Clock Is Ticking
June 19, 2007 | 9:29 P.M. EST
No, that question is not the beginnings of a rambling session by a nationalist, but rather a query that must be answered by Bernie Ecclestone, President and CEO of Formula One Management.
Several times before the running of the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past weekend, Ecclestone told media from around the world that the U.S. is “not vital” for the sport.
"There are bigger markets for us to be in other parts of the world. We could be in India soon instead of the United States. We don’t have a lot of sponsors from the U.S., no American teams and only one driver," the Formula One supremo told Britain’s Daily Express .
Along with Ecclestone’s reference of India, which has announced plans for an event for 2009, other locales around the world have reportedly been lobbying for a Grand Prix, most notably South Korea (which will have an event in 2010) and Suzuka, Japan, which was replaced on the schedule by Fuji Speedway but would like to host a second Japanese event in the near future.
Even though Ecclestone is correct when he said that America is not essential to his organization, he is failing to understand the big picture.
He is callously disregarding the fact that every manufacturer in the sport – Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW, Honda, Toyota, etc. – calls the United States its biggest market, the fact that every sponsor considers America an important place of business (even though most are not American companies per se), and the fact that the United States Grand Prix usually draws over 120,000 fans. Ecclestone’s suggestions that the U.S.A. is not important to Formula One is a shortsighted proposition.
Much like the other major worldwide sport, soccer, Formula One was once a major sport in America, only to fall off the face of the sporting landscape in the 80s and 90s. Soccer realized that it had to have a foothold in the country and decided to not only bring its biggest event to American soil (the World Cup in 1994), but also helped to develop an American league to foster further interest for years to come.
Soccer didn’t need the U.S.A. – FIFA (the governing body of the sport) along with the rest of the leagues around the world make more than enough money without it. But everybody within the sport understood the importance of an American following and have combined to work tirelessly and secure a fan base for years to come.
Formula One needs to do the same.
Drivers understand the importance of a United States Grand Prix, Team Principals and the companies funding the sport understand the importance of the event. There seems to be only one person in Formula One who doesn’t understand it.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials have set a July 12 deadline for a deal to be in place or else the USGP will not take place next season at the speedway. With no other viable option readily available or financially stable enough to pony up the $10-plus million fees Ecclestone requires to stage an event, it would signify a death knell to the event.
"With the Indianapolis 500, we annually present the world’s largest sporting event and also play host to the largest-attended NASCAR race with the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and Chief Operating Officer Joie Chitwood. "We need to continue to work with the Formula One community and find the right business model to make this event successful for all involved. That is our goal.
"Tony (George, CEO of IMS) has stressed to Bernie in meetings that we want to continue the event, and we believe he feels the same. With eight years experience with the USGP, both Tony and Bernie know what the challenges are. They are exploring ways to get to a long-term agreement."
Mr. Ecclestone, I beg you, stop being shortsighted and think of the future of the sport. If you don’t, can you really call Formula One a World Championship?