Can F1 Make it in North America?

In this post we turn to the world of auto-racing, continuing a recent series of sports-related pieces. Among these included an article on the decline of boxing, Mike Azmera's excellent debut discussing the economics behind the NBA lockout and another article discussing fan indifference with respect to that very same labor dispute. Though this is a lot of sports in a little time, it is hardly a stretch for our site; it is often the case (as both sides in the NBA dispute made quite clear) that professional sports are at least as much about economics as they are about actual games.

Uncommonly for a blog based in the US, our auto-racing discussion will focus on Formula 1. This is no throwaway statement; NASCAR is the self-proclaimed 'fastest growing sport in America' and to the extent that print and tv space are spent on auto-racing in the US, they are spent on NASCAR. It has made its way onto ESPN telecasts and the stars of the sport are as bankable as any of the big names from the MLB or NFL.

However, despite this clear ability of motor sports to capture the hearts and wallets of Americans, there is a decided lack of interest in Formula 1. Therefore we would like to take a look at the slightly incongruous question of whether or not this global mega-brand can succeed in one of the World's biggest markets.

I was personally in attendance at a Formula 1 race held in North America. It was the 2008 edition of the Canadian Grand Prix, the last race held before F1 took a one-year hiatus from the continent. Though Formula 1 has returned to Montreal since, with races being held in 2010 and 2011, the circuit has not featured in the US since 2007 when it visited Indianapolis.

This is scheduled to change with races set for Texas and the New York metro area over the next few years. But will Americans care? From personal experience, and with the benefit of having attending sporting events around the globe, an F1 race has an incomparable energy that Americans should love. Race weekend is a huge event, the stars are recognizable, the names of the makers involved come straight from many boys' wall posters.

However something is apparently missing from the offering. Maybe it is a lack of connection with drivers who are only in the States once every few years. Maybe the sheer size of the US means that even an annual visit to, say, Indianapolis, isn't enough to get fans from the major east and west coast markets interested. Maybe there are already too many sporting events on the television, and most Americans wouldn't trade football time for F1 time. I do not personally know what the reason is, much less the solution. What I do know is that F1 is missing a huge growth opportunity in the US, and two races over the next few years is probably not the salve, no matter how excited your humble author might personally be...

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