The 2022 Formula 1 Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix is done and dusted. The most hyped and anticipated event on the F1 calendar delivered pretty much as expected in terms of the outcome: Max Verstappen claimed another win for Red Bull Racing, Ferrari filled out the podium, and Mercedes still has work to do.
That is what diehard racing fans will most likely remember. The others, many of whom don’t know the difference between a slick and a wet tire, will remember the Miami experience for different reasons. Athletes from other sports who have an appreciation for the hard work and dedication it takes for an F1 driver to rise to the top of their world came to see it up close. Party people came to dance, drink, vape, and smoke at “The Beach” 20 miles west of the ocean. Celebrities—the ones who passionately follow and love F1 and attend as many races as possible—turned up once again. And there were others whose agents probably insisted they attend “the event” in Miami just to be seen in the spotlight that now shines brighter than ever upon the F1 circus.
Then there were the real stars of the show: the CEOs and money men at every level of F1 who use the platform to entertain clients, close business deals, and create and invent products to generate revenue streams at every price point imaginable. Yes, welcome to Grand Prix Racing, where 20 drivers race the fastest Brinks trucks in the world and everyone in the paddock sniffs out money like a truffle hog.
Just look at the sponsor boards outside of every garage. Each team has an international corporate Fortune 500 listing of sponsors and partners. Some of these companies are technical partners, working with the teams to develop products. Some are there simply for marketing and brand exposure. All are there to make money.
Pretty much all this drives some of the diehard fans crazy. They complain in website comment sections and whine on social media about how money has stolen the purity from sports. And they’re not wrong; sport is a $600 billion global industry. And growing. Wait till the NIL (name, imaging, licensing) craze reaches full speed at your alma mater this coming college football season. Soon, very soon, an incoming, unproven freshman quarterback will make more NIL money for playing 12 football games than the university’s provost or Nobel Prize-winning professor.
Sport has always mirrored society. Today’s reflection shows the growing divide between the haves and have nots—and this doesn’t necessarily mean the rich and the poor. A middle-class family of four would have spent nearly $5,000 just to attend the three-day F1 event in Miami Gardens, and that doesn’t include paying for parking, food, water, and souvenirs.
That’s a steep entry point for any sporting event, and it just goes up from there in F1. The prices for an “F1 Experience” are not even shown online. You can apply for a package on the F1 website and more info will be sent your way. Seems like a nice way to collect your data and eventually, it seems, sell you an $8,500 (per person) ticket. Perhaps you want to be part of the Romain Grosjean guided tour? That was an option in Miami, and we’ll go out on a limb and guess it probably cost a bit more. The F1 website promises you “Relationship Building Opportunities,” “Social & Networking Environments,” “Unrivaled Access to Venues & Assets,” and on and on it goes. This is the F1 business and the business of all major sports from the Olympics to World Cup Soccer to the NFL etc. It’s the reason ABC broadcasted the Miami F1 race instead of the NBA playoff game it aired on its ESPN cable channel. It’s the reason for the 90-minute pre-race show.
F1 is riding a massive wave right now. The sport, thanks in large part to Drive To Survive, has never been more popular. But it needs to be careful. A 23-race schedule is right at the point of too much of a good thing. More races risks diminishing the value of each F1 Grand Prix, exhausting team personnel and crews, and racing just for collecting another huge promoter’s fee.
The “NASCARing” of F1 would be its downfall. Over-saturation, a Howdy Doody pre-race show and Buffalo Bob broadcast team, and trying to control what drivers say and do won’t work anymore. True F1 fans are more sophisticated and knowledgeable than that. And the influencers and celebs will find the next shiny object to rub up against if the series loses its shine. A big part of its appeal to the core audience is that it’s not an American sport, and it needs to remain this way. ESPN is in the process of renewing its U.S. broadcast rights, and the best thing it can do is continue to take the feed from England’s Sky Sports. ESPN, you cannot do it any better; please don’t try.
Meanwhile, the FIA—the sport’s governing body—is trying a bit too hard to control the drivers. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have too much experience, too much clout, too much decency to back down. Hamilton wearing three watches at a Miami GP press conference to push back against the FIA’s jewelry rule, and Vettel wearing his underwear on the outside of his racing suit—easily the best product placement and packaging of the 2022 racing season—are minor displays of defiance compared to the far more important causes the drivers support. Those include, among other things, inclusion and diversity, women’s rights, and climate change.
And those who say athletes should not be involved in politics of any sort simply don’t understand that athletes have always been involved in politics of every sort. They direct attention to much needed issues, be it social, cultural, environmental, or political. They help facilitate change. And F1 drivers, perhaps more than any other athletes, have a global stage to work from. Indeed, these drivers help provide a balance to the crusades of causes larger than money and profit.
Pro sports, including F1, market themselves as megachurches of excess. They sell the religion of abundance and consumption. They pass around the collection plate, and with a large enough donation will, for example, provide the racing worshiper access and a chance to breathe the incense of success, a blessing selfie, and to post how they saw the face of God. He was wearing Nomex with our corporate logo on it.
The F1 Miami Grand Prix is a vision of the sport’s future. A mixture of entertainment and massive corporate activation, all placed upon the altar of auto racing. But if F1 cannot quickly find a way to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots, to narrow the divide between those who attend a World Championship Grand Prix for profit and those whose only hope of seeing a race in person is a wing and a prayer, it will soon realize its business model is a blessing and a curse. And like NASCAR has discovered the hard way, the once-blind faithful will no longer believe.
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