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SBD Global/November 15, 2013/Events and Attractions

COTA President Says Race Taking Proactive Steps To Stay Lively In Second Year

U.S. Grand Prix organizers working hard to dodge "sophomore slump."
Circuit of the Americas President Jason Dial said that after a very successful inaugural year, the racetrack is “going to avoid the sophomore slump.” The Austin, Texas circuit, which will host the U.S. F1 Grand Prix on Sunday, has been taking proactive measures to achieve this goal -- from offering raceday tickets aimed at locals to convincing hotels to keep their prices in check. “What it comes down to is making sure that all those who thought about coming last year, but didn’t, come this year,” said Dial, who stepped into the COTA job on Oct. 1. In addition, a survey showed that 94% of the folks that attended the F1 race last year said that they “will absolutely come back.” Asked about ticket sales for this year’s F1 event, Dial said, “We are very excited what this weekend is going to hold. We are going to be up 30 percent on our general admission. We are up very strong in our high-end hospitality. We are really seeing a great pull there as well.” The growth in general admission seems to be partly due to the circuit’s decision to offer raceday tickets for Sunday’s grand prix -- an option that did not exist last year. The price for a raceday ticket starts at $129 -- a three-day weekend ticket for last year’s event was more than $200 -- and is aimed at locals from Austin and other areas in Texas. Dial: “Those who are coming from out of state want the three days; they are coming in for the weekend. This is for our Austinites. This is for our friends in Houston and Dallas. Call it the Texas triangle, or the state of Texas. This is to make sure that we are friendly, frankly to our locals.” However, despite the new ticket, the event is again on course for an attendance of 55% from out of state, just like ’12.

HOTEL HASSLE: One of the concerns fans voiced last year was that hotels made the trip very expensive, more so than the race, Dial said. Taking its fans seriously, the racetrack talked to the hotels. Dial: “So it was very important for us to work with the hotels to make sure that they weren’t making the hurdle too burdensome.” Whether or not the talks had any effect on hotel prices, people once again have flocked to the race. More than 40 countries will be represented and all 50 states again, Dial said. He added, “More than 50 percent of the people that will be here this weekend weren’t here last year, so we’ve driven incredible awareness. And folks are taking us up on coming and seeing what Austin can do hosting an F1 race.”

COLLEGE CONFLICT: When the Circuit of the Americas welcomed the F1 circuit last year, it made sure that the University of Texas Longhorns football team did not have a home game on the same weekend. Not this year. The Texas Longhorns will take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys at 2:30 pm Saturday afternoon. While the two parties tried to coordinate and avoid a scheduling conflict, it simply did not work out this year. Asked about the impact the college football game will have on Saturday’s attendance, Dial said, “The reality is, I’m not sure if it really hurts us or not. We are trying to have a price point that allows people to try us, to try and get to know F1. Come out to the Circuit of the Americas.” There certainly will be some of the hundred-plus thousand people that will be at that game on Saturday that would maybe have joined Saturday’s qualifying session, he added. Dial: “But I think maybe we’ll get some that maybe didn’t have it on their schedule, but they are like, ‘Hey, we are in Austin, so maybe I should take it in.’” In the end, Dial said, “It’s important that we create an experience that people leave wanting more."
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