U.S. Grand Prix Organizers Blame Rain For Dip In Attendance On Race Weekend

Heavy rains hurt the USGP

American organizers have blamed inclement weather for falling attendance at this year's U.S. F1 Grand Prix. The fourth running of the event at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas, saw Sunday's race attendance decline by more than 6,000 in comparison to last year to a total of 101,667. COTA also reported a drop in three-day attendance — from 237,406 in '14 to 224,011 this year. Both figures are the lowest since the circuit's debut in '12.

COTA's attendance figures have been declining year-after-year since more than 265,000 showed up for the inaugural grand prix. COTA President & CEO Jason Dial told SBD Global this year's decline was all caused by weather.

"We got 13 inches of rain Friday and Saturday and that really put a damper on it," he said. "We were on pace to actually be above [last year's numbers]. But when you look at who shows up as a result of the rain or not, that definitely affected us."

The rain not only had an impact on the attendance figures, but also on the bottom line. Dial expects revenue to be down this year, but the financial figures are not yet available. Organizers were forced to invest additional money for mitigation and extraction of water. The weather also affected general concessions, he said, as people either didn't stay as late or simply didn't show up.

COTA lost 10,000 parking spots due to the heavy rain and had to increase shuttle service for spectators. As a result, the commute to and from the racetrack was affected as well. "Inclement weather is never good," Dial said. "You maybe can sell a little bit more hot cocoa, but generally speaking your per caps are higher on sunny days."

NOT ALL BAD: While rain and heavy winds forced the cancellation of a free practice session on Friday and the postponement of Saturday's qualifying to Sunday morning, the weather conditions had a quite positive impact on the race. The grand prix was arguably one of the most exciting in recent F1 history, and ended with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton clinching his third world championship title.

"The wet conditions increased the level of competitiveness that we've not seen, certainly in the four years we've hosted it," Dial said. "It created and provided incredible entertainment for the fans. I heard people say, ‘Despite the rain, this was amazing.'"

Following the race, Elton John and his band performed for more than two hours to end the weekend on a high note, Dial said. Organizers in Mexico City, which will host this weekend's F1 grand prix, closely watched what unfolded in Texas and believe they are prepared should an "act of God" hit them, said Rodrigo Sanchez, marketing and media relations director for the Mexican F1 Race. Sanchez: "It's unfortunate what happened at COTA because it doesn't really benefit anyone."

OPEN FOR IDEAS: Ahead of the U.S Grand Prix weekend, Dial confirmed that F1's return to Mexico affected ticket sales this year. However, he already talked to his counterparts in the Mexican capital about collaborating on ticket packages and other promotions going forward. Dial said that COTA is open to do whatever it can to help grow the sport. And he believes the same is true for Mexican organizers.

"Those type of things will happen just as we've created partnerships with UT [Univ. of Texas]," he said. "Those opportunities didn't exist this year because Mexico City was in a sold-out position." HJ Mai/SportsbusinessDaily.com

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