The news last week that the two of America’s most iconic baseball teams will play games in London in 2019 shouldn’t be a shock. After all, they’ve always had the “World Series”. But, definitions aside, the fact that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will play outside the US should trigger light bulbs in many marketing minds in other American leagues.
The NFL made the move 11 years ago, when the New York Giants played the Miami Dolphins at Wembley and the sport was welcomed with open arms. It is amazing to note that every NFL match played in London since – 23 games – has sold out within two days. That’s 80,000-plus people each time, and they are locals too. A whole new audience.
In 2017 there were four “out of territory” games played in the UK, time zones meaning US fans had a dawn to dusk sofa and NFL experience. Twickenham, home of English rugby has hosted games and Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground is scheduled to welcome the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders in October this year. America’s other two “Big” leagues – NBA (basketball) and NHL (ice hockey) – have also held successful regular season games in London.
Now baseball is joining in, with the Yankees vs Red Sox set to land at the former Olympic Stadium next year. It’s the fashionable thing to do.
Which brings me to my point. The IndyCar series traditionally starts in March and ends in mid-September “to avoid clashes with the NFL”, which leaves us race fans with six months of no action, and also leaves race teams with the dilemma of staff on their books for six months and no races.
So, just for a moment, let’s indulge in a fantasy idea. In the 1960s and 70s Formula One racers would spend their off seasons in Australia and New Zealand competing in the Tasman series. Now imagine the icons of IndyCar crowning their year in mid-Sept in Sonoma, having a three-week break, then boarding the big planes for the IndyCar Euroseries! Sure the UK would likely be wet, but hey, a number of the current IndyCar stars have represented America for the Team USA scholarship at Brands Hatch’s famous Formula Ford Festival in autumn, so nothing new for them there.
Let’s throw in great road tracks like Imola, Estoril, Jerez, Mugello (scene of three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti’s first international win), Zandvoort, Brno, Zolder… so many to choose from!
An international series was talked about less than three years ago, with Helio Castroneves among others pointing out the six-month gap was too big, and Brazil has a lot of IndyCar fans. Europe does too. It has a great racing history and heritage and would welcome the IndyCar series just as it did for CART at Rockingham, Brands Hatch and Lausitzring.
So, NFL and Major League Baseball have seen the opportunities and new audiences and done something about it. Europe’s racing fans are ready and waiting for the IndyCar visit too. We look forward to it.