Miami facing its difficult second act
When you build a race on hype, you’re creating a tough act to follow when there are past examples brought into the equation.
The Miami Grand Prix did an incredible job to create masses of interest last year. The build-up had been huge after years of attempts to get a race to Florida; F1 failing with the initial downtown plan before settling on the Hard Rock Stadium location and a 10-year contract.
After the extended wait and major publicity, an extra race in the United States felt a long time coming. Accordingly, anticipation was huge for the opening event last year and people wanted to be a part of it.
But not every one of those 10 years are guaranteed to be as big as the last.
Just ask Bobby Epstein at Circuit of The Americas. After the initial hype and interest, you can end up with a core audience that is some way off your highest interest level, and you need to build from that point. It takes money to make money, and investing in the offering can entice people to return — or give it a first chance despite the novelty factor having worn off — and then as figures grow, you can spend more on the experience and enter into a positive spiral.
Or, you can fail to generate an upturn in attendance despite those investments and end up spending even more money without the return.
The organizers in Miami are just hitting that exact period; the tricky second album. And it faces a few extra challenges.
One of those is the first race. As impressive as the energy and atmosphere was, there were failings. Things weren’t helped by a fairly dull on-track offering — something you can never fully safeguard against, despite the best intentions with track layout and design — and there were issues with some of the fan experiences, particularly those at the highest price points.
Plus, when you bring the stars out for the opener (rightly so, as you can’t exactly spread out when you want celebrities to attend), you’re unlikely to be able to bring in the same number of big names for the second edition. Even if the exact same crop featuring the likes of Tom Brady and Michael Jordan all attended once again, it still doesn’t have the same impact because their presence is not new.
And then there’s Las Vegas. A new, shinier F1 race in America is on the horizon, and both are so early in their contracts that they are in competition of sorts. Fans that attended the first race in Miami who may have returned might hold off to try and get to Vegas. The cost of doing both is absolutely eye-watering.
But Miami knows all of this, and has been preparing.
Miami Grand Prix managing partner Tom Garfinkel and his team took immediate steps to rectify the problems faced during the first race, but also acted on more general feedback. An overcrowded paddock has resulted in the teams’ hospitality units being moved onto the football field — an immediate hit in terms of the working environment the constructors’ and suppliers enjoy. That can have a knock-on impact on the experience their guests have.
There were also the driver comments that the track surface was bad for racing last year, so the circuit has been completely repaved to try and provide more grip. A few other track amendments also look to provide something more to the drivers’ liking.
And while the experience for fans wasn’t perfect in year one either, it did show where improvements needed to be made that allowed the capacity to be expanded for this year, with a further 3,000 grandstand seats but also an increase in ground passes.
Unfortunately for Garfinkel and company, none of the work they do can have as big an impact as something that is going to be almost completely out of their hands.
The first race was not a thriller, and at least partly as a result of that, demand from Europe to travel across for this year’s race was relatively low. That’s in contrast to an Azerbaijan Grand Prix a week ago that — albeit with a far lower capacity — enjoyed high interest from the United Kingdom and Netherlands based on its historical data.
Why? Because of Baku’s reputation for delivering a crazy race. There were attractive aspects around the city and location of the track, but the potential to see something chaotic from a sporting perspective was a big pull. And it’s the wider TV audience that sees that and builds up its own image of the event.
In Miami, the way the first race panned out means it doesn’t have that same selling point, and makes Sunday’s grand prix that little bit more crucial when it comes to how hard the organizers will have to work to limit the dip in interest that tends to follow year one.
Get a brilliant race, and fans around the world will view Miami in a different light, as a round that they look forward to next year. And from that, they’re more likely to want to attend.
But another boring one — as Baku delivered just five days ago, to show there are no guarantees anywhere — will have the opposite effect. All show and no go will be a tough reputation to shake off, even if it has nothing to do with the actual fan offering or event experience.
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