<
>

'Bigger, broader, better': Chase Carey on F1 in the U.S.

play
How can F1 be more accessible in the USA? (3:08)

Jennie Gow and Maurice Hamilton discuss how Formula 1 can do more to attract a U.S. based audience. (3:08)

In a sport where cappuccinos and espressos are served in designer chinaware, Formula One's new CEO Chase Carey drinks his coffee from a white takeaway cup. Combined with a thick moustache -- neatly curled at both ends -- an oversized white shirt and a suit jacket slung over one shoulder, Carey sports a distinctly American look in an environment dominated by Europeans. At the start of our interview, the Starbucks-style coffee is placed within easy reach, but it's not touched again for 20 minutes as he maps out F1's plans for expansion in the U.S..

Given the topic of tapping into a huge potential market, it is ironic that the interview is taking place on the eve of the last grand prix in Malaysia. Back in 1999, the Malaysian government was one of the first to pay Formula One an eye-watering amount of money for the privilege of hosting a grand prix. It was a business model the sport's former CEO Bernie Ecclestone rolled out in a number of far-flung destinations around the globe, offering countries the worldwide promotion and glamour of a grand prix in exchange for a substantial race-sanctioning fee, subject to a year-on-year escalator fee. In some cases -- China, Bahrain, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Russia and Azerbaijan -- the deals are still in place, but in others (South Korea, Turkey and Malaysia) the costs outweighed the returns.

Ever since American-based Liberty Media took control of F1 in February this year -- replacing Ecclestone with Carey at the top of the sport -- the approach to calendar building has promised to change. The Malaysian Grand Prix's demise was among the first official announcements made under F1's new management, but instead of seeking out the next highest bidder, Carey and his team turned their attention to venues with the greatest potential growth for Formula One as sport. At the top of that list is the U.S. -- and the reasons why are clear.

"It's the size of the market," Carey explains. "The size of the market and the role the U.S. plays in the world.

"And for us it's a market where we are really just scratching the surface. It's not only the size of the market but the fact that we have only really just tried to begin developing the potential of the sport there."

Although the U.S. Grand Prix has found a popular home in Austin, Texas since 2012, Formula One's history in the U.S. has been chequered. A recent survey by the sport's new data and research arm found that fans in the U.S. showed high levels of engagement compared to other nationalities but that overall awareness among sports fans was low.

F1's management is convinced that means there is potential to grow but could it be that, beyond a small group of dedicated fans, F1 simply doesn't fit the American sports market? NASCAR and IndyCar dominate the national racing scene as NFL, NBA and MBL dominate the wider sports scene, so is there any space for F1 in an already packed market place?

"This sport is all about being an incredible spectacle," Carey argues. "Probably no country has done a better job of making sporting events spectacles [than the U.S.]. Whether it's boxing events in Vegas, a U.F.C. fight in Madison Square Gardens, NBA All-Star games, the U.S. has probably led the world in making spectacles that have sports at the centre of it.

"In some ways, F1 is the ultimate spectacle sport. It has the stars, glamour and mystique all around it with a sport that has the shock and awe that comes with power and speed. So in many ways, I actually thing it's built for the U.S. market, we just really haven't done anything to try to develop it."

So why has F1 struggled to crack the U.S. market? Carey believes it comes down to a lack of commitment from the sport itself. While Ecclestone made his deals and left race promotion to the race promoters, Carey says the sport needs to lead a concerted effort with its venues to promote its events to the wider public.

"I think in general, the sport has been somewhat -- and I'm not trying to criticise the past -- but it's been somewhat of a short-term mindset rather than a long-term mindset in a sport that didn't really have the organisation to support and help partners grow," he explains. "It was very much do a deal on the day, come and go, and I think if you are going to develop the sport in a region that doesn't historically have a connection to the sport you need that support and you are not going to do that with a deal.

