A little more than a week after the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has been completed, the long-term planning of the event and the political football about whether it should remain a bastion of the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar or be open to a Formula 1 switch is once again back in play.
Per a report from the Long Beach Gazettes, the Long Beach City Council approved a contract for a consultant to study whether IndyCar should stay – as it has since 1984 – or whether its predecessor, Formula 1, could come back. F1 ran at Long Beach from 1976 through 1983.
The council signed a contract worth $150,000 with KPMG Corporate Finance, LLC for the work, and while the contract is for a year, it can be terminated by either side with 30 days’ notice.
This is, of course, not the first time this political football has been tossed around regarding the two open-wheel series, one of which is worldwide and the other is this country’s top form of open-wheel racing.
There’s been previous looks, most recently in 2014, about the viability of F1 returning to Long Beach. But that year saw Long Beach extend the deal with INDYCAR for three years through to 2018, the end of the current contract.
Of course a ton has changed in F1 from a leadership standpoint over that time period. New owners Liberty Media are keen to expand F1’s presence in North America and have talked openly about the possibility of a Los Angeles race, and given Long Beach is established and has the F1 history there, it seems to make sense.
Except that it doesn’t. The cost of bringing F1 back would likely be an astronomical leap for the city, which would need to build proper pit garages, lengthen the track beyond its current 1.968-mile layout and would perhaps need to add further accommodations. A concern that comes along would be that higher ticket prices would likely have an adverse effect on attendance over the three days.
Race chief Jim Michaelian, who has steered this race to its continued success over the years, told the Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern beyond 2018 it’d very much need to be an either-or situation as there’s no room for both, and that makes sense.
Michaelian told reporters in the Long Beach deadline room he expected the crowd close if not above the 2016 total of 182,420 and a Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial board column on this year’s race confirmed just that, more than 183,000 patrons over the weekend.
The Press-Telegram column also noted this:
“There was something for everyone this year — race car aficionados, music fans, families — in picture-perfect weather.
“The city never looked better than it did on live national television for a record 7 1/2 hours. It was a great way to show off the city’s waterfront, downtown and skyline.
“It’s difficult to put an exact pricetag on what that kind of TV exposure is worth to a city, but it’s a marketeer’s dream.”
Naturally, the editorial ignores that worldwide international TV exposure from an F1 race could well be bigger, but that’s beside the point. For just what was on the 2017 docket, the editorial is spot-on.
Beyond the marquee Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for IndyCar which was on NBCSN, IMSA also had a national showcase with its BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix airing live on FOX network, and Pirelli World Challenge got a same-day TV race as well on the CBS Sports Network.
A change from IndyCar to F1 wouldn’t just affect the headliner but it also affects the other series that participate on the weekend.
More to the point, it’d affect the fans. With a heavy amount of locals that comprise the 183,000 – some of whom who may not have the same resources to go to an F1 race if it switched – it’d be hard to see attendance in that same ballpark at least at the outset.
Some in the F1 media world think the prospect of Long Beach being back in their court is real, and they may have the connections to think that prospect is legitimate.
It is imperative, though, for INDYCAR to strike a deal to keep Long Beach a part of its calendar. Long Beach remains the gold standard for street course races in this country and for IndyCar, a critical tentpole in its schedule that puts it second to the Indianapolis 500 in terms of importance, history, length, attendance and cache.
This year’s winner James Hinchcliffe was effusive in his Long Beach praise as he drove into victory lane. He knows how much this race means and understood the magnitude of it – the value of Long Beach to him seemed as great if not greater than the overall story line of his comeback from his near-fatal injuries sustained in an accident in practice before the 2015 Indianapolis 500.
If INDYCAR was to lose Long Beach, it’d be a bitter pill to swallow. There’s no immediate event that then steps up to be the lead road or street race on the calendar, because the remaining ones all have their strong selling points, but none is head-and-shoulders above the rest. St. Petersburg or Barber would probably be the leading candidates because of their established date equity at the start of the year while Road America and Watkins Glen are iconic road circuits, but both now only in their second year back on the calendar.
The Press-Telegram editorial closed: “The Grand Prix Association’s contract with the city expires at the end of 2018, but it’s difficult to see how this partnership will not be renewed.
“For 43 years, the Grand Prix Association has provided the city with an outstanding event that continues to grow and showcases the city across the nation.
“It has become the city’s signature event and is no longer just a street car race. It has become an entertainment festival that has taken years to build with people who care about Long Beach.”
So watch this space to see not whether the Grand Prix continues – that seems a near lock – but whether INDYCAR and Long Beach can nail down a critical extension beyond 2018.