F1: Las Vegas, America, and Saturday Night Under The Lights

Las Vegas 2023

Night Racing + The Entertainment Capital of the World! While F1’s Las Vegas race looks like a success, is the start time right?

The inaugural season of the $4.2 billion dollar TV rights agreement between FOX Sports, NBC Sports, Turner Sports, and NASCAR was a game changer for how the sport of automobile racing was presented to the United States television audience. It launched automobile racing as a genuine competitor to football and baseball. Can Formula 1’s arrival in Las Vegas next year help propel the global series into the American limelight? 

Saturday Night Under The Lights

Sitting in my childhood home during the summer of 2001, I witnessed televised coverage of both the 2001 Pepsi 400 and the 2001 Sharpie 500 on NBC and TNT. As an adolescent, witnessing those events provided moments that symbolized event television viewing. It provided a newfound spark of interest. Something that has remained in my mind to this day. 

In the case of Formula One, it was not until the inaugural SingTel Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 that the league competed under the lights for the first time. Though this was a temporary street circuit and not an oval, concerns were expressed in regard to weather, visibility, and the nature of the Marina Bay Circuit as a whole.

With the commemoration of F1’s 800th Grand Prix, the event went off smoothly as Fernando Alonso drove his Renault to victory with future Mercedes-Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton rounding out the podium. Despite the controversy surrounding CrashGate, a worldwide television audience bore witness to a newfound interest as I did during those earlier Saturday nights back in 2001. For the first time, Formula One fans bore witness to the spectacle of the night Grand Prix.

A Case of Pure Spectacle

While a similar display of excitement and anticipation is on full display for the inaugural edition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, valid concerns exist with the desire to draw in the largest audience possible. From both a worldwide television perspective and within the United States itself. The inaugural running of Formula One’s Las Vegas Grand Prix has all the ingredients of a slam dunk for success. Though an outsider may look at this on paper and ask themselves why they should invest their time, or potentially money, into what could become a cornerstone event in the world of professional sports. What is needed to propel this event to elevate Formula One as a full-fledged pop culture staple in the United States?

Why Will The Race Commence When Currently Scheduled?

It is being reported that when the Las Vegas Grand Prix begins on November 18th, 2023, the warm-up lap (the pace lap prior to lights out) will commence when the Rolex clock strikes 10:00 PM PST. While the timing is far from perfect, we have to consider the larger picture, not just domestically.

One could look at the proposed time and think of the largest portion of the Formula One viewing audience in Europe.  While timing demographics are far from perfect no matter where Formula One competes across the globe, in this instance the series is considering how to get the largest amount of viewers internationally rather than domestically. The crowd will show up in Las Vegas no matter what time the Grand Prix starts.

In a case of irony, this start time will allow European Formula One enthusiasts to set their alarms for Sunday Morning, put the kettle on, turn on Sky Sports, and cook an English Breakfast. A trend we stateside are all too accustomed to as we awake to the sound of our alarms and the aroma from a pot of our favorite brand of coffee as we tune into ESPN for Grand Prix Sunday. It may feel different to them, but the feeling will all be worth it.   

TV Competition in the United States

The Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix may look on paper to already be a success in more ways than one. But it is important not to take that expected success for granted.  In the United States, the 2022 Formula One campaign has seen an increase in viewership to numbers not seen since 1995. These numbers are spectacular and continue to showcase why Formula One is the world’s premier form of motorsport in the United States today.

At the same time, it is important not to let this success go to one’s head. While our friends across the pond may be able to awake and tune in without another competition, in the United States, the event will take place on the penultimate weekend for one of the most popular sports in America – NCAA Football.

Over the course of twelve weeks, major television networks throughout the United States, both over-the-air and on basic cable, air continuous coverage of the 131 teams who battle it out for four playoff spots. ESPN is a major player in college football coverage. So Grand Prix Saturday could wind up airing on ESPN2 or ESPN3 if coverage of certain games runs long. But given the build-up and uniqueness of this event, ESPN & ABC may very well structure their Saturday night around F1’s return to Las Vegas.

A Must-See Event

If one had the ability to make one small adjustment, why not adjust the start time to allow the race to begin one hour earlier? This would allow the possibility of various locations across the nation to keep business booming up until last call. Enter Sports Bars.

On Saturday Nights during football season after the final clock has run out, typical sports bars across the nation would typically find themselves airing SportsCenter on ESPN or area coverage of late local news. A 9 pm (PST) (midnight EST) start time would allow these venues an opportunity to host viewing parties. Something that would keep their respective business thriving for several more hours.

While some areas’ last call may end at 1 am and not 2 am, these local businesses could think of the Grand Prix of Las Vegas as if it were the equivalence of a UFC Pay-Per-View or a World Championship Boxing Match. While there is no need to charge a cover, the possibilities for these local businesses are endless. From $1.50 pint promotion of a specific draft to postings promotions on social media, and much more. A revenue boost for local businesses. What do they have to lose?

The Formula One Grand Prix of Las Vegas is set to be something special. If all goes according to plan, it will provide a worldwide television audience with something they have never seen before. A feeling that reminded them why they fell in love with this sport in the first place. A feeling I experienced in my childhood home on select summer Saturday nights 21 years ago.