Discover more from SatPost by Trung Phan
Las Vegas, F1 and the sport's long history in America
PLUS: An unexpected Netflix hit and the world's most popular artist.
Thanks for subscribing to SatPost.
Today, we will talk about Las Vegas F1 (and why it’s a big deal).
Also this week:
An unexpected Netflix hit
Is this the world’s most popular artist?
…and them fire memes (including airline coach seats)
F1 is headed to Las Vegas from November 16-18. The weekend prior to Thanksgiving is a sleepier period in Las Vegas and the race was expected to bring in a wild party.
A month ago, the lowest price for a three-day ticket is an average of $1,667 and more than any other F1 race this year. That figure was 9x the Hungary GP ($184), more than 2x the iconic Monaco track ($677) and higher than the glitzy Miami race ($1,113). These baller prices may have scared some off. Now, ticket and hotel prices for the weekend are all dropping (I’m sure bottle service at Marquee or Tao will still cost more than my car, though).
Either way, F1 announced the Las Vegas Grand Prix last Spring. At the time, I wrote about the long — and interesting — history of F1 and the United States for Bloomberg. I share that piece below (with some updated numbers).
Las Vegas Hits the Jackpot With Formula 1’s Return
Why the U.S. should be glad that it now hosts more races than any other country.
F1 is coming to Las Vegas in November 2023.
The race will be a total spectacle: it starts at 10pm and the 3.8 mile street circuit includes major landmarks like The Bellagio, The Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, and — most importantly — the Las Vegas Strip.
Adding Sin City to Miami and Austin means that the USA will host more F1 races than any other country.
Not everyone is happy about it. The most liked comment on the official F1 announcement tweet asks “do we really need 3 races in the US?”
The comment reflects a theme in F1 fandom that the sport has become too Americanized in recent years. Why give the United States a third race when the continent of Africa has zero and South America only has São Paulo?
Even Europe — which hosts 8 of the 23 races in 2023 — has a big absence: Germany (granted, there are 10 tracks within 640 miles of the German border whereas Las Vegas and Austin are 1,306 miles apart).
Sean Kelly — a British statistician who is the only person who has worked on every F1 TV broadcast in the US over the last 20 years — believes that 3 races for America is appropriate.
“This is not an ‘Americanizing’ of F1,” Kelly tells me on a phone call. “The sport has a long legacy in the United States.”
And it goes back decades:
1950s: The Indianapolis 500 was part of the F1 World Championship through the entire decade.
1960s: The US Grand Prix — held at Watkins Glen in New York — had F1’s richest purse prizes through the second half of the decade.
1970s: The Long Beach Grand Prix in California was considered “Monaco of the West”
1980s: In 1982, America became the first country to host three races in one season (Detroit, Long Beach and our old friend Las Vegas)
However, things started to go downhill in 1983 when Long Beach left F1 over a money dispute. While Phoenix held a new F1 race from 1989 to 1991, poor attendance — partly due to hot summer days — led to a cancellation of the event. There wouldn’t be an F1 race in the United States for the rest of the 1990s.
F1 returned to Indianapolis in 2000 but it did not end well. In 2005, a controversy over tire failures led to a race in which 7 of the 10 teams pulled out (it’s considered “F1’s darkest day in America”). Indy was nixed two years later.
Despite being a massively lucrative market, Kelly says there’s a “whole generation thinking that America was not involved in F1.”
That has slowly changed in the past decade. In 2012, Austin became the new home for F1 in the United States with the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) race track.
Then, in 2017, Liberty Media — the American media giant — acquired F1 for $8B.
The perception of F1 in the United States completely changed following the release of the Netflix documentary “F1: Drive to Survive” in 2019. Made in partnership with F1, the show gives unprecedented access to the teams and drivers. It’s been a huge success and is estimated to have added 73 million new fans globally.
Joe Pompliano at the Huddle Up newsletter highlights how “F1: Drive to Survive” has impacted the US audience:
TV viewership is exploding. Bahrain was “the first race of the 2022 Formula 1 season [and] averaged 1.3 million viewers on ESPN…the most viewed F1 race on cable television in more than 25 years.” The record was topped one week later when Saudi Arabia saw an average of 1.45 million viewers.
In-person attendance too. COTA hosted 400,000 people at its race last year (it’s the “most-attended race weekend in Formula 1 history — that covers more than 70 years.”)
“Liberty understands the value of the US market in ways that the previous administration didn’t care to,” says Kelly.
That administration was run by Bernie Ecclestone, the iconic former Chief Executive of Formula One Group. From the late 1970s, Ecclestone turned F1 into a money machine by maximizing commercial and media rights but the American market was left behind.
