COTA Chair Bobby Epstein Says Track Has No Immediate Plans To Renegotiate F1 Deal
The removal of long-time Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone will not lead to an immediate contract renegotiation, Circuit of the Americas Chair Bobby Epstein said. The purpose-built F1 racetrack near Austin, Texas, signed a 10-year deal with Ecclestone’s company, Formula One Management, in ’12. As part of the agreement, COTA pays an estimated $25M per year for the right to host the U.S. Grand Prix. “It’s a little early to guess whether anyone needs to renegotiate,” Epstein told SBD Global. “I think Liberty is aware of the weak spots in the sport’s infrastructure and they are hopefully contemplating a variety of ways to help the promoters.” F1’s crippling sanction fees have led to uncertainty surrounding several high-profile races, including the British and German Grand Prix events. COTA itself was put into financial trouble after the Texas state government cut its annual subsidies by more than 20% from $25M to $19.5M in ’15. COTA would like to leave those woes behind and last year’s record F1 attendance of 269,889 for the three-day weekend was a positive sign. Epstein said he has not had the chance to talk to Liberty about its plans for F1 in the U.S., but he’s hopeful the new owners will increase the series' presence in the market. “The opportunity that Liberty saw in buying F1 was the opportunity to make changes and I think that’s what they are doing,” he said. “What I’m looking forward to is the chance for F1 to have a presence in the U.S. year-round, from a promotions and events standpoint. One of the disadvantages that the sport has right now is that its presence is limited and it’s left to the local promoter to build the sport on its own.” COTA is open to any ideas that focus on building the sport’s U.S. audience and helping the track sell more tickets, Epstein said. Liberty Media has raised the possibility of additional U.S. races as well as turning grand prix events into week-long festivities, similar to the NFL’s Super Bowl. The U.S. media company is also expected to put an increased emphasis on F1’s digital and social media presence, something Ecclestone neglected for years.