Formula One marketers call for sustained US promotion as Austin prepares for Grand Prix debut

Leading Formula One marketing experts believe that sustained local and national promotion is essential if Formula One is to make a significant impact on its much-anticipated return to the United States of America.

Leading Formula One marketing experts believe that sustained local and national promotion is essential if Formula One is to make a significant impact on its much-anticipated return to the United States of America.

As the sport heads to the country for the first US Grand Prix since 2007 a week on Sunday, the prospect of a first appearance at an impressive US$300 million purpose-built facility in Austin's Circuit of the Americas (COTA) – the first permanent circuit in the United States built specifically to host a Formula One race – and the promise of a second US event in 2014 in the shadow of Manhattan's skyline has raised hopes that Formula One can finally become a viable proposition in a market it has found almost inpenetrable so far.

NBC's multi-year agreement to broadcast Formula One in the United States from next year, with the promise of substantial promotion across its platforms, has added to the optimistic mood as the sport makes its way to Texas for the November 18th race, a Grand Prix given extra spice given it could decide both world championships.

Jim Wright, the former marketing chief at the Williams and Toro Rosso teams, believes “the portents are good” for the new event, but that long-term success in the United States ultimately depends on the commitment to promotion made by Formula One Management, the sport's central rights-holder.

“It depends if Formula One accepts that it has a real job to do in that country, like China, and it rolls its sleeves up and gets stuck in to going about presenting itself and promoting itself,” Wright told SportsPro.

“I fear that, like in China, the arrogance of Formula One will be that all we need to do is rock up with the great Formula One, and it will be a struggle. But if they go about it in the right way there’s huge potential there.”

Local race organisers and some Formula One teams have undertaken promotional campaigns in the United States, but there remains no centralised marketing effort by the sport itself, a situation which has left Wright somewhat bemused.

“If you look at what Red Bull do, for example, they’ve gone out there, taken the car, run it round the streets [of New Jersey], done a promotion with Infiniti, they’re looking at it positively and working hard. But why only them? What is the central rights-holder doing to promote Formula One in America?”

Despite the lack of wider promotion, local promoters in Austin have organised several events designed to spark interest ahead of next week's race, most recently a series of demonstration laps by 1978 world champion and US racing legend Mario Andretti.

The Circuit of the Americas is understood to have sold 100,000 three-day tickets, with strong support from the local community bolstered by an influx of Sergio Perez fans from Mexico.
Corporate hospitality sales are also believed to be impressive; Red Bull Racing is said to be inviting more guests to Texas than to any other race this season, likewise Perez’s team, Sauber.

“There are a great many American companies who look at Formula One and I’ve had calls from people, commercial sponsors, decision-makers, who plan to go to that race who have not been to a Formula One race before because they are intrigued to see if Formula One can begin to make an impact in the United States,” said Mark Gallagher, formerly of Jordan Grand Prix and Cosworth and now a noted expert on Formula One's commercial affairs.

“I think if COTA is successful and if New Jersey can get off the ground those two events have a good chance of success.”

Gallagher added: “What Circuit of the Americas has done is very brave and it’s to be hoped and prayed that this is the one that works because we need to stop the inconsistency of Formula One in the United States marketplace.

“Hopefully Austin will really get behind it.”

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