F1 in America: the ballpark experiment

Posted on | Author Gerard Hetman

How many American baseball fans would recognise an F1 team? Gman found out
How many American baseball fans would recognise an F1 team? Gerard found out

American F1 fan Gerard is a regular contributor to the comments here as Gman. In his first guest article for F1 Fanatic he investigates how many of his fellow Americans recognised his F1 gear – in New York’s home of baseball, the Yankee Stadium.

Many of you who are regular visitors to this blog have most likely become familiar with my strong array of comments in support of anything involving Formula 1 here in my homeland – the United States of America.

Since being drawn to the sport after Lewis Hamilton?s win at Indianapolis in 2007- an event that made headlines in mainstream American sports media outlets – I?ve been completely hooked on F1.

From joining the McLaren team membership program and ordering several pieces of apparel, to becoming a regular on blogs such as this one, I?ve become a full-fledged F1 junkie.

In the time since I?ve started following F1, I?ve seen many conversations and discussions – on this blog and elsewhere – about F1?s popularity and recognition here in the United States. Being that I wear my McLaren gear out in public on a frequent basis, I thought it would be intriguing to follow the F1 dress code and judge the reaction at one of America?s most treasured and famous sporting venues – Yankee Stadium.

The House that Ruth built

The game of baseball has long been known as ??America?s pastime?? and perhaps no other stadium better sums up the history and passion of the game better than Yankee Stadum. Located in the Bronx section of New York City, Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 and has played host ever since to the New York Yankees, winners of 26 World Series titles and a team considered among the most glamorous and prestigious sports franchises in the world.

Since the stadium?s opening coincided with the golden years of New York Yankees great George Herman ??Babe?? Ruth, Yankee Stadium is often referred to as ??The House That Ruth Built.?? Aside from baseball, many classic games of American-rules football have been hosted at the stadium on both the college and professional level, and several different Popes have celebrated mass at the site in the recent past.

Despite the Yankees not having won a World Series since 2000, and not having played in the season-ending event since 2003, the stadium remains a hot ticket for visitors from all over the world. While New York residents and other locals always fill the stands, fans from many different U.S. states and many foreign countries can be found speaking an array of languages and accents in the stadiums concourses and seating areas during every game.

As a result, apparel and team gear from sports clubs the world over can be seen in the stands during a game, including shirts and hats from any number of F1 teams. Last season I met families visiting from Great Britain on two different occasions who had strong interest in F1, and earlier this season – on the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix – I met a gentleman from Texas who was clad in BMW team gear and said his wife and family were also huge fans of the BMW team and F1 in general.

Despite its storied past and continued popularity, the current Yankee Stadium is showing it?s age. It?s become increasingly difficult to maintain and update, and less comfortable for fans, and the team is prepared to move to a new version of the stadium in 2009, which is currently being built across the street from the current landmark. For my final visit to the stadium, I decided to throw on my McLaren team gear and see if anyone would recognize one of the world?s premiere motor sports brands at one of America?s most hallowed sports shrines.

Off and Running

Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium

My excursion to Yankee Stadium came on Wednesday afternoon, July 30, with the Yankees set to host the Baltimore Orioles for a 1:00 start. After our bus arrived around 10:00 AM at a parking lot close to the stadium, our group enjoyed a pre-game tailgate party before I ventured off to the first stop for my experiment ?ǣ Billy?s Sports Bar & Restaurant, an upscale bar located along a row of shops and restaurants just across from Yankee Stadium.

Speaking to a number of guests and staff at Billy?s, I found a common theme that would quickly repeat itself later in the day- when I asked people if they recognized what my gear represented, no one would know it represented an F1 team, but almost all would recognize the Mercedes-Benz and Mobil 1 logos on the right side of my team T-shirt. This was true not only in Billy?s, but also among several people of various age groups that I approached during the pre-game batting practice period – somewhat akin to practice sessions in F1 – in the lower decks of the stadium.

All in all, I spoke to approximately 25-30 people and asked if they had any clue about what I was wearing and what it represented. Much to my disappointment, not one could identify my clothing as belonging to a Formula 1 racing team, much less the team being represented. In addition, I was hoping to at least be questioned or stopped and asked about my unique apparel, and this also did not happen….at least not until after the game.

