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Sunday, April 24, 2011

AN IDEA FOR AUSTIN

The World Economic Forum is an annual week-long gathering of business and political leaders, cultural and entertainment figures, and media elites, in Davos, Switzerland. An impressive percentage of the global corporate and money players participate. It generates worldwide press coverage and it's CNBC's version of Super Bowl week.

There are speeches, seminars and panel discussions plus lots of networking and countless cocktail parties, receptions and dinners. "Posh" is an appropriate word to describe the after-hours activities.

Since before the financial collapse in fall 2008, I've thought of what a motorsports version of the WEF would be like. Yes, I know, there have been some attempts at business summits. Champ Car tried to justify its existence with a few such sessions, hoping to hang onto sponsorships by promoting business-to-business relationships. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway took a shot with its version and there have been biz meetings in New York City and Charlotte. Formula One has done it in Monaco. But none has been organized along the lines of the WEC and certainly not remotely close to the same scale.


So it caught my attention the other week when, during the news conference for the new track in Austin, Tex., it was said the planned 2012 Formula One race will create "the largest gathering of corporate leaders in the United States." Match that with F1's global sponsorships and the importance of the American market, and it seems to me Austin might be the right venue for a legitimate World Racing Economic Forum. While it's probably not realistic to think every bit of construction will be in place right away, it has been announced that the facility will include meeting rooms, a conference center and a banquet hall.


I put this idea to Tavo Hellmund, managing partner and chairman of the U.S. Grand Prix, when we both guested in Rick Benjamin's Sirius XM Satellite Radio show after the Chinese Grand Prix. Hellmund surprised me by saying two of his partners in the Austin project have gone to Davos.


"We had to make this (Austin facility) about being a destination," he said. "I know that sounds like a clever line for a television ad . . . not just a racetrack. We know the events will do well but it's pretty hard to justify spending anywhere from $250-400 million on something if you're not going to be using it 300 days a year. That's what we're trying to achieve."



The Austin group obviously has a lot on its to-do list. But I hope, at least down the road, they'll consider formally organizing something strongly along the lines of a WEF. It could be a historic, landmark -- and profitable -- venture for the entire industry.


I've explained before that while I used to be a avid viewer, I rarely watch ESPN's SportsCenter any more, because I'm so turned-off by the gimmicks and nonsense of what is supposed to be the network's flagship "news" show. Last Wednesday afternoon, I heard that Major League Baseball had taken over the National League's most historically important franchise, the Los Angeles Dodgers, due to management concerns. By any standard, this was a HUGE story, so I went to the 6 p.m. (EDT) SC for find out the details. Instead, the first segment was devoted to a gimmick "top 5" thinly veiled to promote the network's programming favorites. The actual news report on the Dodgers didn't happen until 17 minutes into the show, even though ESPN's own announcer and reporter called MLB's move "shocking" and "stunning." This is a perfect example of how journalistic standards have fallen. I can't fully explain how upset it made me. I truly hope ESPN's new Ombudsman collective will deal with this monumental lapse of judgment.


CompetitionPlus.com (where I write a monthly column) now has a video element. Watch the first one, with drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney. There's also a new audio component and I'll be involved in that in the near future:
http://competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/17298-video-feature-drag-racings-first-lady-of-nitro-shirley-muldowney

[ more next Monday . . . ]