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. oops- any way, thanks. fun post– and who ever gave you the tip about lime rock, i second that. i’ve never been to a alms race, but the vintage races up there used to be quite fun. and you are only about 6 hours away from the glen, don’t forget.

  2. I’m a Brit over here in Phoenix, Arizona and amazingly enough I found one guy who is a real F1 fan at a place I work. Great to talk over the races – so there are some here.

  3. Personally i dont see why there isn’t a west coast f1 race, then the candaian f1 race, and then an east coast race before going over to europe…

    the US has massive untapped sponsorship potentials, look at all the sponsors that get behind all the other events, imagine all the sponsorship cash that could flow into formula 1 and grow the sport more – allow the lower teams better funding and even allow more teams on to the grid.

    the US is big and could handle a east and west race, all the sponsors behind the current cars all market products in the US, and all the big sponsors behind US teams have interests in asian & european markets, it’s an opening for current sponsors to have more exposure, and its an opening for more US sponsors into the category.

    Honestly, the USA is a massive economic power and a massive motor sport driven country, why there’s not 2 races there every year is beyond me.

  4. So many good things to say in response to your comments, but first I offer my thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and comment on my article- it is quite amazing to see so many people from around the world interested in something I wrote about!

    Dan M- I never intended for it to be a big-time research project, but rather a means of satisfying my curiosity that evolved into this guest post. If I had the resources I would love to have many people, in the gear of various teams, attend games in different stadiums over a set period of days. It is quite possible to strike up good conversations with the Yankees faithful, as I managed to do several times during this visit. Thanks for the tip on Limerock, I will look into that for the future.

    Wesley- When it comes back, you’re on, and the first round is on me! Keep up the spirit and hopefully something will break soon. As I tell F1 fans I meet…how will Bernie like it in a few years when A1GP has a race in the U.S., and MotoGP is running two events here, but the World Championship is still absent?

    KathrynS- Great to see another Pennsylvania citizen on here!! As a lifelong resident of Scranton, I’ve been out your way more than a few times- I’m very good friends with a wonderful young lady from Hughesville and have many friends in athletics at both Lycoming and Susquehanna. I have recently considered getting a smiliar F1-themed plate for my new Nissan, but will probably go with an alumni plate from my alma mater, Wilkes University.

    Top Gear- Awesome story, if I lived in your town and saw that I would do the same thing. I recently met some F1 junkies at a British car show in my area and after getting their names from the show tag on their Lotus, I hope to track them down in the near future.

    Chunter- Nealry everyone I spoke to did point out both Mercedes and Mobil 1. As for Vodafone, perhaps many people that saw me in passing during the day knew about it, but just diden’t mention it. As for the NYC street race, good idea, and while New Yorkers would probably welcome F1, they would very much object to closing down several key streets for event a few days. When Will Smith was shooting I Am Legend, it caused massive outrage in the city when streets were closed for filming, so just imagine what an F1 race may do.

    Nico/American Tifosi- When Ferrari fans are reading something written by a McLaren backer, we know it’s a good time! Keep wearing the gear- I’m sure the red and white blends in well up there in Camp Randall Nico.

    Todd- If you look back in F1 history, there were several years where F1 ran two races in the U.S. even one where there were three! From what I understand, as Bernie began to raise his fees, venues became less interested. I’d love to see two races here and we know the manufacturers would love it- heck, MotoGP is doing it this season and is proud of it! But with so much concern over the number of GPs, and such stiff compitition from Asia and the Middle East, I’ll kiss my lucky starts if we can get one GP back in the USA.

    Jasper- I’ve never been to Phoenix but glad there are some F1 fans down there- your Diamondbacks are my sleeper pick to reach the World Series.

    Finally, I’m very suprised that F1 is not bigger in Australia and New Zealand. I know rally-style racing is big down under, but I also thought F1 was big business. It upsets me when Bernie threathens that market, as there is a rich F1 history in both nations, and the region deserves a GP without a doubt.

  5. The funding, maintenance and track requirements for hosting an F1 race is daunting for most tracks, especially in tough economic times. NASCAR and ALMS are both seeing sponsor money drawn down, and its having an impact on teams and their future plans. Where would the money come from to support an F1 effort?

    While F1 has huge potential for the US, without an American driver or team, there’s little base for a foundation. As for bringing a NASCAR driver in…well, while many are likely interested, it’d be tough. They’d want to be with a top team, capable of winning races or challenging. How many of those exist? The ‘Michael Andretti’ experiment probably still rings with warnings for many drivers, along with Alex Zanardi’s experience, and Scott Speed’s efforts. And how will you entice these drivers to race in foreign countries, on tracks they don’t know? I don’t think there’s many NASCAR driver willing to make the effort needed.

    Our own informal entries, too, tell of the true isolation for F1 fans. People have written in from around the country about the lack of like fans, and we’ve heard from Australia, NZ, and the UK with comments of that ilk. I’m sure that potential American sponsors looking at that would struggle with the ROI on what would be a huge investment.

    It’s a bummer. Cheers.

  6. Forgive me Gman, but I’m struck by the irony of asking a crowd, who have no problem calling a domestic baseball competition a “WORLD” series, if they recognise a participant in international open-wheel. LOL. :-)

  7. Its not that rosy a picture here in old England, UK either. The football (soccer) teams dominate the sports news, even on the channel which shows F1, and have huge marketing set ups – there are Manchester United shops in many major cities, so the usual reaction to F1 is ‘that boring rubbish?’
    Most people you meet wearing F1 apparel are only wearing it because its fashionable, and the true F1-istas only really appear at the GP, although you also see them at other motorsport events too

  8. DG is right – True F1 supporters are thin on the ground in the UK. Fashion rules and Fi apparel is seen as cool. Personally I dont give a toss, I find F1 so boring!

  9. DG is right, Hamilton only got a fleeting comment, even after winning at Silverstone this year, on the news.

    I’m quite lucky with where I work with that most of the guys on my team are all F1 fans, and a couple are into the technical aspect, as well as just enjoying the races, which really helps when I want to get all technical about the different aspects of the previous race.

    I’ve even slowly turned my girlfriend into an F1 fan, and whilst she mainly just enjoys the racing, she’s starting to get into the technical side as well.

    Finally, I’m off to uni this month, to do a course in motorsport engineering, so I should be in good company their as well.

  10. Good luck on the engineering course, Kester!

  11. Bravo Kester, maybe you can become an ‘inside man’ for the blog one day!
    Its interesting that Gerard has brought this subject up now, as the main F1 media here is covering all sorts of comments from Bernie about Kimi and Alonso and their lack of talent in promoting F1 to a wider public, and saying they are giving the sport a negative image, unlike Old Schuey…..
    But I never remember Schuey doing much publicity outside Italy or Germany unless it was a race weekend, and these days the teams take the F1 ‘circus’ to places such as Moscow which aren’t on the calendar yet.
    Surely its up to Bernie to arrange with the teams (and provide the money?) if he wants their star drivers in places like New York or Cairo or Mombasa for a publicity stunt?

  12. bernie’s chutzpah! his own lack of talent in that area certainly outshines any of the drivers. and i beleive that is his job, not theirs.

  13. Great article – wonder what would happen if someone did a reverse experiment – NASCAR gear at a Premier League game (or AFL where i hail from)
    Pink Peril – i think F1 is very healthy here in OZ – and the coverage is better now that Ten HD telecast the races live (well nearly live)

  14. That is a good point michael counsell. For F1 to really become popular in the USA, a USGP and US racing star are needed. Imagine if Danica Patrick got a F1 race seat! The US public would go nuts and stay glued to F1. There would be a tremendous new interest in the sport. She would be the first woman in F1, an American, and shes pretty damn hot.

    As wee saw with Scott Speed, an american flag is not enough to get US watching. It would have to be a high profile driver from Indy or NASCAR. If F1 could get half the NASCAR fans to watch a race, it would be a great accomplishment.

  15. @Polak – isn’t there some history between Danica and Bernie? I don’t think he likes women drivers one bit – even though there are plenty of them in Britain, and Danica appears to be taking it personally.
    It would be great if Williams or BMW got brave and hired her, even as a third driver, just to annoy Bernie. I would!

  16. James Christie
    5th September 2008, 16:01

    Danica would have to control her temper just a little bit & improve her road course skills.
    Speed does a good job with F1 here mostly due due Hobbs & Windsor.
    I live in Minnesota originally from the UK. Racing in general here is a just below the surface sub culture. However the various mainly dirt tracks here mainly 1/2 mile & 1/4 mile are packed all season long & I have to say I love it! I do see people wearing F1 gear in the stands here Mainly BMW, Ferarri & some Mc Laren & have had some interesting conversations about F1 with some of them.
    Really though it will always be an up hill battle here as things that are considered AMERICAN GRRRRR! are to be encouraged . Things European are considered effete & somewhat suspect. Attention will be payed at least for a while if an american is doing extremely well ” Lance Armstrong”. Yeah Beat those Pussies at Their own game!! Sorry about the Rant James

  17. Polak/DG- Very good point about the American drivers. While I beleive F1 can catch on and grow in popularity here without an American driver on the grid, having one in a race seat and driving well would be a huge boost for the sport in the USA.

    In terms of a NASCAR import, I can’t see that happening unless it was a very unusual situation. It’s not that NASCAR drivers aren’t skilled or talented- they are- but they all love the more relaxed setting of stock cars so much that it’s highly unlikley any of them would ever make the jump- just ask JMP, or read his interview in last month’s F1 Racing magazine.

    As for Danica, she may look good in the photo shoots, but she hasen’t shown me anything on the race track to prove she’s worthy of an F1 seat. I believe that in a series like IndyCar, where a spec car is used, a driver’s raw ability shows through- and Danica dosen’t have much. Don’t forget that before the reunion this season, Danica was driving in the mostly-oval IRL series, and not the road course-filled Champ Car circuit-if Bourdais was a multiple CC champion and still isn’t drivign well in F1, how would oval-loving Danica do against Lewis/Kimi/Felipe/etc..?

    In terms of her potential impact on the US market, Danica would be a smash-hit if she got a seat and drove well and won races. However, if she failed to meet expectations- as I believe she would- she’d be out of a seat and then you’d have many Americans shaking their fists at the F1 establishment for giving our Danica a raw deal- it would be a PR disaster for F1 in this market.

  18. James- Very interesting point of view. I agree that our home grown sports, such as the NFL and NASCAR, will always be king of the sports hill, and any leagues from outside the U.S. will need to earn their way into the popular culture.

    However, making it work here is far from impossible, and the perfect example is European Soccer…er, football for you folks! You could go into nearly any American high school today and find a solid number of young people who know all about Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Walk around a busy street, and you’ll find a soild number of team gear from those respective players as well.

    My point here is that the foreign-based sports can catch on- it just takes some good marketing/PR, as well as the understanding that those sports may never rival their American counterparts, but they can make good money here and be very popular in their own right.

  19. I had to laugh halfway through the Valencia Grand Prix two weeks ago, as I was watching the commercial break on Speed TV, a NASCAR commercial popped up. Right in the middle of a rival series event.
    The same can be said of the IRL events on tv. The NASCAR advertising reminds me alot of McDonalds. It is everywhere you look in America, on almost every street corner. There is no way, absolutely no way, that anything can rival NASCAR for exposure in America right now. Also, you must not forget how badly the foreign drivers have run in NASCAR in recent years.
    Montoya is probably the only foreign driver to have achieved anything close the success in stock cars. Villeneuve, Franchitti, have both fallen quickly by the wayside. The open consensus among the ‘good ‘ole boys’ is that the open wheel drivers are just not good enough for NASCAR, which really gets on my you know whats!
    IRL, F1, are just seen as inferior series to NASCAR, by millions of American fans and pundits alike. There will always be an American fanbase for F1, aswell as Europeans like myself craving for a piece of home, but the appetite for Formula One is just not there in large enough numbers, even if the U.S retains its grands prix.
    A man said to me the other day, ‘Your soccer will never be as popular as American football’.
    My reply was quick and not well recieved, ‘And you American football will never be second only to the Olympics in terms of ‘worldwide’ popularity’. It went down like a led balloon, believe me!

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