SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Facilities

In New Jersey, another planned Formula One race looks to maintain its spot on calendar

Since 1983, Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone has periodically attempted to put a race in New York. The group behind the latest effort is led by former YES Network Chairman Leo Hindery, with plans for a 2013 race along roads in New Jersey and across the Hudson River in New York City.

At some point — it remains unclear exactly when — Hindery signed a 10-year contract with Formula One Management that was supposed to take effect with the 2013 season. According to an interview that Ecclestone, F1’s management chair, gave a British newspaper recently, that agreement has been undone. “They don’t have a contract,” he stressed.

That doesn’t mean the race won’t take place, but it also doesn’t mean that it will. Negotiations with Ecclestone are often like that. For now, as the New Jersey group crowed in a press release last week, the race remains on the calendar for June.

Though the race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and 2013’s New Jersey effort have been positioned as rivals vying for the U.S. market, the success of each may depend on the success of the other. Keeping the sport in the American consciousness from June through November, the Austin and New Jersey groups agree, is the way to create the permanent following here that the sport has never had.

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“New York is the perfect partner for us,” said Geoff Moore, COTA’s chief marketing and sales officer. “It’s the media capital of this hemisphere. If there was no New York race, we’d ask Formula One to spend a couple million dollars to bring top drivers there to meet the national media. If a race was in Mexico City, that could hurt us. In New York, it will help us. We’re rooting for it, believe me.”

And for F1, the allure of New York remains. “New York is a place like Monte Carlo,” said Niki Lauda, the world champion turned airline magnate who remains active in the sport. “Selling it is easy. Everyone says, ‘Why is Formula One going to Korea?’ Nobody says, ‘Why are you going to New York?’”

That appeal, of a major sports event in one of the world’s two or three most important cities, is why much of the media attention about the sport’s return has been focused on the New Jersey race. The same appeal forms the basis of Hindery’s pitch on why his event will eventually succeed where those in the hinterlands have failed. “Indianapolis, quite simply, isn’t New York,” he said. “About half of Formula One’s fans come from outside the country. If you don’t have a destination of interest that you’ll return to year after year, you’re challenged. This track will be a seven-minute ferry ride from your room at the Waldorf.”

Unlike COTA, Hindery isn’t building a track but looking to commandeer existing public roads for one weekend each year. “My capital cost is a fraction of a purpose-built facility,” he said. A competitive driver himself, he has connections throughout the racing world that give him a running start in establishing commercial relationships.

But without a facility to sell, he can’t use the race as a loss leader for yearlong sponsorships. Unless the agreement he has negotiated — or ultimately renegotiates — with Ecclestone is substantially different than those Formula One Management has made with the other 19 races on the schedule, he can’t sell much of anything.

“This is a risk proposition,” Hindery admitted. “If it doesn’t work, I’m going to be pretty disappointed. I’ll also be pretty broke.”
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