While Netflix is the most visible reason for F1’s resurgence in America, Kelly points to two other reasons. First, ESPN coverage of F1 is commercial free (which makes it a unique selling-point for televised US sports). Second, F1 races can finish in 90 minutes as compared to NASCAR — the other big US motorsport — which takes three or more hours.
Liberty Media and F1 are taking full advantage of the renewed interest. The Las Vegas announcement comes one month before Miami hosts its first F1 race (notably, all 3 US races are in different time zones).
To make Las Vegas work, Liberty has to erase bad memories from when the city last hosted F1 in 1981 and 1982.
“It was a poorly executed race,” Kelly explains of the previous iteration. The course was built in the parking lot of Caesar's Palace and the race kicked off in the scorching afternoon heat. Conversely, the 2023 version will include the famed Las Vegas Strip and take place at night.
Kelly believes that if done properly, Las Vegas “could rival Monaco in prestige.”
He’s not alone: F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali predicts that “[the Las Vegas GP] will be the iconic race, the flagship race, of F1 within a couple of years.”
The sponsorship potential is so big that Liberty Media is atypically shouldering most of the risk. As Pompliano noted in Huddle Up:
“…the most significant part of this deal is the fact that Formula 1 is acting as the promoter of the event. Formula 1 is traditionally a very asset-light business for those who don't already know. They own the IP, of course, but they don’t own any of the tracks and rarely take responsibility for selling tickets and arranging hospitality.
Instead, they sell the rights to operate a race to an entity that pays them between $10 million to $90 million (depending on the location) and let them handle all the logistics.”
A 2017 Forbes piece estimates that the cost of running an F1 street race — separate from hosting fee — can total $57.5 million. If Liberty Media is forgoing the hosting fee and paying for the race (track build, promotion), it’s an incredible deal for the city of Las Vegas. [Update: Liberty has a 10-year hosting contract with Las Vegas and — in August 2023 — the company said the set-up cost for Las Vegas Grand Prix could hit $400m+].
For reference, COTA states that F1’s economic impact for the Austin area has totalled $7 billion over the past decade and 64,000 jobs a year. [Update: A strike by 35,000 Las Vegas hospitality workers after failed union negotiations could disrupt the weekend if not resolved].
However Las Vegas shakes out, don’t expect any other new US races for a while.
“Three will be enough,” Kelly says. “F1 is a world championship. We gotta do these other countries [in Africa and South America].
Today’s SatPost is brought to you by Bearly.AI
Why are you seeing this ad?
Because I co-founded an AI-powered research app called Bearly AI. And I really like putting blue buttons in this email.
If you press this blue button below, you can save hours of work with AI-powered tools for reading (instant summaries), writing (ChatGPT), text-to-image art (DALL-E) and speech-to-text for podcast and meeting transcripts (Kensho Scribe).
It’s all available in one keyboard shortcut (and an iPhone app).
Links and Memes
I watched The Black Book on Netflix: The Nollywood film is called Nigeria's version of John Wick. It's been viewed >70m times and topping charts everywhere (it peaked at #3 for English globally and top 10 in 69 countries).
The best part: it cost only $1m to make.
While that budget is significant for Nollywood films — which are typically made for less than $50,000 — it's a drop in the bucket for Hollywood blockbusters.
Here is a random ratio looking at the "first 28-day watches" vs. budget for major Netflix original films:
The Gray Man (139m watch / $200m budget = 0.7x)
Red Notice (230m / $200m = 1.2x)
Don't Look Up (171m / $75m = 2.3x)
Glass Onion (136m / $40m = 3.4x)
Bird Box (156m / $20m = 7.8x)
I have no idea if this ratio is actually a thing that Netflix folk look at, but The Black Book is huge bang for the buck at 70x watches-to-budget.
As detailed by Wired, the film was written and directed by former tech and marketing exec Editi Effiong. To get funding for the film — and make Hollywood-calibre action scenes — Effiong tapped entrepreneurs from Nigeria's tech ecosystem. Legendary Nollywood actor Richard Mofe-Damijo plays the revenge-seeking protagonist.
Nollywood is currently the world's second largest film industry by volume, making >2,000 a year (this is ~2x the US market and trails only India's Bollywood).
Piracy is rampant in Nollywood, so big budgets for in-country distribution doesn’t make sense (rather, quantity over quality wins the day). But the success of The Black Book on streaming can clear the path for more global Nollywood hits
I posted a version of this story on X and Editi jumped in by saying, “So excited to see the world sit up and take notice. Nollywood, our time is now!”
