Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

The factors behind COTA’s F1 US GP spectator numbers dip

The United States Grand Prix witnessed a decline in attendance from its record breaking previous year. Is it a sign that America’s much-vaunted appetite for Formula 1 is waning or being diluted?

Fans in a grandstand next to a big screen

Fans in a grandstand next to a big screen

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

As the saying goes, everything is bigger and better in Texas, but does that hold true when it comes to the F1 event that has established its roots in the Lone Star State since 2012?

Last year’s F1 race at Circuit of the Americas saw a record breaking fan attendance of 440,000 but last weekend the number dropped down to 432,000.

And now that the two glamorous Miami and Las Vegas races have raised the bar on what an F1 weekend can offer its fans, does the charming, family-friendly Austin race still fit in on the calendar amongst the other glitzy American newcomers?

Fans

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Fans

COTA offers pure racing and affordable race tickets 

Co-owner and chairman of the Circuit of the Americas, Bobby Epstein, believes that not only is the Austin race in a good position compared to the other two American races on the F1 schedule, but it brings two key factors to its fans: pure racing and affordable tickets. 

Glamour and extravagance aside, Circuit of the Americas offers its fans racing in its purest form. Unlike Miami and Las Vegas, whose circuits are semi-permanent tracks, Circuit of the Americas was designed specifically for F1 with the spectator in mind. There are plenty of viewing spots where you can witness overtaking around its curves to get a great view of the on-track action.  

While both the Miami and Las Vegas races massively appeal to VIPs, celebrities and fans wanting more hospitality features, Epstein claims that COTA’s approach adds value appealing to multiple types of race fans. Speaking to selected media including Autosport in Austin during the US GP weekend, Epstein explained how the other American races on the F1 calendar highlight the uniqueness Circuit of the Americas has to offer.

“First of all, I think one of the things other races are doing is proving the value of what we have here, which is, it appeals to the racing purist to the casual racing fan, and to the fan of just being friends and having a great experience, even if you don't follow racing,” he said. “And I think we've been able to combine those three.”  

Fans pack out the grandstands in Austin

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Fans pack out the grandstands in Austin

The COTA boss says he does his best to keep ticket prices on the lower side, keeping the average race fan in mind while also offering a quality timetable. 

“I don't underestimate the fact that tickets are expensive, and I appreciate that fact,” he added. “But we try and still be on the affordable side of expensive and, and still give people 35 hours of programming and those concerts and then even right now between races.”

One of the advantages that the Circuit of the Americas has over the other US races is that it can keep the ticket costs lower because it can fit more people in the grandstands, which is a huge benefit for the price-conscious race fan.

“And you can spread the cost out different. And by virtue of being a permanent circuit, our costs to operate are less,” he added.

Fans in the Fanzone

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Fans in the Fanzone

Epstein also understands how expensive F1 race tickets can be to the typical fan and offers them a chance to experience an amazing race weekend without breaking the bank: “I think it's fair for the fans to say, ‘this is expensive’ and ‘show me an opportunity at some value’.

“And what we're doing is we're selling a limited number at $300. A ticket to say to those who said, ‘I come if the price were lower’ – OK, here's your chance to show me if the price is lower, and you should jump on it.

“So, let's give them a chance. And we do want more people to come, and we want to hit bigger numbers.”

The starting grid ahead of the F1 Sprint

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The starting grid ahead of the F1 Sprint

Did the sprint have a negative impact on fan attendance?

This year COTA hosted the first sprint weekend format run in America and, according to Epstein, this didn’t help draw in more fans on the Saturday before the actual grand prix. 

“It's a surprise,” he admitted. “But I'm also not sure.

“You have to decide at what point are people coming for the event, which I think our fans are coming for the event, as much as they are for the sport. So, I think it still remains to be seen whether the sprint race is something the fans are embracing, or it's more controversial.

“You’ve got people that are proponents of it and advocates, and you have others that say I like it the way it was. It's still an experiment at this point.”

But with a drop in fan attendance this year compared to 2022, Epstein doubled down and thinks that although the Red Bull-Max Verstappen dominance may have affected the numbers, ultimately, it’s the sprint addition that saw the decline, rather than Sunday’s grand prix.  

Asked how he could be sure it was the sprint race and not single-team dominance that were a turn off, Epstein said: “You probably can't, but one didn't outweigh the other enough.

“I guess the only way to say it is that when Sunday is still as strong as it was last year, that probably answers the question that you asked.

“Why is Sunday still so strong if it's the Max factor that affects the attendance? I'd say ‘well, I passed that test’ [in strong Sunday sales] and now I'm saying, part two is Saturday this year was a little bit less than Saturday last year, and yet we have a sprint race this year. So that's the only thing that moved.”

Miami branding around the circuit

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Miami branding around the circuit

Red Bull Las Vegas demo run

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Las Vegas demo run

Are Miami and Las Vegas a threat for COTA?

With the Miami Grand Prix putting pressure on COTA by selling out more seats in its sophomore year – and planning an increase in capacity in 2024 – and the Las Vegas race  also having high ticket sales numbers, are these newer circuits having an impact on the Austin event?

The positive side to hosting the more laid-back Austin race is that by sticking to its roots, and not following trends, it has the opportunity to set itself apart from the over-the-top Miami and Las Vegas races.

Epstein remains confident that COTA can hold its own fanbase compared to the others: “I think people will taste each race and decide which one suits them best, which flavour they liked the most. And hopefully, they'll appreciate when we give them more.

“I think there's a lot more overlap between Las Vegas and the Miami crowds. And I think we have to see if those two don't have a little bit of push-pull between them.

“Because, while we have plenty of celebrities and you have a lot of the glamour, we don't compare, come close to Miami or Vegas on the glamour scale. I think their effect on us is maybe not so great.”

Does Austin race still fit in on the F1 calendar next to Miami and Las Vegas? The simple answer is yes. Despite the lower fan attendance this year, and the US F1 trend moving towards lavish glamorous events, the core F1 fans need a race that will give them racing in its purest form, while offering them affordable tickets along with quality programming.

And they get that in Austin.

Be part of Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Perez made "good progress" with compromised Red Bull F1 car in US after sim work
Next article Mexican GP reduces F1 paddock crowds to avoid security issues

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe