May 9, 2013

The other side of Austin

The US Grand Prix was a success on several levels © Sutton Images

There’s no denying that the maiden US Grand Prix in Austin was a roaring success – the event ran more smoothly than expected for a debut outing, fans were treated to an excellent example of F1 racing at its finest, and Travis County picked up income from the influx of fans and personnel who travelled to the race.

This week the state of Texas has released a financial impact study on the Austin race, and their findings are pretty impressive: three-day attendance was 265,499 (3rd highest of the season); race day attendance was 117,429 (2nd highest of the season); and the GP earned Austin brand exposure valued at $150,933,991.

But what interested me in the report was the social impact of the Austin Grand Prix.

In the run-up to the race, critics of F1’s imminent arrival filled internet fora and comment sections of local newspapers with (incorrect) complaints that the state of Texas was forking out hundreds of millions of dollars for a sport characterised as being made up of Gucci-clad Eurotrash, billionaires who had no need of public funding.

Their argument was that Formula One was a wasteful exercise, that it was shameful to spend state millions on motorsport when public servants were undergoing pay freezes, teachers were being made redundant, and the pension pot was shrinking. Several commenters cited an increase in the number of Americans reliant on food banks since the Great Financial Crisis.

It was an emotive – if ill-informed – argument.

So I hope that those commenters have since reflected on their instant F1 antipathy, and that they too have taken the time to read the full financial impact study. After the race, the Circuit of the Americas donated 4.7 tonnes of unsold food to Austin’s Capital Area Food Bank. It may be small beans in the grander scheme of human suffering, but it was a stand-out example of Austin’s thoughtful approach to race management.

The post-event report makes for fascinating reading for those interested in the planning and organisation that goes into an event of this magnitude, and serves to emphasise the importance of planning and preparation. In most instances, the worst-case scenarios that had been planned for never transpired.

There were a couple of odd bits in the report, though… Despite an increase in call volume to the emergency services, and an increase in the number of crimes, response time improved and the number of incidents over the race weekend was identical to that the weekend before. Anyone out there get how that works?


Posted by Labininscoice on 17/05/2013

I love reading through your website. With thanks!

Posted by Kate Walker on 12/05/2013

That makes sense. Thank you very much!

Posted by John B on 10/05/2013

Someone... please show this to the Victorian State Government! A Grand Prix is always worth its cost.

Posted by Nanbawan on 10/05/2013

Can someone forward this to the French government ? They refused to give €2m to help organizing a GP there for mere symbolical and political reasons without watching the bigger picture.

Posted by Andre Thomas on 09/05/2013

Last year's F1 race was no doubt a success, but if Bernie really want F1 to have a long term american presence they are going to have to do more than just stage races, what F1 need to do is follow in the footsteps of NASCAR and market its to the more/wider mainstream crowd who might not be into motorsports and I say this because F1 biggest hurdle is not NASCAR(as both can equally co-exist nor are they really in contention) but rather the more mainstream sports e.g. NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA college sports.

Vettel appearing on the David Lettermann show last year was a good start, however needs to be done on the part of FOM to inject F1 into the american sports watching conscience.

Posted by Einbahn on 09/05/2013

As an F1 follower since 1959, I have to laugh at the supposed critics who know nothing at all about the sport of Formula One or the principles of business and economics. Austin worked from good management. They are like a neighbor of mine who once said there was no money in F1 when Michael S was making $80 million.

Posted by Abrie Hattingh on 09/05/2013

If the race weekend caused more people to be in the county, and the number of incidents are up by that percentage, then proportionality its the same number of incidents (in percentage).

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker