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
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 – 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.