Nov 12, 2013

F1 is coming to America


F1 is coming to AmericaSpeed, noise, colour, emotion… passion… history. Formula 1 isn’t just a sport. To its millions of fans around the world, it is a religion. Played out on a global stage in some of the world’s most glamorous locations, it is the ultimate gladiatorial battle, combining technological precision and excellence with grit, determination and the highest levels of sporting skill and agility seen anywhere on earth. A sport where the slightest mistake can mean not simply the difference between winning and losing, but between life and death. Fast, furious… unforgiving. Formula 1 is the ultimate window into the pinnacle of human endeavor.

It is the most watched sport on earth. Yes, you’ve heard that statistic before. But it is true. Half a billion people tuned in globally to watch the 2012 Formula 1 season unfold. Half a billion. Only the soccer World Cup and the Olympics can claim more viewers than that. They happen every four years. Grands Prix take place every two weeks.

From a business perspective, Formula 1 also exists as one of the most high profile billboards in the world. With just 11 teams and 22 drivers, potential advertising space on these modern day chariots is limited and in high demand, with every penny of investment going to cut the tenths of a second that can make the difference between points, podiums and that most powerful drug of all… victory.

And yet for all its allure, for all its success, Formula 1 is still a niche interest in one of the biggest global markets of them all. America remains the land of opportunity for Formula 1 and the market in which it has the most interest in conquering.

Land of opportunity
It has long been said that Formula 1 needs America more than America needs F1 and, since I started working on the US television broadcast four years ago, I have seen an extent to which this old adage rings true. America is a sports mad nation, but a sports mad nation with quite an insular view. For many US sports fans the great rivalries are not inter-nation, but inter-state. NASCAR and IndyCar have always carried more popular support stateside than Formula 1, their calendars existing almost exclusively within the North American continent.

Of course, Formula 1 does itself no favours in trying to establish itself in the US. It is the big show, and considers itself to be the pinnacle of all racing worldwide. How very arrogant to come into still unchartered territory and claim that it is the best racing out there. But Formula 1 and humility have never and will never be easy bed fellows. There are no American teams. There are no fulltime American F1 drivers. How then, can F1 sell itself to the mass populous of its most important market?

In order to ensure roots are laid down for a solid future in the US, a partnership was needed with a network that would promote the championship and push it forward. In NBC Sports, I think Formula 1 has that. It has been a pleasure to work this season with the whole crew and with a network keen to promote Formula 1 across its many and varied platforms. The committed and loyal fan base that exists in the States needs to know that waking up in the early hours will be worth its time, and the quality of the show reflects the investment and faith that the network has in the product.

The Monaco Grand Prix saw the highest figures for an F1 race in the US for over five years. The fan base is there, and it is growing with each passing race.

I am glad to see US-based companies like Internap showing their support for Formula 1 by sponsoring the Sahara Force India Formula 1 team. Internap, a provider of high-performance hosting services, hosts Sahara Force India’s website which is the primary means of communicating with the media and engaging with the team’s growing, global fan base. The US Grand Prix gives Internap the opportunity to support Formula 1 in the states while strengthening customer relationships through VIP hospitality and exclusive access to the Sahara Force India team.

Formula 1’s future in the US appears to be very bright indeed. The interest is clearly there for US-based sponsors, and the fan base is expanding almost as fast as the Formula 1 calendar itself. Formula 1 may always have believed that it needs America more than America needs it, but on recent form it appears that while America might not need Formula 1, it not only wants Formula 1… it loves Formula 1.

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