Motor racing-MoneyGram boss says no peak in sight for F1's U.S. growth

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By Alan Baldwin

LONDON, Jan 31 (Reuters) -Formula One's surging popularity in the United States, turbocharged by hit Netflix docu-series 'Drive to Survive', has plenty of fuel left in the tank according to MoneyGram chief executive Alex Holmes.

The Dallas-based money transfer and payments company will start the 2023 season, which has three grands prix in the United States including a new night race on the Las Vegas Strip, as title sponsor of the U.S.-owned Haas team.

Season five of 'Drive to Survive' is due for release on Feb. 24, the week before the start lights go out at Bahrain's Sakhir circuit, with the behind-the-scenes cameras set to film again this year.

"It (the sponsorship) is just huge for us in terms of people beginning to associate the MoneyGram brand in a very different way," Holmes told Reuters ahead of an online reveal of the car's new livery on Tuesday.

"It seems like the excitement in the U.S., particularly with Vegas coming, is just going to grow.

"Personally I see the next several years as continued expansion".

The three U.S. races are well-spaced, with Miami first up in May, then Austin in October and Las Vegas as the penultimate round in November.

According to broadcaster ESPN, the 2022 season was the most-viewed ever on U.S. television with an average 1.21 million viewers per race across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, an increase of 28% on 2021.

The number of female viewers was up 34% and averaged 28% of the audience, while significantly younger fans were also watching.

"I have kids of college age and they have friends and those friends have watch parties on Sunday mornings. It’s not what I was doing in college, it really wasn’t there," MoneyGram's marketing head Greg Hall told Reuters.

"A lot if it is being led by that 18-25 group who are watching, and the parents are starting to watch and it is really bringing people who maybe weren’t race fans and now are becoming race fans.

"Where does it peak? I don’t know. We’ve got a multi-year deal and we certainly see this accelerating for the next several years. We’re pretty confident in that, we really like the trajectory it’s on."

Formula One will also have an American driver this year for the first time since 2015 when Logan Sargeant debuts with Williams, who are owned by U.S.-based private investment firm Dorilton Capital.

Indiana-based Andretti Global, run by 1978 world champion Mario Andretti's son Michael, is also seeking an eventual slot for what would be the 11th team -- partnered with General Motors brand Cadillac. nL1N33Q1HP

Haas are not the only team with a U.S.-based title sponsor, with world champions Red Bull partnered by software giant Oracle and launching their 2023 campaign in New York on Friday. Aston Martin have New Jersey-based IT company Cognizant.

Holmes said MoneyGram's global business made Formula One a good fit to reach a younger, digitally-aware consumer demographic.

"We ended the year with 47% of our global transactions digital... when you start thinking about digital transactions the consumer demographic is younger," he said.

"For us to push the brand as faster, more interesting, cooler... the association with Formula One makes a huge difference."

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon


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