Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei believes the new Las Vegas Grand Prix will launch “a whole new recognition for Formula 1 in the United States” given its visual appeal.
Vegas will join the calendar as the penultimate round this year, with a Saturday night race planned that takes in a significant portion of South Las Vegas Boulevard as part of the track layout. Speaking to F1 investors about opportunities for Liberty’s ownership of the sport in the coming years, Maffei says commercial interest has been clear to see but that he expects F1 to reach a new level as a result of the Vegas race.
“I think we nearly tripled sponsorship in the past three years, and I’m expecting Brandon (Snow, managing director of commercial) will triple it again in the next three years!” Maffei joked. “No, I think there’s a lot of opportunity and Vegas I think can actually be a great kickstart for that.
“We’ve seen it both ways. We’ve seen anticipation — some new sponsors coming in because of Vegas and the work that Brandon and Renee (Wilm, Las Vegas GP CEO) have done — but also I think once we have the event in Vegas there’s going to be a whole new recognition for Formula 1 in the United States, which still is our most important sponsorship market.
“A night race down the Strip that’s going to be iconic, that 10 o’clock view… I think few Americans will not have seen that view at some point — that’s going to be on every piece of television imaginable, and I think that is going to kick off a new round of sponsor interest as well, and more broad sponsor interest.”
There has been pushback from some fans about the purpose of the race in Nevada, with enormous ticket prices and a focus on hospitality and entertainment suggesting a different target audience. While Maffei admits Vegas can be an extremely lucrative race for Liberty, he says the focus has to be on the event being successful for all stakeholders.
“I think there will clearly be a learning curve. We came to Vegas with a whole bunch of objectives. First, to be a promoter, partly because we had ideas about what great promoters should do, and we probably thought if we were going to opine on that to some of our promoter partners we might actually want to be a promoter so we could walk the walk as well as talking the talk. We also thought that Vegas was a great opportunity for all the reasons we’ve talked about economically, but also it’s a great showcase.
“Our goal here should be to be long-term greedy in the sense that we’re going to have a high revenue stream here, we’re going to have a high cost stream here, but it’s more important that we have a great experience for everyone involved rather than coin it in the first year.
“I think we’ll make a lot of money in Vegas in the long term. I’m very excited — I think we’ll make good money this year. But way more important than that is we have a great experience for our drivers, for our patrons, for our fans, for our viewers, for everybody involved. So that’s the goal.”
Wilm admits the big area that still needs addressing from the race’s point of view is general admission ticketing, something she says will need to be improved after the inaugural race.
“I would say year one is going to be a lot of learning,” Wilm said. “We’re hoping to get a lot right — we want to create the most incredible fan experience we can and also create a great track for the drivers, we want our team principals happy… really trying to create the best event throughout the ecosystem. But I’m sure we won’t get everything right in year one and we’re going to take those learnings and we’re going to improve upon the event in years two and beyond.
“We are blessed to have Clark County having already given us a 10-year approval to keep racing. When we convinced Greg to spend all the money on the land and the building, I think it was probably with the plan to race for more than just a handful of years. And we’re going to look to really re-invent ourselves; what can we do differently around talent and around customer activations?
“Early feedback is we need more general admission. Our fans are not happy that we don’t have more general admission. That is something that we’re going to address in follow-on years, but I think at this point all we can do is head down, work hard and look forward to what’s to come.”