On my way out of the stadium after the contest- a 13-3 Yankees victory- I was walking away from the stadium towards our bus when I thought I heard someone yell ??Lewis Hamilton?? behind me. I turned around to see a gentleman with a camera and telescopic lens walking behind me, who asked ??Are you a fan of Formula 1??? I responded with quite a bit of enthusiasm, and after learning that he was also an American fan of the sport, I told him to keep watching and rooting for the popularity of the sport here in the U.S

It would have been great to talk more with him about the issue, as well as to get his name and contact info for further discussion, but with over 50,000 fans flooding the already-crowded streets surrounding the stadium, we were forced to part ways as my tour group headed back to our bus.

Lessons learned…and what I would do differently

After looking at the results from my day at Yankee Stadium, one may think that F1 in America has almost no marketing potential or name recognition. However, my experience shows that two of the three sponsors displayed prominently on my shirt were very familiar to the people I asked, and this once again proves that many F1 sponsors and manufacturers have huge representation and recognition in the mainstream consumer market.

Sure, no one except the fellow die-hard fan I met on the way out made a public statement about my McLaren gear, but that?s not to say that the many corporations involved in F1 can?t use it as a tool to increase their
recognition in the United States.

It would have been great to see more people give me a shout out in support of Hamilton, Heikki, or McLaren, but I?ll interpret the day?s results as reflective of the attitude I took to the stadium with me – that the U.S. has a solid core of F1 fans that can be built upon and expanded with a concentrated effort from both the manufacturers and sponsors, as well as Formula One Management. We all know how much many of the sponsors and manufacturers have invested in the U.S. market, and how well known many of those entities are on this side of the Atlantic. Now, It?s time for some of them to step up and work with Formula One Management and CVC group- perhaps through the new FOTA – to develop a plan for sustained success in the American market. It can indeed be done, and after it happens, you?ll surely start to see many more shirts and hats from the various F1 teams in the seats of the new Yankee Stadium

Gerard thanks his father, Jerry, who took many of the photos for this article.

This is a guest article by Gerard. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

Will F1 return to America soon?
Will F1 return to America soon?

42 comments on “F1 in America: the ballpark experiment”

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  1. Interesting article Gerard, Well done.

    I work in a coffee shop in Glasgow, Scotland. Whenever anyone wearing any sort of F1 merchandise comes in I usually pounce on them to try and get a bit of very rare F1 chat from another physical human being! (No offense to all you guys but it would be nice to meet some more F1 junkies in the flesh)

    Most of them however have very little real knowledge and are wearing the merch to look cool. If I ever happen to ask someone I work with their opinion on F1 most of the answers go something like this

    “How can you watch it!? It’s just cars going round in circles”

    “The only exciting bit is the start”

    “I don’t understand the concept, what is it?”

    I can understand the first 2 answers…don’t get me wrong they enrage me but I understand them. However the last one (which I have had twice) is crazy! They just don’t know what it is or even what the general point or rules are!

    F1 needs to reach out to a wider audience, and I think, like most worldwide industries, America is a massively important area to have a foothold in. Get F1 back in the USA.

    Rant over hopefully Spa will bring us a much needed exciting race! x

  2. I live in the heart of NASCAR country (upstate NY, USA). I’d guess 90% have watched a NASCAR race before, and 75% could name 10 drivers.

    However, only 5% have even heard of F1, and probably less than 1% could name 2 drivers… of course those would be Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villenuve. Ask them about Schumacher, and they’ll think you’re talking about Tony Schumacher, the Drag racer.

    F1’s just not “popular” here, and it’s easy to see why. It’s only ever shown on an unpopular cable tv network (it’s in the channel listing beetween “Fox Reality Reruns” and “Lesbian & Gay TV” for me), it’s only on in the early morning hours (surrounded by infomercials), and has only one race in North America (0 in the US). How is anybody ever going to find out about it?

    Oh, there are those three races on FOX every year (a major network), but of course they NEVER advertise them, and do zero pre-race coverage (the broadcast starts halfway through the warm-up lap).

  3. Great article, I have a cousin who originates from the UK but moved over to the US a few years ago but he love F! and was gutted when it was cancelled.

