Bigger and Better: Why Liberty Media Needs an F1 Location and Price Rethink
As we all know the motorsport of Formula One is the highest level of motorsport in the world, and one of the biggest and most followed sports out there. It is also one of the most expensive events to attend as well as organise from a track point of view but is an absolute spectacle in its own right. In recent years, The Formula One Management (FOM) and owners Liberty Media have come under fire due to venues and tracks such as Silverstone and Monza threatening to pull their races due to financial issues. Is this a major problem? And what will it do to the surrounding location and their own economies? Surely there is a way it can be fixed.
Take the British Grand Prix weekend, held annually at the legendary Silverstone Circuit in Towcester, England. Now financial points aside, this track historically is extremely important to Formula 1 due to the point that this was where the scene set for the very first race held under Formula 1 regulations in 1950, not forgetting the other historically amazing circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Monza in Italy and Suzuka Circuit in Japan. Each one has their own unique stories and history, highs and lows, winners and losers all embedded into the antiquity of the sport, and yet financial gain is threatening to take these tracks away.
On top of that, new circuits such as the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan, or the upcoming 2020 Vietnam Grand Prix in Hanoi show that although new countries can join and of course in the case of Baku give us equally amazing races as the historic venues, fans still cry out for the old, more flowing circuits. Many fans have pushed hard to see F1 return to Imola, Zandvoort and the likes and still they seemed blocked by means of money and financial gain. A return to the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola was rumoured to be on the cards for the last few years to no avail, and despite the circuits dark history in the past of the sport, I would love to see a return to the proper old school venue, especially that it now once again holds the “FIA Grade 1” licence required by any venue hoping to host a round of the F1 World Championship.
As you can guess, there is major benefits to a certain country if they’re to hold a round of the championship, such as tourism, economy and various businesses all taking a significant boost. Talking from personal experience, the two Grand Prix events I have attended – Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, and the Spanish Grand Prix held at the brilliant Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – have been roughly an hour from the cities I’ve stayed in, but I recall the lobby of my hotel in Barcelona being jammed full of eager F1 fans in their own respective groups and clans getting ready to head to the venue. People from Poland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and even America were at the circuit as shown by their respective flags they hung to the track’s fences during the weekend. I was thoroughly impressed at the amount of nationalities that came from across the globe to the race and even more surprised at the amount of F1 related hats I counted on my flight home to Ireland the next day. Obviously, this is a brilliant benefit to a countries’ tourism and economy.
For the 2016 round of the British Grand Prix, an estimated 320,000 people turned out over the course of the weekend to spectate the event, showing that even today in the current state of the sport it is still widely followed and adored by fans. Take in all the factors as I mentioned, tourism: people making a holiday out of an event and staying longer to enjoy a country and its unique landmarks and sights. Businesses: Coach operators, taxis, food and drink vendors, hotels, restaurants, bars etc. the list goes on. F1 still holds the key to a very successful attraction to people across the world, as well as various Travel and Holiday companies across the globe making a significant profit from organising travel packages for punters and fans.
As I said, major tracks are struggling to pay the asking price to host Grand Prix, and a way to calm this as well as decreasing the travelling that fans have to do, Liberty Media have set about holding races on streets circuits such as Baku and Hanoi, but taking into consideration my points this also kills any opportunities for Coaches/Buses/Taxis to make a profit. In Barcelona, the local coach company Segales had a fantastic system of coaches leaving every 10 minutes from Barcelona’s central bus station, as well as coaches back to the city, for €15, as well as the train company putting on extra trains at reduced rates to the local town of Montmelo, showing that demand really is a great thing. Liberty Media are also keen to set about replacing races that can no longer host with new locations, which is something I fear greatly. Now the asking fee of hosting a Championship round is secretly guarded, but Liberty Media now can go far simpler into this idea. For example, one very simple pitch would be to hold a fixed price for a venue to pay, (For example $10 million.) then organise that the track or host venue gets maybe a 40% cut in the ticket sales of the Grand Prix weekend.
Now think about that for a second, Formula 1 suggests that roughly 200,000 people turn out for each Grand Prix. Charging a minimum of €160 for weekend general admittance (the cheapest tickets available for the upcoming 2019 Spanish GP.) that’s €32 million if everybody bought one general admittance ticket, not counting those spending more on Grandstand/Paddock Pass tickets. 40% (€12.8 million) goes to the venue, and 60% plus the asking €10 million is a €29.2 million profit to Liberty Media, not counting any profits made on merchandise or that on site. Profits all round and again this figure would be significantly bigger due to people buying seated tickets and paddock passes. This also allows ticket prices to be gradually reduced and changed, and tracks such as Imola and Silverstone that fans adore a far more adaptable appealing package to consider. Bring in the idea of keeping and giving top priority to historic tracks such as Spa, Monza, Silverstone and the likes and I guarantee you fans once again will be flocking to race events.
Obviously, this needs a lot of adjusting, it’s not a fix all solution and I know the idea of tax and things like this needs to be accounted for in respective countries, but the potential for tourism and gain goes far beyond personal greed here. F1 is so much more than a race nowadays, with concerts, festivals and the like taking place on site over the course of a weekend, it’s something that can appeal to absolutely everyone and a major rethink needs to take place here, as well as bring the sport back to its roots and to the places the fans know it best. We are in a new era of Formula 1 now, but we cannot sacrifice what made it so great in the past for the sake of its future. And with a few adjustments, benefits to tourism and the hosting countries’ economies could be also healthy.