How well did Miami weather the second year F1 blues?
Last year's inaugural Miami Grand Prix was surrounded by a lot of hype, but has Formula 1's latest destination city now done enough to firmly establish itself and maintain interest?
The biggest challenge for any new Formula 1 promoter is always its second race. A brand-new event on the calendar always attracts a huge buzz and fans can be in a rush to get hold of tickets for the latest grand prix on the schedule.
But it doesn’t take long for the novelty factor to wear off and year two often offers a reality check of what a grand prix’ strike potential is. Time and again second year grands prix suffer a dip in audiences and promotors have to work extra hard to convince fans not to shift their interest to somewhere else that has become the next big thing.
Miami appeared not to have escaped this phenomenon, as it was pointed out in the weeks before the race that tickets were still available, and television shots over the weekend throughout practice showed empty grandstands.
After first-year criticisms of the fake Marina and high ticket prices, discounts and the impression the venue looked far from full at times fuelled talk that the Miami hype was over.
There is also the underlying impact that with two other US races on the F1 calendar, there was a big battle for identity. And with Austin well established, and Las Vegas being promoted by F1 with a deal that potentially runs until 2032, it is Miami that faces the toughest challenge.
But there's more than what meets the eye when it comes down to measuring the success of the 2023 Miami Grand Prix and key factors prove that the Miami’s sophomore year was not only successful but prosperous as well.
Crowdstrike fans watching the start of the Miami Grand Prix
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
Selling out last minute due to increased ticket supply
While Miami GP tickets were completely sold out well before the inaugural race debuted in 2022, this year the tickets completely sold out much later because not all of the tickets were released at the same time on the market.
CEO of the Miami Dolphins and managing partner of the Miami GP Tom Garfinkel believes the demand for more tickets was there if they were available. However, he wanted to make sure people had an enjoyable experience without being overcrowded.
Speaking to selected media including Autosport about the eventual sell out he said: “So what we do is we purposefully hold back tickets. We don't just put all the tickets on the market at once, we hold them back and then we kind of bleed them out.
"We've added some campus passes this last week or so. Last year, we had 85,000 tickets sold and today we probably could have sold 150,000 based on the demand and the room we have here. But I want everyone to have a great experience.
“It's hard to get people in and out, to make sure there aren't lines, to make sure they track as much traffic and all of those things. So we want to grow a little bit every year as we operationally get better and better.”
Last year the Miami GP sold a total of 242,955 tickets and this year 270,000 were confirmed. Although 2023 tickets were not sold out until the day before the race this year, all of the grandstand tickets and the higher end tickets, such as the suites and clubs in hospitality, sold out earlier in the year.
What this does reveal is that the trend of making F1 more than just a race for fans, especially the American ones, is paying off.
Fans fill the venue
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Paddock Club improvements
The newly constructed Paddock Club in Miami accommodated roughly 6000 people per day and the price of a suite peaked at $12,000 per race weekend. Doing the maths on that speaks for itself about the revenue.
The ramping up of efforts on this front was the biggest transformation over the inaugural event, when there were big problems with the quality of both the service and food on offer.
CEO of the Hard Rock Cafe Jim Allen told Autosport that the overall quality of food and the event itself has improved since the first race, as organisers learned from their previous mistakes.
“I think in anything in life, when you do it for the first time, you know. The second time you learned, hopefully, from what transpired the previous time and there's no doubt last year there were a lot of things we learned collectively. I think this year is much, much better.
“It was not just the event itself, but the walking distances. And frankly, the quality of food in the paddock is just amazingly better. So all those things, I think contribute to one step at a time.”
Fans watch the drivers parade
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Appearance of empty grandstands
One of the hardest things to gauge was the appearance of empty grandstands, especially during practice, whenever the TV cameras would show overhead views or wide shots of the racetrack.
Garfinkel believes that the reason behind the empty seats was not that the tickets had been unsold - but that fans were often off enjoying other amenities the grand prix offers. The view holds water by fact that when the big moments of track action were on - like qualifying and the race - the grandstands filled up.
Garfinkel added: “We have a lot of amenities for people and a lot of places for them to go eat and drink. So sometimes when you see the grandstands don't look completely full, I think it's because people are off doing other things and just sitting in the shade. They're off drinking, watching on TV somewhere.”
LL Cool J announces the drivers on the grid
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Catering to the American fans
The impressive list of celebrities that attended the Miami GP this year included actors Tom Cruise, Vin Diesel, Latino musicians J Balvin, Shakira, rappers, LL Cool J, Diddy, DJ Khaled, athletes Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Lindsey Vonn, and business moguls Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
The driver intros by LL Cool J were elevated to another level with a full-blown orchestra conducted by Will.i.am and included the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders - even if that moment was not to everyone’s taste.
For most European F1 fans and most of the F1 drivers, the pre-race festivities such as the driver intros were considered over the top and an unnecessary distraction, but for the American audience it was entertaining.
Allen also emphasises the importance of combining both sports and entertainment.
“I think you need the entertainment factor,” he said. “And frankly, when we did our partnership with Steve Ross, for Hard Rock stadium, that was the conversation: we don't want to just be football, we want to be an entertainment destination.
“And we have everything from football, to concerts to tennis to Formula 1 racing. So, it's pretty exciting.”
Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack also acknowledges how different the sports industry is in America and thinks that the F1 teams need to learn how to adapt to the US market.
Speaking to Autosport, he said: “The biggest mistake you can make is if you just bring your product [to America] and try to apply it to that market – I think you really need to adapt to the American market, because it’s so very different.
“The teams have to understand how sports entertainment works here. It’s very, very different to Europe.
“For example, I went to a basketball game in Orlando, because I was there over Christmas, and while the game was interesting, it was maybe secondary to the whole entertainment you have around everything. I think we need to learn that.”
Podium: race winner Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, second place Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing and third place Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin F1 Team
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Second year curse not really a curse
There is no doubt the second year of any event or race is usually more difficult than the first in terms of achieving the same level of success.
Emily Prazer, Chief Commercial Officer of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, explained her theory on how difficult second year events are and how misleading the data can be too.
“If you do the research, second year, events are always harder than first year events. And they also grew their capacity significantly [here]," she told Autosport.
"So if you look at attendance data of the race, regardless of whether they sell out or not, you're going to find that they have more people here than last year, it just might be that they gave more access to general admission tickets.”
The key thing to keep in mind for a race like the Miami GP is that you really do have to experience it in person to understand the hype.
Looks can be deceiving with the track at the Miami International Autodrome still receiving mixed reviews, but the paddock and fan zones were bursting with excitement - which is exactly what race chiefs were most focused on.
Additional reporting Jonathan Noble and Charles Bradley
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