My unsolicited suggestion for another Keanu-themed Nollywood banger: Speed.
Is this the world’s most popular artist? I am not into the art world and I don’t spend anytime on TikTok. So, I completely missed the rise of Devon Rodriguez. The 27-year old artist has 33m followers on TikTok and went parabolic over the past 3 years by drawing portraits of people while riding the subway.
It’s literally perfect short-form video content: 1) feels spontaneous; 2) shows off a visual talent (drawing); 3) relatable (riding public transportation); and 4) has the perfect narrative payoff (Rodriguez surprises an unsuspecting passenger with a slick portrait).
Rodriguez has gotten so famous that some of these videos are clearly staged now, like the one he’s done with Ed Sheeran or Jared Leto’s immaculate hair (here’s a good spontaneous one, with the caption “getting people to smile will always be my favourite magic trick”).
Born in Brooklyn, the Puerto Rican artist — who can earn up to $30,000 a day on his posts — just had his first official exhibition and got embroiled in some online controversy.
Art critic Ben Davis gave a lukewarm review of Rodriguez’s show and basically said that the artist is more famous than he is talented. Fans of Rodriguez flooded Davis’ mentions.
Davis wrote a follow-up piece entitled “The World’s Most Popular Painter Sent His Followers After Me Because He Didn’t Like a Review of His Work. Here’s What I Learned” that is a pretty interesting read on gatekeepers, fandom and art in the internet age.
Here is my take with the caveat that I have zero art critic qualifications: attention is our most scarce resource and the job of an artist is to also sell. Unfortunately, the selling gene isn’t for everyone but the game is the game. Are there better “artists” than Rodriguez? Probably. But he’s found a way to break through and deserves all the credit.
Why even care what art critics have to say? You’re doing you and winning.
Here some other baller links for you:
What happened to Marvel? Variety has a searing read on how Marvel films and TV shows have nosedived since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Basically, the studio is pumping out way too much content and the quality — from scripts to VFX — has been subpar. A few potential fixes: 1) rebooting the Avengers and bringing back Robert Downey Jr. (dude’s a legend); or 2) X-Men or Fantastic Four projects (Marvel got the IP for these franchises back after Disney acquired Fox for $71B in 2019).
Someone used AI to recreate “Angry Birds”: This was very impressive. Javi Lopez used GPT-4 for code and MidJourney / DALL-E for images to re-create a version of the popular mobile game. He breaks it all down here.
The story of titanium: Brian Potter writes about titanium, which — along with aluminum and magnesium — is the only tonnage structural metal industry birthed in the past ~150 years. There are major lessons in here about how government funding drives innovation.
…and here them baller X posts:
Matthew Perry died last week at 54. Rolling Stone writes that the actor was the “sarcastic soul” of Friends (as the character, Chandler). Man, this was a huge bummer. I watched the show religiously growing up. Perry talked about having too much fame and money. He struggled with addiction and you can actually see it in old episodes. If he looks overweight, it was due to alcohol. And if he looked rail thin, he was abusing opioids. Over the past decade, Perry said he found purpose by helping others deal with alcoholism.
Here is an amazing blooper from one of the best Friends scenes ever.
The FTX trial ended with the juror finding SBF guilty on 7 charges related to defrauding customers, investors and lenders (to the tune of ~$10B). SBF could face up to 115 years in prison. Sentencing won't be until March 2024 and — in a random twist — customers may actually get back 80-90% of stolen funds due to the crypto market's recent bounce back and some VC investments that are looking very good on paper.
Japan has this annual tradition called “Mundane Halloween”, which is a competition to see who can make the best costume of a “blah” situation. Here is a whole thread of them including my favourite: "Person who can't find their Apple Pencil".
Finally, some amazing “corporate speak” know-how from Chris:
Navigating "corporate speak" isn't easy.
Here's a helpful guide I put together:
"Let me check with my team" = No
"Possibly" = No
"On my roadmap" = Not happening
"This will be done in Q4" = This will be done in Q2 next year
"Disagree and commit" = I hate you
"Per my last email" = Try reading, for once in your life
"Challenging landscape" = We're going out of business, quickly
"Digital transformation" = We're going out of business, slowly
"Let's circle back" = We'll never speak of this again
"Take it offline" = We'll never speak of this again
"30,000 foot view" = I don't know what I'm saying
"Low hanging fruit" = Easy promotion
"Open up the kimono" = HR violation
"We use AI" = We don't use AI
"We use machine learning" = We don't use machine learning
"All hands on deck" = Let's actually try for once, please