"You can't just go to Detroit for a race or Phoenix for a race and leave it at that, you have to engage with the market, so I think you have to have a longer-term mindset. The U.S. for us is not going to be something that in the next two to three years drives the business, the U.S. opportunity to us is really more of a five-year-plus opportunity, just as the same would be in China. You have to go into it with the staying power.

"And then you have to have the ability to help the local partners grow the sport. In the past we have had a mindset of signing a contract and leave it to them to manage it, and I think we have to take more ownership of the health of the sport and the growth of the sport and engage. I think it's both a long-term mindset and having the resource and expertise to help local partners figure out how to develop the sport to its real potential."

"It's marketing the sport, it's making the stars brighter, it's telling the stories in the sport and also the history of the sport -- that's something that people can connect to and understand."

Chase Carey, Formula One CEO

It's clear that Carey approaches his business in a very different way to his predecessor, opting to do deals behind closed doors rather than angling the spotlight of media pressure in the face of his negotiating partner. Whereas Ecclestone would often drop a barbed quote among a huddle of journalists in the F1 media centre, Carey prefers to speak in general terms until the deal is done.

It's why it remains difficult to tease out information about a second U.S. Grand Prix. Since Liberty took control of the sport, a second race in a "destination city" has been high on its agenda but solid details have been hard to come by. New York, Las Vegas and Miami currently top the list and each would offer huge promotional value for Formula One in the U.S. market.

"It's still ongoing," Carey says when asked for an update on progress. "We are more engaged than we were six months ago but it's still a work in progress. These are big events to put together, complicated events to put together, and when you are dealing with big cities there are complexities in the big cities. We are not signing a deal tomorrow, but we are certainly a little further along than we were six months ago.

"Obviously if you pick those three cities, there are different things that make Miami, New York or Las Vegas special. I think those are cities that by definition already capture the world's imagination, so it's about looking at how you build on that. We've got a great sport that lends itself to being an incredible spectacle and then we can marry it to what makes a great city great."

So with a second race still part of a mid- to long-term plan, what is F1 doing in the short-term to boost its presence? Part of Formula One's plan to grow the sport worldwide is to take full advantage of media channels neglected under Ecclestone because of the difficulty in directly generating revenue from them. F1's presence on Facebook and YouTube has increased significantly this year and Carey is keen to open up as many channels as possible to connect with fans.

"I think we've already started," he said. "Doing more digitally is starting. You can see one of the more promising kernels you get -- although I wouldn't make broad conclusions out of it -- is that as we do more in the digital world the amount of engagement we have in the U.S. is very encouraging. It tells you that there is an interest there to tap into.

"Adding a destination event in a city like New York, Miami or Las Vegas; that raises the profile and helps people engage. Doing more online, so people can get closer to the sport; realistically at the core that is engaging fans and it's engaging in different ways.

"We haven't really developed those capabilities to enable fans to connect and pursue what makes them more interested and passionate about the sport. It's marketing the sport, it's making the stars brighter, it's telling the stories in the sport and also the history of the sport -- that's something that people can connect to and understand. It's engaging fans, and in a nutshell, it's engaging fans in every way possible -- live events on every platform possible out there. We are in a world where clearly you have more opportunities to engage than you ever have [before]."

However, Carey is clear that it needs to be a well-thought-through approach that makes the most of developing technology while resting on the core attributes of what makes the sport great.

"I think we're realistic, we're not going to be the NFL in the next ten years, but there is an enormous untapped market and I think it would be great for us to have a big series of events. If we add one, for us we need to make sure we grow in a disciplined and thoughtful way. But I think we would look to build on those successes and ultimately look to be bigger, broader, better, more exciting, more connected and more engaged.

"I think we're in a world [where] with all the choices, we have fragmentation and a lot of stuff is on the losing end of fragmentation. And I think big, unique events - there will only be one Formula One - [means] we are well positioned to be one that comes out with a lot of upsides as all this stuff shakes out. For us it is going to be about taking advantage of that and making the sport everything it can and should be."