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The sound of success
It is fair to say that a lot of race promoters have never really bothered to do more than put on motor races. They might add some more on-track action or some static displays in the public areas, but beyond that it is simply a question of bums on seats. Why spend more than you have to? Times are changing, of course, and getting big crowds to watch car racing these days is not easy, particularly if the circuits are in the back of beyond, as is often the case. The proximity of a city is useful, but even then there is no guarantee that people will come. Public transport also helps, particularly nowadays when one needs to think about the ecological impact of the spectators more than that of the racing cars.
Hosting concerts that are free to ticket holders is not really a new concept and it makes a huge amount of sense for all concerned. The infrastructure required for such big events is already in place, so the overheads for a concert promoter are much reduced. It makes for a much better weekend for fans to have racing during the day and concerts in the evenings. This helps to draw non-traditional fans and create new followers for the bands from among the regular motorsport spectators.
It also helps to have the musicians around on race day to promote the sport. The first concerts I can recall were in the late 1980s at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide. They did the job properly down there and there were some big name acts, notably Cher and Tina Turner. Since those days the idea has spread to many other events in F1 and across motorsport in general, and the bands seen at Grands Prix make an impressive list: Paul McCartney, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Muse, Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber, Robbie Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Lenny Kravitz, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, The Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Aerosmith, Linkin Park, Bon Jovi, The Killers, Z Z Top, Simple Minds, Jamiroquai, Santana and many more.
The concerts have become an integral part of some Grands Prix, notably Singapore and Abu Dhabi. There was even an F1 Rocks company back in 2009, a partnership between Formula One Administration and the Universal Music Group, designed to create TV shows that would be available on digital TV. For reasons that are not entirely clear (but almost certainly financial) it stopped operating quite rapidly and has never returned. It seems that Mr Ecclestone is no longer interested and leaves the concerts to the race promoters.
The aim of all this is ultimately to broaden the appeal of racing and create a festival kind of atmosphere that will draw fans back to a circuit every year. Adelaide showed how this could be done, but it is a city with only a million inhabitants, so the race tended to dominate the city. In Melbourne, a city of three million, the race is still big news but it doesn’t take over the place as it did in Adelaide. The city that really has it right these days is Montreal, which has a population of 3.8 million. The concert is staged downtown and today it is reckoned that more visitors come to the city at Grand Prix time to join the party than to watch the race. That is brilliant and there is no doubt that the city feels alive when F1 is in town. Singapore does a very good job too and, of course, Monaco has an atmosphere all of its own when it comes to the Grand Prix weekend.
When the US GP in Austin began a few years ago, it looked as if they understood how to do it. The town was hopping with life but they still found it tough to sell tickets for F1, particularly last year when the rains descended. That was a disaster. Since then the local government has tried to wiggle out of its commitments to provide funding for the race but the Circuit of the Americas has, commendably, fought back and has decided to try to drive some new business using music.
To their credit they didn’t just go for the old rock-and-roll bands that appeal to the average middle-aged male F1 fan, but instead have got the biggest possible music act to play in the circuit’s 14,000 capacity amphitheater at the foot of the circuit’s iconic tower. Taylor Swift currently has no plans to play anywhere else in 2016, after her recent 81-date tour of the world, which netted a cool US$250m.
She doesn’t need the work, but has agreed to play the Grand Prix in Austin. And although her demographic is primarily young women, here is a chance for her to pick up the older folk as well and for F1 to find some new young fans.
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