6/28/2006

How to Make Formula 1 Popular in the United States

Formula 1's lone U.S. driver, Scott Speed, has recently been quoted as saying that it "personally ... doesn't matter" to him if F1 becomes more popular in the U.S. It may not matter to him, but it matters to me, damn it! Anyway, because I would like to see F1 increase in popularity, I humbly present several ideas that could very well accomplish that.

1. Get on ESPN
Look, whatever your opinion on ESPN, in order for a sport (defined very loosely here, by the way) to be popular, it must be embraced by the Worldwide Leader in Hyperbole. If you don't believe me, witness the poker boom. Anyway, F1 needs to leave Speed Channel and migrate over to ESPN and its sister networks, which would guarantee that, at the very least, that F1 highlights would make SportsCenter and thus at least make an imprint on the conciousness of the average sports fan.

If this happens, I would at least like to see the current Speed broadcast crew of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett make the move as well, as they are both entertaining and informative, which is better than anything that ESPN could currently throw at F1. At the very least, please, please, please for the love of God do not hire Ralph Sheheen or Derek Daly, the broadcast team for CBS's F1 coverage. For the unitiated, Sheheen combines a Kevin-Harlan-on-helium voice with the intellect of Tim McCarver, while Derek Daly is basically an Irish Joe Morgan. Also, never, ever allow Chris Berman anywhere near the F1 coverage. What do I think ESPN would actually do if they got F1? I honestly don't know; probably Paul Page (the former play-by-play guy of ESPN's CART coverage who has been relegated to the NHRA and the X-games) and someone like Danny Sullivan or Bobby Rahal, a recognizable American with F1 experience.

Here's how I envision an F1 TV deal with ESPN working out: have the three American races (the Canadian, U.S., and Brazilian Grands Prix) broadcast live on ABC, on Sunday afternoons. (The Canadian and U.S. Grands Prix are in the summer, so those two, at least, won't go up against football.) The Asian portion of the schedule (Malaysia, Japan, China, and Australia) which start from 10 PM Saturday night to 2 or 3 Sunday morning could be broadcast live on ESPN2, with repeats at 8 AM on ESPN, which is also when live coverage of the European-based Grands Prix could start. Repeats could also air at a more palatable time on Sundays for west-coast viewers and non-morning people on ESPNEWS or ESPN Classic. ESPN Classic could also revive a Speed Channel favorite, F1 Decade, broadcasting the races from 10 years ago, perhaps on, say, Fridays at midnight of race weekends. Qualifying for all races could be live on ESPN2 at the relevant times, and again, with more palatably timed repeats on NEWS or Classic.

2. Either a Second U.S. Grand Prix or Rotate the Current One
Fortunately, most of the grand high pooh-bahs in F1 realize the need for F1 to grow, so at least this issue will be getting attention from all the necessary people. Perhaps most important, the leader of the "Let's grow F1 in America" brigade is Bernie Ecclestone, who controls the commercial rights to F1 and is thus the most powerful man in the sport. Many want a second U.S. Grand Prix, which is a great idea. Not so great is the idea that the second USGP should also have a permanent location. If a second USGP is added to the schedule, it should have no permanent site but instead rotate among the many road courses we have in this country: Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, Infineon, Mid-Ohio, Road Atlanta, Road America, and many others that I'm sure I'm forgetting. (I would love to see F1 race at the Daytona road course, but considering they complaing about the "steep" banking at Indianapolis [9 degrees], I suppose the thirty-three degree banking at Daytona would cause at least half of them to collapse in fright.) Also worth considering would be street races in large or glamorous locations (Long Beach, Las Vegas, maybe even New York). Why a rotating Grand Prix? Because the U.S. is a large country, and having F1 races rotate around the country increases the sport's availability to the general population.

3. More American Involvement
Right now, the only major American involvement in the on-track world of F1 is the aforementioned driver Scott Speed. Because he drives for Toro Rosso, a back of the pack team, it is hard to root for him. All of the major teams, technical suppliers, and even sponsors are foreign-based. Because of this, it is hard for most Americans to get attached to the sport. This is one area where I have no solution. GM, because of its relationship with FIAT, has a miniscule investment in Ferarri; I do not know if that is a sufficient enough relationship to preclude GM from further involvement in F1. Of course, with GM's current financial state, getting involved in F1 would be the worst thing for them to do. Chrysler, of course, is part of DaimlerChrysler, and thus is the sister company of Mercedes-Benz, which supplys engines to the McLaren team. Ford had been involved, but its Jaguar team was a major disappointment, especially considering the amount of money it threw at it. The best hope for greater American involvement in F1 is through drivers, which is the one area where American interest in F1 looks promising. And if there are multiple American drivers in F1, then American interest in F1 should increase.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home