FEBRUARY 13, 2009

Getting momentum behind the USF1 team

There have been a lot of attempts in recent years to get an F1 team off the ground in the United States. None of them have been successful. It is, however, someting that F1 would like to see, and so people in power make encouraging remarks when such ideas pop up. The USF1 team which has been in the news in recent days seems to be doing very well in the publicity stakes and there is clearly a great deal of thought that has gone into the project with rumours about the Spanish end of the operation having now been confirmed by Epsilon Euskadi boss Joan Villadelprat, although he says that there is nothing definite at the moment.

The plans for a headquarters in the Charlotte area make sense given the highly-developed motorsport cluster that exists there, supporting the NASCAR industry. Not only are there the facilities and technology needed but there is also a university programme at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) which prepares engineering students for work in the motorsport industry. Roughly 10% of NASCAR engineers are graduates of UNCC. There is also a unique course designed for motorsport managers.

The key to the project is finding the funding but with the reduction in F1 budgets expected in 2010 it is hoped that the team can find enough money to get started. Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson were is Silicon Valley in California last week talking to some of the mega-wealthy from the digital industries based there hoping that they can be shown the value of F1 for their businesses. The number of American F1 enthusiasts is not huge, but they tend to be wealthy and well-connected. If the money can be found then getting an engine is unlikely to be a problem as most of the F1 car companies are keen to make a good impression in the US markets.

There are signs that there is money around for the right things. The recent Super Bowl resulted in NBC pulling in $261m on the day of the Super Bowl, the 69 slots available during the game itself going for $206m. This is the premier advertising event in US sport with an audience of 100m. This weekend's Daytona 500 is the biggest motorsport TV audience of the year and Fox says that the ads are selling well but advertisers are reporting that they are paying less for the 30-second slots that usually sell for $500,000 or that they are getting more slots for their money. Fox is predicting that its advertising revenues in the first two quarters of the year will be down by around 25%.

According to marketing agency IMG, the available sponsorship in sport is falling. IMG Consulting Senior VP David Abrutyn told Reuters yesterday that "I would definitely say we're seeing a belt tightening. It's fair to say that companies are definitely looking at spending as little as they can."

Having said that big events are still pulling in big money and the USF1 promoters hope to be able to do the same.