    With regard to speaking to other F1 Lovers i luckily work for a large company and there are a small amount of us who love F1 and all support different teams.

    It is really dificult to speak to people about it because like _Ben_ said they give the same answers.
    They cant get into the technical, strategic side, and also the different driver personalities.

    But again great insight to what F1 is seen as over the Pond!

  4. You didn’t meet friendly sociable people at Yankee Stadium?! Shocking!

    Great article, but I think the experiment was doomed from the start. People in NY don’t seem too friendly to strangers. I went to Fenway Park earlier in the year and I think I spotted one person in a Ferrari shirt, but nothing more.

    I also went to my first “real” race at Limerock park to see the ALMS series and I saw tons of people in F1 attire. Ferrari, BMW, Sauber, Mclaren, even a few Toyota fans in the mix. You would have no trouble making small talk at that race.

    I highly suggest you make a trip down next year, if you close to NYC then you can’t be too far from Lime Rock Park. The car show alone was worth the money spent, and then you get a day of racing to boot(3 classes on a 2mi track = lots of action).

  5. F1 fans are all over the place, they’re just hard to find. I’ve got an Autocourse poster in my dorm room in Wisconsin, and it’s shown a couple friends to be F1 junkies like myself – I even saw someone walking around in a Michael Schumacher hat.

  6. Good job Gman!…maybe I’ll meet up with you at Indy in a couple of years!(positive thoughts mate)

    I only know one other person who watches F1 here in Atlanta,and he is originally from England.When we do see each other,which is only about once a month,we bore everyone around us with F1 talk.I have a strong craving to sit with someone who also enjoys F1 and watch a race.Some of my friends watch NASCAR but,I can’t sit through two minutes of that,I just don’t like oval tracks.I get my fix by going to Road Atlanta every year a few times..(petite le mans,the Walter Mitty,scca)unfortunately my friends don’t like any of these either.I hate to say this but,until there is more overtaking in F1,America will be a tough market.

  7. It’s a shame we don’t have the USGP anymore. I’m from Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, and I miss that race a lot. Formula 1 has a lot of fans around here. I have some friends who are fans, and when we get together, we speak a lot about F1. I work in a private hospital, and there’s this Doctor, who is a huge fan of F1. He even have 2 TV Shows about F1, one with general news, and the other with the full race Sundays afternoon. I usually watch the race in the morning, trough live broadcasting of Fox Sports Latin America, and during European season, we get to see the races a 8:00 am. The man has been following F1 since the 70’s, and knows a great deal about F1 History.

  8. I have been on the opposite end of Gerard’s experience…I have accosted what I thought were F1 fans in the past.

    I had over the last year or so seen a car with a vanity plate that says “F1 FAN” in my company parking lot, but as I work very odd hours and our company has multiple sites that use the lot I was unable to find out who the other F1 fan in Central PA was. Several months ago when I was walking through the lot, the car pulled in. The gentleman who emerged was quite taken aback when I inquired whether he was an F1 fan…he actually was! We talked briefly and as it turns out he was moving from the area…and as far as I can tell I am the sole F1 fan in my area (aside from my family, who all enjoy the races, but are not true fans).

    I also struck up a conversation with a salesperson in the Puma store in New York City last fall. He was wearing a Ferrari shirt with Kimi’s name across the back. I asked him if he were a fan–he said that since they sell the merchandise he was trying to follow the sport, but after attempts to discuss the upcoming Italian Grand Prix (qualis had just finished up that morning), it became obvious he really didn’t follow the sport. However, he did mention that Alonso had visited the store on several occasions and the manager had always cautioned the staff to make sure he wasn’t bothered…but apparently no one has ever recognized him…which doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    1. I’m in central pa, lancaster area. I have quite a bit of knowledge of F1 but I’m sure many others have much more. Been following f1 for going on 20 years now

  9. Oh, the isolation. Great experiment and article, Gerard. When I lived in the SF Bay Area (on the Peninsula), it wasn’t that uncommon to encounter an F1 fan. Up in my new digs in Ashland, Oregon, it’s much more unusual. But I have stories.

