International/Seminole Gaming President of Entertainment Keith Sheldon is racing around the country like one of those Formula One cars did May 6-8 at South Florida’s Hard Rock Stadium. There, 85,000 fans – and several hundred thousand more in the vicinity – enjoyed three days of events pegged around the Grand Prix Miami.
“We wanted to provide an onsite experience for our VIP guests and customers,” says Sheldon, explaining that Hard Rock’s involvement in the event went beyond holding naming rights to the stadium as the company made an additional investment to become founding partners of the event. “We were looking for ways to infuse music into the race in a contemporary, modern, unique way, to plant a flag for our own global brand and identity.”
To that end, a Hard Rock Beach club was created within the stadium, located between two of the turns on the site, where Post Malone and Zedd performed Saturday night, while Colombian superstar Maluma, DJ legend Tiësto and the electro-pop maestros The Chainsmokers appeared at the Sunday finale in moments when the race was not going on, images broadcast throughout the stadium on the big screens.
Among the celeb types spotted on the grounds were A-listers like Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Venus and Serena Williams, Paris Hilton, Bad Bunny and James Corden. Last year’s Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix 2021 was held for the ninth time at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, where it shattered attendance records with 400,000 fans. This year, for the first time since 1984, the 23-date race is being expanded to include a second U.S. city, in this case, partnering with the Miami Dolphins for the three-day event at Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the NFL team. It’s the first of a 10-year deal engineered by its CEO Tom Garfinkel and SVP/Chief Revenue Officer Jeremy Walls, with the support of owner Stephen Ross.
The team spent more than $40 million to transform the venue into a full-fledged Formula One track. Formula One is owned by John C. Malone’s Liberty Media, which acquired the property six years ago as part of an expansion into combining sports, culture and lifestyle (Liberty also owns SiriusXM, Pandora and The Atlanta Braves).
The racing circuit is popular in Europe but gaining traction in the U.S. and around the world, in part, because of Netflix’s reality series “Drive to Survive,” which spotlights the sport’s personalities and narratives. The show, currently in its fourth season, has been renewed for two more.
“Injecting music into the race itself created this exceptional environment,” says Sheldon.
Maluma took the stage during the weekend at the 6,500-capacity Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, and performed several songs at the more intimate DAER Nightclub, both part of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Post Malone, Tiësto and Chainsmokers all played various Hard Rock-related venues and events before, after or during the race.Hard Rock also created a custom merchandise line with Maluma, who also donated memorabilia.
To get a sense of the caliber of artists tapped for F1, The Chainsmokers and Maluma both have an average gross of over $800,000, based on box office reports submitted to Pollstar, while Post Malone’s average is nearly $1.7 million.
“We look for opportunities to build that connectivity with the artists,” says Sheldon. “And hopefully build brand affinity with them by doing a multitude of different things.”
Post Malone’s manager, Dre London, agreed that F1 weekend in Miami was “incredible,” telling Pollstar that “Post Malone put on amazing back-to-back live shows and the audiences were amazing. We hosted an exclusive first tasting of our new tequila brand, Don Londrés, and the energy of Formula One was next level. We can’t wait to do it again.”
During the Grand Prix weekend, Hard Rock announced a partnership with Red Bull Racing, whose driver Max Verstappen was this year’s Miami Grand Prix winner.
It’s all part of an overall Hard Rock initiative to refresh its brand, long known – now in its 50th year of business – worldwide as a music-related destination most affiliated with its casinos and cafes. That means encompassing a new generation of international music stars, as well as “big events” like the Grand Prix.
Hard Rock International is owned by Seminole Gaming, with Sheldon reporting to CEO Jim Allen, who has spent the last 20 years overseeing the properties. The properties include about 250 locations in 70 countries around the world, either owned, licensed or managed hotels, casinos, rock shops and cafes, with most featuring its patented collection of more than 86,000 pieces of rock memorabilia “making music an integral part of our DNA,” Sheldon says.
For Sheldon, entertainment is part of a bigger machine at the Hard Rock, which includes the integrated casino/resort, restaurant, hotel, retail and memorabilia businesses, but it still tops the list.
“We are an entertainment company first,” he stresses, with new Hard Rocks slated for Las Vegas (on the site of the MGM Resorts’ Mirage Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the Strip) and London (where they sponsor the annual British Summer Time festival and are opening a new pop-up Hard Rock Cafe in Hyde Park this summer, with naming rights to the second stage Hard Rock Rising).
“This is an international business, and you have to be sensitive to trends around the world,” concludes Sheldon. “The Hard Rock brand has a global footprint.”