Taylor Swift performs at F1, a lot riding on race attendance


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Money-back guarantees, mud-free parking lots and a big-time performance artist are the tools the Circuit of the Americas will use to recharge the Formula One weekend in 2016.

COTA CEO Bobby Epstein ended months of uncertainty by announcing the United States Grand Prix would indeed return to Austin on Oct 21-23 with Taylor Swift providing the musical entertainment the night before race day. The event was tentatively scheduled with an asterisk on the F1 website until an agreement could be finalized.

“The asterisk is because we had a couple of things over our head that made it financially challenging,” said Epstein during Wednesday’s announcement.

The event was in limbo after the state slashed $6 million dollars of funding used to help bring the USGP to Austin each year. The funding is determined largely on the economic impact special events have on the local economy. The 2015 USGP suffered a decline in attendance, a drop COTA attributes in part to a rain soaked weekend that led to delays in several practice and qualifying rounds.

Epstein believes COTA has a plan for 2016 which will help bring the fans back and make the economic impact to restore the $6 million in funding.

“I think we have to do a better job of conveying economic impact to (the state,)” said Epstein. “As long as we comply with the statute and show the economic impact, we think we will see this going for a very long time.”

COTA estimated Formula One’s economic impact at $750 million per year with an additional $150 million in free media exposure for Austin.

Changes are already being made on COTA’s end the 2016 race. Many of their parking lots were turned into a muddy mess last year and fans were left with a soggy and uncomfortable walk. Epstein announced fans would receive a 105% refund on tickets if more than two inches of rain fell in the 24 hours before the race and those tickets could still be used for the race. An insurance policy will cover the cost of the refunds if they are necessary. Additionally, 12,000 parking spaces will be paved and shuttles will pick up from paved platforms allowing fans to keep their shoes clean. The addition of a United States based team, Haas F1, could also add to the intrigue in 2016.

General admission tickets will be ten percent cheaper and concession stand items will also be more affordable in 2016, according to COTA.

If the race does not draw people, COTA is betting a big concert will.

Taylor Swift will perform on the super state setup on the Saturday night before the race, another change from previous years. For the first four years of the USGP in Austin the musical headliner has performed after the Sunday race. By moving the concert to Saturday night, COTA hopes families or out-of-town fans will be more likely to buy tickets to attend the concert; one Epstein thinks could be the biggest in Austin history.

“I encourage someone in the Austin audience to check the highest attended audience in Austin history,” he said. “Whether you go back to ZZ Top, or the Eagles at Memorial Stadium, or the Rolling Stones in Zilker Park, we are going to crush it.”

All of the changes and all of the attractions have been made in hopes of hitting a sure-thing home run for COTA. They believe the numbers will be enough to restore the funding they lost and keep the USGP in Austin for years to come.

Of course, it may depend on it.

“We think this year’s event will restore the funding to the level we need,” said Epstein. “If we are wrong, it is a bad calculation and I cannot assure you it is going to go forward.”

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