Austin and Formula 1

Scott Francis
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Few were more surprised than I was that Formula 1 came to Austin a few years ago.  It just seemed like a pipe dream in the days before – unlikely to really come to fruition.

F1 in Austin had a rough start in some respects-  with attendance down last year, and international exposure and excitement seemingly on the wane. But this year, COTA and F1 executed a nice pivot in Austin – advertising directly to Austin’s 2 million residents and making them feel at home in the international racing spectacle:

Bobby Epstein, Chairman of the Circuit of the Americas, believes the event is stronger than ever. “I think everyone is riding on a wonderful high right now, the employees, everyone that works here, everyone associated with it. This is absolutely the best buzz we’ve had since the first year,” said Epstein. “There were a lot of ups and downs, it’s been rough, and it’s been fun – but I think everyone is so pleased right now and we’re just enjoying it.”

In combination with the news this year that Liberty Media has purchased the Formula One operation globally, it seems that the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin will continue to be home to F1 races for a long time to come. 

“There’s a big audience here that we can build on,” said Chase Corey, the new Chairman of Formula One. “I’ve been surprised in just my 30 days being in this sport, how many people – it’s anecdotal at this point – but how many people are coming out of woodwork saying ‘I’m a Formula One fan, I’d love to have more races here, a bigger presence here’. It’s a longer term project, but we want to start building it and we want to start developing it, we’re very excited about the opportunity here.”

The Statesman reports record attendance of 269,889 this year (over 3 days). An impressive increase of 20% from last year. And for every attendee, the follow on effect of food and beverage and gift shop purchases makes it a big win for the race.

So how did they make it appeal to locals? Well, a little live music with my racing, please:

Yet for COTA, this was so much more than a race. Track officials turned it into a full festival weekend, with major concerts by Swift, Usher & The Roots, 20 local bands, wide-ranging international entertainment acts.

I sat on a plane flight Friday before the race, next to someone reviewing their tickets to the race.  My friends were posting on Facebook about it.  This felt like the year that COTA and F1 found their groove in Austin.  It’s nice to see Austin continue to have its economy anchored by really amazing “festival” experiences like F1, SXSW, and ACL Fest. 

 

 

 

 

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