of NASCAR’s TV ratings. Notably, these ten races ran opposite coverage of the NFL.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead drew in 4.2 million viewers to see Brad Keselowski take his first title.

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