When I was living in D.C., and more recently here in Austin, one of the things I helped some of my corporate and organizational clients with was understanding how they could leverage social media for the benefit of their goals and objectives. I'm not going to lie and pretend I supported every one of these objectives (a certain Texas-based phone company comes to mind), but I did my best to offer worthwhile insight and sound judgment about how they could engage bloggers, monitor social media, utilize Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Thankfully, I've left the agency world and reached a point in my career, albeit multi-pronged (Sneak Attack, Real Role Models, etc.), where I can select my clients in an effort to actually support the initiatives they are putting in place. In reading about the new Formula 1 race track planned for Austin and doing a little research to see who it's advocates and opponents were, and how they were using social media, I discovered this Facebook group "Concerned About Formula One (F1) Racing Coming to Austin."
If you ever wanted to see how not to develop a Facebook group and lead a serious opposition force, check out what this group's creators are doing. Rather than stating facts, they're just stating opposition. Rather than being a place to host a conversation and air out concerns, they're starting for a clear position of disapproval and disdain, therefore making themselves obsolete and unlikely to really become a major player in the conversation about F1 in Austin. Sure, they'll get some quotes in the newspaper or on the local news, but if you think 190 members in a Facebook group is going to stop a project the Comptroller and Governor have already earmarked $250 million in taxpayer funds for, you're kidding yourself.
Don't get me wrong, since taxpayer dollars are being used, they have every right as citizens of this country and residents of this state to complain. But it's obvious they didn't do their research on that issue because those $250 million, spread out over the decade the race takes place in Austin, is expected to come from the Texas Major Events Trust Fund, which uses sales tax and other revenue collected during major events to attract even bigger events to the state. It's sort of like an investment fund for the government and if you know business, you know Formula 1 could mean good business for Austin.
People think the Super Bowl is the granddaddy of all sporting events for a city, with its economic impact ranging from $300 to $600 million, but Formula 1 is expected to bring $2 billion-plus to the Austin area over the span of that decade, possibly double what Texas Longhorns football or South by Southwest will do in the same period.
Honestly, the only people I think that have a real leg to stand on are the people in the neighborhood near where the race track is said to be planned. I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, not far from the Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and know that there are a lot of unwanted side effects of being near a race track, regardless of the economic benefits to local restaurants, bars and shops. It's loud as all hell. You get people driving drunk far too often. You lose control of the vibe of your city for a weekend and let's just say that weekend was never a highlight of diversity for the city.
One of the other worthwhile critiques of the F1 announcement has been its secrecy. This is valid, because it did catch a bunch of Austinites, myself included, by surprise. Thankfully, I'm one of the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in Texas that can see the value in this sporting event, both for entertainment purposes and for my business. But there's good secrecy and there's bad secrecy. LeBron James' decision to go to Miami may or may not have been a secret to everyone, but regardless it was done poorly. The thing about this F1 deal is that you couldn't have done it any differently.
I remember when a then-client of mine, Larry Scott, left his job as the head of the Women's Tennis Association to become the Commissioner of the Pac-10 Conference. For the sporting world, this was big, big news. This news had to be broken in a certain way and there was no way to casually announce something this big...it had to be done through the right media and at the perfect time. Big deals with big leaders are made or broken when the little things go right or wrong. That's part of the reason why my alma mater, Texas, finds itself in the ten-team Big 12 Conference and not in Larry's fold. So getting all up in arms (and starting a Facebook group) because you were caught off guard by an announcement of this magnitude doesn't seem appropriate to me or anyone who's operated around high-level decision makers when high-pressure decisions are made.
All this being said, I applaud Tavo Hellmund, who is leading this project, for bringing former San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs to become the lead investor on this project and working with a friend of mine in Paul Carrozza, the founder of RunTex, to find even more ways for this project to benefit Austin.
If a city isn't attracting new people and businesses it begins to die. If Austin is going to continue living as the great city we love today and become an even greater city that we can love tomorrow, we'll need to stop allowing these people, however few of them there are, to say no to any change that doesn't look like pre-Dell, pre-ACL Festival, 1980s Austin. That means yes to more major events like Formula, public transportation like light rail and a continued emphasis on fostering diversity not just white, black and Hispanic, but young and old, native Texan/Austinite and newbie, tourists from all over and businesses of all sorts.
Not everyone is capable of having vision, but those that lack it shouldn't get in the way of those who want to bring an event to Austin that builds on the creative successes of Austin's major events such as SXSW, ACL Festival, and Fantastic Fest in order to attract more unique and economically beneficial events to Austin. The result will hopefully be more diversity, more entrepreneurs, more great restaurants and more live music lovers to Austin. I know I will appreciate both Formula 1 racing and a good show at Continental or Stubb's, and I'm sure plenty others will too.