    Last year, during our Independence Day celebration, I was struggling to get through the crowd when suddenly I espied a McLaren Mercedes hat – but with Kimi’s signature on it. So I spoke to the owner with something on the lines of, “Hey, you need to update your hat. Kimi is with Ferrari now.” Well, they stared at me as if I was speaking a foreign language…and I think I was. My gestures at their hat didn’t do anything to move the conversation beyond a stare back at me.

    The second is that late last year, I wrote a letter to Autoweek commenting on the idea that Lewis Hamilton is the absolute best and addressing people that were missing from their ‘Top Ten F1 Driver List’. A week later, my phone rang. The person on the phone lived in Ashland, too, and had noticed my address and looked me up and called me on a whim to chat about my letter. Alas, I didn’t get his name and number…so if you’re out there, and you read this blog, please call again so we can talk about the season.


  10. AmericanTifosi
    3rd September 2008, 22:06

    Great article. I’ve been stopped while wearing my Ferrari stuff but mostly by people asking about the cars. The one time someone asked if I liked F1, I ended up watching the next race with him!

  11. Don’t confuse fanatacism with a passing fancy, I think that’s what can happen with the Scottish commenter. In the US, you may see someone in a baseball or basketball shirt, but that person may simply be showing geographic roots or being fashionable, it doesn’t mean the person knows about the sport.

    That having been said, if folks at Yankee Stadium don’t know what a Mercedes-Benz is, they live in tunnels, and Mobil 1 has been available in the US pretty much forever. Many Yankees fans should have at least limited familiarity with Vodafone as well, because the Yankees have a merchandising partnership with the famed Manchester United football club. That, and Manhattan-type New Yorkers have met people from around the world and all that.

    If the people of Manhattan could stand it, an urban circuit that cuts through Central Park would be brilliant, however, I’m not holding my breath.

  12. @Chunter; I feel geographic roots is definitly not a likely reason…people follow football for things like that in the UK not F1. Being fashionable is though, they think the sport is sexy and affluent and that they will seem that way by wearing the merch. x

  13. I live in wash d.c. i am the only f1 fan i have ever meet. all the people i know are die hard american football fans and look at me like i am crazy if i start to talk about f1. it kind of makes you feel like a weirdo

  14. Apart from my parents, the people I meet on a day-to-day face-to-face basis have no interest whatsoever in Formula 1, or indeed motor sport. And that’s in the middle of the UK…

  15. It’s a similar story over here in New Zealand. Very few people I come across are big fans of the sport, and most just think it’s stupid and don’t get the point. Fortunately for me, the printer I work directly with every week at work is a Formula 1 fan. Not as much as me, but it still lends to plenty of F1 related conversation and debate!

  16. michael counsell
    4th September 2008, 0:13

    Maybe if a top American NASCAR driver moved to F1, more people there would take notice of it or if an American driver started winning. Its the reason F1 is so popular in Spain and Poland. The same goes for any other country.

  17. I spent 3 months in the USA in 2002 – and it was a total F1 blackout. So I can see how you struggled there, Gman.

    And although F1 is not huge in Oz, there is a following (albeit small). It seems like I am the lucky one, as I have several friends who are *almost* as obsessed as I am.

  18. I can second, third, and fourth the comments on isolation. I currently live in Indiana (after moving from two larger cities). Before, I would occasionally meet people who have heard of, or have at least noticed, F1 and the WRC (the other of my passions), but out here in the heartland of America, I’ll be lucky to meet someone who cares about Indycar, much less Formula 1. When I do meet someone, I usually have to talk about dirt track racing or NASCAR, which I can only tolerate in small doses. The interest in the US small and even with a US Grand Prix, most Americans who even notice F1 view it as an oddity and with only passing attention.

    Of course, all of this means my girlfriend hears waaay more about racing than she wants to (which is only fair because I have to hear about knitting waaay more than I want to).

  19. One of my college teachers was a F1 fan…like Villeneuve. Only other person I know that was interested in F1.

  20. the funny thing is, i’ve noticed withing that for last 10 years or so that i don’t run across nearly as many f1 fans- or at least people aquainted with it- as i used to. i used to run across at least one or two a week. usually not the same people, just people in elevators, parking lots, shopping,the train…where ever. now i wear one of my t shirts and no one seems to recognize any of it. not even the schumacher sweatshirt which is so red it should stop traffic. maybe everyone’s just too jaded to say anything. or afraid of a conversation.

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