At a reported cost of $450m, COTA is the most expensive Formula One track ever built. However, all that glittered for investors Bobby Epstein and Red McCombs turned out to be a colour other than gold. They have in recent months been in negotiations to sell the Circuit of the America’s, though the deal has now reportedly collapsed
COTA receives a $25m subsidiary from the state of Texas towards the promotion of the Formula One event each year, based upon claims that the F1 weekend brings in $300m of benefits to the Austin region. Despite this, the circuit struggles to make a profit and in each of the subsequent years following the inaugural F1 event in 2012, the attendances for the US GP have fallen.
One reason for falling attendance maybe the cost. Those visiting the US GP in Austin in previous years have described the expense as ‘astronomic’ and hotels as expensive as those in Monaco.
The coming weekend is a big one for COTA because it is now back to back with the Mexican GP the following weekend. Previous estimates suggest up to 40% of COTA’s prior year spectators have been fans travelling from Mexico. If this is the case, COTA may be facing a crisis with the upcoming US GP.
Add into the mix, the weather forecast for Friday through Sunday looks pretty grim, which could deter those who purchase tickets last minute. The present forecast is a high probability of thunderstorms for tomorrow which continue into Saturday when the likelihood of localised flooding is high. On Sunday rain is forecast to fall from Saturday’s predicted level of 2 inches to 0.5 inch, though rain is expected for most of the morning with showers following during the race.
One advantage of the weather forecast being wet for the entire weekend, is that there is likely to be more running on Friday than we have seen in the past when Friday is wet, but Saturday and Sunday are expected to be dry.
However, the President of the COTA, Jason Dial, tells Sports Business daily he is confident the F1 weekend will be a success, claiming “We expect to exceed the number of visitors in 2014.” Dial recognises the impact the scheduling of the Mexican GP is likely to have, but is convinced they will make up the loss from the growth from “other groups of visitors”. Apparently more fans are coming from “California, Florida, New York, Chicago, we also see increasing numbers from abroad.”
COTA have been heavily promoting ‘a range of entertainment at various venues’ which they have planned surrounding this years F1 event, with an Elton John concert scheduled following the race.
There have been suspicions that the official figures COTA released for its attendances in 2013/14 were optimistic, with some fans reporting 8-10 less temporary grandstands than in 2012. Of course COTA has since introduced general admission – none grandstand tickets, but whether this will compensate for the potential loss of the Mexican spectators is unknown at present. Then again the Mexican GP has been sold out for weeks, with the promoters claiming they could have sold the tickets twice over. Perversely this could in stem the fall in number of Mexicans not travelling to Austin this year.
Given Formula One’s troubled history with its races in the USA, can the sport afford another failure should COTA withdraw from its Formula One commitments?
Have you been to a race at COTA, or are you living in the USA and an F1 fan who has considered attending the US GP in Austin? Share your thoughts on the issues raised surrounding this event in the comments section below.