Making F1 circuits more fan-friendly
Here’s the good news: circuit owners have finally realised that they need to work a lot harder to provide fans with a worthwhile experience. And the bad? Inevitably, some of them see it as a means of squeezing your wallets harder.
Speaking at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco, Nürburgring CEO Walter Kafitz told delegates:
“Circuits are part of the entertainment business, not just part of the sports business. Unlike in, say, football, people stay at a circuit all day – or all weekend. We have to keep them entertained. If you add value then you can demand more for the ticket.”
Bearing in mind that he was speaking in his second language, we shouldn’t read too strident a meaning into the use of that word ‘demand’. But only this week, the joy of many UK-based fans at the announcement from Silverstone turned to dismay when they contemplated the outrageous price of tickets. To get a family through the gates will cost hundreds of pounds.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For the model of a family friendly circuit, look to Abu Dhabi. The stakeholders in the grand prix – chiefly Aldar, the construction company, and Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund (which also owns a stake in Ferrari) – planned the new circuit as a family entertainment venue that would offer a rich experience over the whole weekend. They did this because they knew they were bringing the sport to an audience that was entirely unfamiliar with F1.
Thus they built grandstands with a fairly conservative capacity, but specified that they could be easily expanded in future. They invested in educating their staff and their families about Formula 1. They invested in proper transport links, and built shopping malls and other attractions in the local area. The entire project was underpinned by knowledge of and respect for their demographic.
The upshot was a successful event that sold out easily and generated excellent feedback in a survey of public attendees and F1 workers. Compare and contrast with the soul-sucking grimness of other circuits that have been thrown together in the middle of nowhere and left to rot. I remember being at the Turkish GP in 2008 and quipping during the drivers’ parade that it would be quicker to introduce the crowd to the drivers rather than the other way around.
Richard Cregan, CEO of the Yas Marina circuit, said:
It’s about entertainment. It’s all about families, about giving every individual a positive experience – not just at the circuit but in the city itself. I don’t believe that you will have customer loyalty unless you go beyond the event. We’re lucky in that we’re working with organisations like ADTA [Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority] and Mubadala, who are helping to create that environment.
Silverstone appears to be in safe hands; Populous, the architectural consultancy charged with altering the circuit, also transformed the Millennium Dome into the O2. John Rhodes, a senior associate at Populous, described how they transformed the unloved white elephant on the Greenwich peninsula into a successful entertainment venue.
Initially we were looking to get about a million people a year to come to the O2. At the moment it’s about six million. The essence is that people go there to the event but then hang around afterwards. You have to create a destination that will encourage people to spend time there, regardless of whether there is a motorsport activity going on.
Maybe so – but someone’s got to pay for it. And it may as well be you, clearly…