Friday, December 8, 2023

Las Vegas’s rise as sports mecca continues following F1 GP

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F1 drew 315,000 people over four nights and it was the first time F1 was back in Las Vegas since 1982Getty Images

Successfully staging this weekend’s F1 race was the “latest test” of Las Vegas’ ambition to “become America’s sports capital,” according to Robinson & Clegg of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The grandstands “will barely have been dismantled” by the time NBA’s in-season tournament final rolls into town on Dec. 9. And two months later, Sin City “welcomes the single biggest sporting event on the U.S. calendar: Super Bowl LVIII.” In the 48 hours leading up to Saturday night’s Las Vegas GP, F1’s $600M project had “begun to look like it was skidding off the road.” The race itself though “not only went off without a hitch” — it “delivered the most exciting contest of the season.” Standing in front of the Bellagio fountains, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen “proclaimed the race a success, changing his tune from earlier in the week when he said that the whole event was ‘99% show and 1% sporting event.'” Since 2017, pro-outfits have been “queuing up to move to the desert.” The Golden Knights “were first, followed closely” by the WNBA Las Vegas Aces. In 2020, they were joined by the Raiders, who moved from Oakland into the $1.9B Allegiant Stadium. Next on the list are the A’s, whose proposed relocation to Nevada “was unanimously approved” by MLB’s owners on Nov. 16 (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/19).

RAGS TO RICHES: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote F1 and Vegas “represent the two great trends in 21st-century sports — content creation and the influx of legalized gambling money.” The story going into F1’s rejuvenated Las Vegas GP on Saturday night was that it “was going to land somewhere between disaster and dud.” F1 was “shaking down restaurants that overlooked the track” and “wouldn’t pay huge fees.” Putting the grandstands together “caused trafficmageddon for weeks.” The first night’s practice “turned chaotic when a maintenance-hole cover came loose on the track” and costs were said to be “running as high as” $700M. Five years ago, F1 lost its U.S. broadcast partner but “signed on with ESPN instead.” The cost of those rights — “nothing” as ESPN took on the racing series “for free.” Now there is an expectation that Americans “not only know who Max Verstappen is, but care about what he has to say.” F1 “hit its magic number long before the race started.” The racing body “now has the youngest fan base of any major league (average age: 32)” and no one is “better situated to leverage the sports-content boom.” They also “make no pretense to having sporting scruples” (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/19).

WORTH THE TROUBLE: ESPN.com’s Laurence Edmondson wrote F1 “undoubtedly rode its luck” during its four-day residency in Las Vegas yet “somehow broke with the city’s oldest tradition and came out on top.” Transforming the entertainment capital of America into a 3.8-mile racetrack “was never going to be straightforward,” and after a “stuttering start,” it felt like F1’s $500M gamble to return to Las Vegas “might be a busted flush.” In the days leading up to main event, the “focus had been on overinflated ticket prices, disgruntled locals and angry fans,” but in the form of a “50-lap grand prix against one of racing’s most spectacular backdrops, F1 had one last roll of the dice.” Deliver a thriller to “match the hype” and all the disruption to the city and issues along the way “could be somehow justified.” Deliver a dud and “serious questions would be asked” (ESPN.com, 11/19).

LAYING A FOUNDATION: The AP’s Jenna Fryer wrote F1 and owner Liberty Media “hosted an electrifying event” Saturday night that turned out to be “both one of the best races of the season and a glitzy international spectacle that can only be pulled off in Las Vegas.” Verstappen said that he would “have to analyze the rest of the season” before declaring Saturday night the best race of the year, but smiled and said, “It was a fun race. I enjoyed it.” The entire mood “had changed” by the time the roads reopened yesterday and deconstruction began on the circuit that utilizes the Strip. Fryer noted it “wasn’t the sellout” that LVGP CEO Renee Wilm promised investors in a Nov. 3 earnings call, but said yesterday that “‘maybe only a few seats on Heineken’ went unsold and she’d yet to debrief with her ticketing staff.” Wilm noted moving forward that LVGP “needed better community relations” and its residents “have to be better informed.” F1 drew 315,000 people over four nights and LVGP said that the economic impact to the area was $1.2B. And now that F1 is leaving, the roads “will be reopened and all have all been repaved and improved — in part with Liberty’s money” (AP, 11/18).

CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: Fryer in a separate piece wrote Wilm “was thrilled” with F1’s first race on the famed Strip but acknowledged yesterday there “were missteps” in the $500M showcase event of the season. Wilm told the AP first-time organizers F1 and Liberty Media “worked tirelessly” on a tight timeline of less than two years to prepare for Saturday night’s race. The weeklong event drew 315,000 spectators over four nights and “brought in an estimated” $1.2B in economic impact. But Wilm acknowledged community relations “could have been better to help local residents cope with the disruptions and road closures” as the massive 3.85-mile (6.2 kilometer), 17-turn circuit was built. It was an enormous project that insiders believe caused Liberty to “spend far more” than the $500M it was expected to cost to bring F1 back to Las Vegas for the first time since 1982. Aside from the disruptions for locals, businesses “complained their traffic was down because customers could not access the establishments,” and restaurants and nightclubs “complained F1 threatened to erect structures to obscure any views if they didn’t pay exorbitant licensing fees.” Wilm said the 10pm local start for the Saturday night race “fit with the Las Vegas social scene,” which is “used to having dinner then heading to a title fight within that same range.” It “wasn’t ideal timing” for the U.S. audience, but it “did benefit the Europeans who had the opportunity to awaken early Sunday and consume the race the way Americans do most weeks.” Wilm acknowledged that tinkering with practice and qualifying times “could be explored ahead of next year’s race.” The midnight Friday qualifying was at 3am on the East Coast and “certainly not created for the American audience” (AP, 11/19).

HEY MR. BRIGHTSIDE: In London, Tom Cary wrote the question is: “should we all try to be a bit more positive about this race?” Cary: “Clearly, demonstrably, there were many things Formula One got wrong in its first year in Vegas. It was overhyped, overpriced, and for three days at least, it under-delivered. Badly.” He added no one working in F1 was “much enjoying themselves either.” There “was little point in trying to see any of Las Vegas.” Cary: “It was a nightmare to get about. And the hours were so brutal no one had the energy to go anywhere anyway.” He noted, though, having pointed out its many failings, it “would be churlish not to acknowledge that Las Vegas produced a half-decent race in the end.” And in doing so it “may just have given itself a lifeline.” A 24-race calendar is “big enough to accommodate a variety of races,” and this one “certainly has potential as long as lessons are learned.” Chief among them is to make sure fans are “not priced out next year.” The sight of empty grandstands for many of the sessions “would have been painful to organisers who boasted beforehand that they expected capacity crowds of 100,000-plus every day” (London TELEGRAPH, 11/19).
 
NEXT STEP? In Austin, Kevin Lyttle wrote when F1, which has roughly 750 employees, went “looking for a partner to pull off that kind of magic on a worldwide scale, it hooked up with Lenovo,” the multitech company of 77,000 with U.S. headquarters in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Lenovo “provides IT support, hardware and software.” Lyttle noted F1 viewers are “smitten” with the high-tech gadgets tied to Verstappen’s Red Bull team, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes machines and “everyone else on the grid.” There are “on-board cameras, helmet cams, overhead cameras carried by zip lines and helicopters, 26 special track cameras, and 150 microphones around the layout.” Each car has “300 sensors that generate 1.1 million data points per second.” USGP fans in Austin “saw a kiss-activated trophy, unique in sports.” After Verstappen won and kissed it, the trophy “glowed in the Dutch national color of orange.” Lyttle noted what is next is “Virtual reality. Augmented reality.” At COTA’s Paddack Club there was a F1 VR game “using ThinkReality VRX headsets for fans to try out.” F1 Dir of IT Chris Roberts said, “We’re always looking for cutting edge. VR? Three-dimensional? A 360 experience to make people feel even closer to the action? We’re not there yet, but it’s a conversation we’re having” (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 11/17).

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