The Netflix hit series Formula 1: Drive to Survive has been a boon to F1 viewership in the U.S., with race ratings up 54% on ESPN last year. The buzz has also translated to the track.
Tickets for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, the lone F1 stop in the U.S. for the past decade, went on sale Wednesday and sold out in just over 24 hours, seven months ahead of the event, according to Circuit of the Americas (COTA) chairman Bobby Epstein. More than 80,000 three-day passes for reserve seats in the grandstand and general admission were snapped up, including presales, at prices ranging from $350 to $1,400. Only premium hospitality and camping options remain, with some single-day tickets expected to be added at a later date.
“We have established a good foundation to build on and we have we’ve continued to expand the entertainment offerings besides just the fantastic sport that F1 is,” Epstein said in a phone interview. “When you add the broad exposure that the sport has achieved through the Netflix show, that makes for a perfect combination.”
The F1 season kicks off this weekend in Bahrain, and the U.S., with 36 million fans, represents one of its fastest growing markets. Three-day attendance at last year’s U.S. Grand Prix of 400,000 set a new F1 record. The 1.2 million viewers on ESPN made it the most-viewed race since ESPN acquired F1 rights ahead of the 2018 season. The series added a second U.S. race to the calendar for 2022, the Miami Grand Prix in May, and Las Vegas is also on the table to host an event. Epstein says he expects an F1 Vegas race in 2023 or 2024 at the very latest.
Epstein says the early sellout gives COTA a chance to focus on corporate hospitality offerings and premium experiences, where tickets can run as high as $7,000. Another priority is the concert experience and other non-race entertainment, as gates are open at COTA for more than 40 hours during the three days. Last year’s event featured beer gardens, lucha libre wrestling and more than 30 musical acts, including headliners Billy Joel, Twenty One Pilots and Kool & The Gang.
“We’ve learned to make this a full 360-degree entertainment event and not just rely on the race fan,” Epstein said.
Last month, COTA reached a five-year extension with F1 to host an annual event through 2026. Formula One, which Liberty Media bought in 2017, generated nearly $700 million, or 31% of its revenue, from site hosting fees last year from 22 races. Other major revenue streams are media rights (40%) and sponsorships (16%) within the $2.1 billion total.
“Austin is a great city, and the track is a favorite for all the drivers, and we cannot wait to be back in October for more action and entertainment,” Stefano Domenicali, F1 CEO, said in a statement announcing the extension with COTA.
Race day at last year’s U.S. Grand Prix featured major traffic tie-ups and long lines at concessions, as attendance reached at estimated 140,000. Epstein says they are increasing services and planning to admit 10,000 fewer fans on Sunday to help alleviate those issues.
Another new addition this year is a special $20 ticket for roughly 1,000 STEM-focused kids that is the most affordable ticket price on the F1 calendar. The single-day ticket will offer special STEM-related content that includes insights into the most technologically advanced sport. It also helps foster the next generation of fans. F1 already has one of the youngest fan bases in sports at an average age of 32 years old globally.
Attendance at the 2021 U.S. Grand Prix was nearly four times higher than the first Austin F1 race in 2012. COTA has spent roughly half-a-billion dollars over the decade to make it a world-class track and year-round destination. It will host a NASCAR race at the end of the month and MotoGP in April, while track rentals, karting, biking and concerts generate year-round revenue.
“What the F1 platform does for our brand value is that it allows us to rent our track at the highest price of any track in the world,” Epstein said.