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F1 racing won’t last long at new Austin track

Published November 21, 2012

By all accounts, the U.S. Grand Prix at the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Texas on Sunday was a yee-haw, rip-roarin’ success.

The circuit looked terrific and challenging (although I was kinda irritated by the red, white and blue colours bordering the black macadam) and the race itself was one of the best of the season.

It’s too bad that next-to-nobody in North America saw it.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

This spectacle that Bernie Ecclestone and the other fist-pumpers for F1 claim is better than the Olympic Games was attended in person by 117,000 people on race day, according to the organizers.

SPEED Channel, which carried the contest in the U.S., put out a release saying more than 500,000 people tuned in but it couldn’t have been a lot more or else they would have said so. Although I haven’t seen exact figures, between 100,000 to 120,000 people in Canada usually watch F1 on TSN, so we’ll go with that figure even though the total is probably lower because not everybody was aware of the race being available live on CTV2.

So except for Mexico, that puts the total for North America at approximately - give or take a thousand here and there - 740,000.

That is nothing to get excited about.

Of course, millions around the world watched the race, which is good, but 740,000 in North America puts that race well below the total who watched the final NASCAR race of the season as well as the millions who were watching NFL football on Sunday, which is not good.

Far from good, in fact.

Although I am a fanatic for most forms of motorsport, as are – presumably – the people reading this blog, we are very much a minority in the two countries that count here, the United States and Canada.

No wonder I didn’t see any evidence of American corporate involvement at the Austin circuit. If it wasn’t for Pirelli – which is an F1 supplier, for heaven’s sake – there wouldn’t have been any sign whatsoever of interest on behalf of Big Business.

And the only other advertising signs I saw were for two traditional offshore F1 sponsors, LG Corp., which is a South Korean congolmerate, and UBS, which is a Swiss global financial services company.

Where was Budweiser? I mean, that’s how you know if something in the U.S. is truly major league, isn’t it? If there’s a Budweiser sign somewhere?

But there was no Bud.

So with minimal interest from corporate America, and way fewer than a million people actually watching, I don’t think F1 is going to last very long at the Circuit of the Americas.

They pulled it off this time by really socking it to those 117,000 people who showed up.

How d’ya like these prices (as sent to me by a friend who knows his way around this sport):

Three-day seating went for $6,500 per year for a seat licence in a five-year contract and then $9,500 for the seat. A 24-person suite cost $175,000 plus extra for food and drinks. On-site motorhome parking cost $15,000 and you had to sign a three-year contract. $500 was the going rate for the cheapest grandstand seat on the far side of the circuit. It cost $12 for a beer and $15 for a burger.

A tee-shirt with a COTA logo set you back $32 and a white shirt with logo cost $69.

Now, most sports stadiums and attractions draw really well the first time out and then tail off.

Remember when the IRL first went to the brand new Texas Motor Speedway? Well, 180,000 showed up for that first race but the second time the Indy cars went there, 100,000 of those first-nighters stayed home.

The first time the F1 series raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000, more than 200,000 fans showed up. When F1 stopped racing at Indy in 2007, the crowd was down to 100,000 – still an enormous number but exactly half of what it once was.

Austin did well last weekend. And might do okay next year and even the year after that.

But without U.S. corporate support in the form of a title sponsor, way higher TV numbers and less gouging of the paying public who will simply refuse to attend, F1 racing in America is once-again going to be a short-term proposition.

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