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Volume 7 No. 149
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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.

Bobby Epstein
A MATTER OF TIMING: An easy way to increase the series’ viewership numbers in the U.S. is by adopting new start times overseas, in particular for the European races, Epstein suggested. “Later starts for races in Europe would be good,” he said. “If they could start races later in Europe they would be on TV in the U.S. at a better hour, when it’s easier for the viewer to follow it. I’d put the races as late in the day as possible when they are in time zones east of the U.S.” COTA, which, based on various reports, cost between $300M and $450M to build in ‘12, is an asset that could also be used to feature F1 and its technology throughout the year and not only during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend, Epstein said. “I think there have to be some things done on this continent, in different parts of the year than just when the sport is here.”

Bernie Ecclestone
: The departure of Ecclestone, who led the sport for 40 years, did not come as a surprise considering his future has been up in the air since Liberty Media's $8B takeover of the sport last year. Epstein, who worked with Ecclestone on bringing the sport back to the U.S., said, “I think that people in the F1 community will look back and appreciate what Bernie has done. And hopefully what will happen is a lot of the criticism that he had to endure while he was actively managing the company will be gone, and what will be left is an appreciation for what he has created.”