Tuesday, October 4, 2016

There is Making It and Then There is Making It

With the Formula E season set to kick off its third season this weekend, the series has a lot to be excited about in year three and beyond. For starters, there is the never-ending list of manufactures entering the series. Audi is getting serious with Abt Sportline. Citro├źn is still on board with DS Virgin Racing. Renault and e.dams have a good marriage. Jaguar is entering the series in 2016-17 and Andretti Autosport has a partnership with BMW.  Mercedes has just signed an agreement to join the series for the 2018-19 season. It is attracting manufactures like a barbecue attracts flies.

The schedule is growing and is visiting new places. Hong Kong kicks off this season after the first two seasons began in Beijing. Marrakech will be the first African round in the history of the series next month. The series will return to Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Paris and Berlin and returns to Monaco as Formula E alternates years with historic on the famed Mediterranean street circuit. Brussels will host a round and Montreal is set to close out the season with a doubleheader but the most interesting round of all, the round Formula E is most proud to have on its schedule is the penultimate round: A doubleheader in Brooklyn July 15-16th. 

Formula E is on its way to accomplished what Formula One couldn't in New York City and in New Jersey, what IndyCar was able to do in East Rutherford, New Jersey but couldn't once it dreamed of making it to Manhattan and what NASCAR failed to create in Staten Island. Many have tried to break through but Formula E is set to be the first to actually race in the largest city in the United States. Formula E feels it has achieved a monumental accomplishment but it is only the first step and isn't as great of a step as they think. 

Formula E has made it to New York but making it in New York is another thing. Formula E won't be a big event in New York. With so much going on, events come and go in New York with millions not even knowing they happened. The Super Bowl billed as New York's Super Bowl was barely a blip on the city's radar screen. In a motorsports vacuum, Formula E has scored as massive victory but anyone thinking the event will captivate the city and springboard Formula E in terms of popularity in the United States and around the globe is grossly mistaken. 

While Formula E is first, first isn't a victory. Anyone can race somewhere once. Formula E is proof of that. The Brooklyn race needs to be on the schedule for decades. The series raced in London its first two years and the Battersea Park event is gone. Beijing is a larger city than New York and it is off the schedule. Miami was one-and-done and Long Beach had two years on the schedule. Making it to New York isn't an accomplishment to celebrate but rather having Brooklyn be a long-term stop on the calendar is worth bragging about. 

New York is a big city but Formula E needs more than just big cities for its races to succeed. It is only year three for the series but all motorsports series have their staple events that can be counted on drawing a crowd. Formula One has Monza and Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps. IndyCar has the Indianapolis 500 and Long Beach. NASCAR has Daytona, Bristol and a slew of other events. MotoGP has been going to Assen for almost 70 years. The FIA World Endurance Championship has Le Mans. These are places fans flock to and races that have been incorporated into the fabric of these cities. The cities embrace these events and are looking forward each year to traffic jams of eager spectators that spend three or four days in the local hotels and bars pumping money into the economy. 

Formula E doesn't have that yet but at the same time the series seems ok with not having it. Formula E is a 21st century series. It doesn't care about being a big event that draws people out. If 5,000 people show up in person, Formula E is fine with that because the series is focused on global television numbers and streaming numbers. It is a series that is ok with having a constant rotation of races each year. That mindset might doom the New York event. You need some people to show up to the events to keep events going financially, unless television money is enough to keep races going but at the same time if you want an event to succeed, you need people to show. What is the point of celebrating having a race in New York if you don't care if 5,000 people show up or 50,000 people show up? And if people don't show up, then are you really making it? 

Frank Sinatra sang of New York, "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." Jay-Z reminded us "city is a pity, half of y'all won't make it." Formula E has made it there in a literal sense but making it there in terms of becoming an event the city embraces and supports for years to come will be a much more difficult task and being the first motorsports series to race in the city won't make a difference.