Latest twist in New Jersey Formula 1 plans: Golf
The road to a Formula 1 Grand Prix race on New Jersey’s Hudson River waterfront has had as many twists and turns as the famous street circuit of the Grand Prix de Monaco, which is being televised live this morning on NBC.
|What else will impede the NJ F1 race?|
NBC Sports paid handsomely for the exclusive right to broadcast F1 races to North American audiences — outbidding F1’s former North American network, Fox, for the privilege — and has devoted much of its talent and attention to expanding F1’s audience in America, including plans to broadcast the sophomore running of the United States Grand Prix, which had its successful debut in Austin last November, as the first U.S. F1 race since 2007.
But NBC Sports does not intend to sacrifice its more traditional audience for the sake of F1, and that includes the millions of dads who for years have spent their Father’s Day tuned in to NBC for golf’s U.S. Open.
And therein lies just the latest curve that F1 and local organizers of New Jersey’s Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial must negotiate if the race is to become a reality: a potential conflict between the U.S. Open and the preferred date of the race for the worldwide F1 community — which also happens to be Father‘s Day.
By nature, television coverage is a must for big-money sporting events — television networks, through their advertisers, provide a big chunk of the money involved. And since NBC Sports is not about to cut away from Tiger Woods to train its cameras on Sebastian Vettel, F1 observers and people close to the situation say the conflict has stalled an element essential to finalizing plans for the New Jersey race. (If you’re not familiar with Vettel, the young German racer who is F1’s reigning three-time World Champion, you’re part of the reason NBC Sports has no plans to tinker with its traditional Father’s Day golf coverage.)
Just how, or whether, the scheduling conflict might be worked out is unclear. F1, NBC Sports and the would-be local sponsor of the race, a group headed by former YES Network chief Leo Hindery Jr., all declined to lay out their positions on the scheduling issue. One thing sources close to the situation did make clear, however, was that NBC’s coverage of the U.S. Open and the event’s timing, would not change.
"If Formula One officially sanctions a second U.S. race, we look forward to working with them to create a schedule that maximizes U.S. media exposure," read a statement from NBC Sports, which has also been talking to would-be organizers of F1 events in Miami, Long Beach, Calif., and Indianapolis.
The British billionaire who heads London-based F1, Bernie Ecclestone, politely declined to comment. "I cannot answer your questions as the matters are confidential," Ecclestone wrote in a signed statement to The Star-Ledger.
A spokesman for Hindery‘s group provided a statement saying, "The race date hasn’t been set and the decision ultimately is made by FIA."
The FIA, or Federation Internationale de la Automobile, is F1's governing body. Following approval by the F1 teams, the FIA penciled in the Grand Prix of America for June 16 on the 2013 calendar, before Hindery announced it would be postponed.
One prominent F1 observer, British racing author and FormulaMoney.com host Christian Sylt, suggested that the scheduling issue was moot after Ecclestone stated publicly last fall that Hindery’s group no longer had a franchise agreement for the race because it had failed to meet its obligations.
"The bottom line is that the date is pretty much irrelevant unless a new contract is signed. The race date is directly dependent on there being a contract to host the race," said Sylt, a confidant of Ecclestone‘s. "If this could be a hurdle to the deal that would suggest that NBC is somehow financially involved with the GP of America, which is news to me but not impossible."
The conflict is by no means the only snag Hindery has encountered since announcing plans for the race in an elaborate waterfront press conference that included F1 personalities and Gov. Chris Christie. Other bumps in the road have included difficulty securing financial backing for the race, a lagging permitting process for necessary road work on the streets of Weehawken and West New York, and the departure of several key members of the race’s management team.
Ecclestone cast doubt on the entire future of the race last fall when Sylt quoted him as saying that Hindery had failed to meet his obligations under a 10-year franchise agreement and therefore no longer had a contract. The race was included, with an asterisk, on the F1 2013 calendar announced last year, but following Ecclestone’s remarks and other damaging revelations, Hindery was forced to acknowledge his difficulties and announce a postponement until 2014.
Before being outbid by NBC, Fox intended to broadcast the race on Father’s Day, and the head-to-head television matchup of the Grand Prix of America and the U.S. Open might have gone down in history as one of sport’s great rivalries, with the two events perennially competing for the eyeballs of fathers reserving their right to be couch potatoes for a day.
Peter Habicht, who hosts the F1 in America’s Facebook page and organizes television viewing parties in the San Francisco area, said he was encouraged recently by reports that F1 itself had committed funds to the New Jersey race, and that its local organizers had hired a veteran F1 organizer to help get back on track.
But he said the NBC scheduling issue did not bode well for the Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial. Referring to himself and other F1 viewers, he said, "We don’t like to have these kinds of conflicts." NJ Star Ledger