ESPN apologizes for F1 ad that drew ire of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Don’t mess with IMS!

That was the message sent by Indianapolis Motor Speedway to ESPN and Formula One over the weekend following the network’s promotional advertisement for the upcoming F1 season. The ad co-opted a phrase that is so synonymous with the Indianapolis 500 – ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ – that the historic racing venue trademarked it.

Now, ESPN is apologizing and has tweaked the promo for F1’s season opener that included ‘the greatest spectacle’ line, saying in a statement Tuesday, ‘We revised the ad and apologize for the unintentional error.’ The revised ad began airing Tuesday.

Prior to the apology, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles lambasted the ad and delivered a warning about violating trademarks – something Formula One has come close to doing more than once with the use of ‘the greatest spectacle’ phrase.

In a statement provided to the Indianapolis Star before the ad was pulled, Boles stopped short of promising to send Liberty Media, which owns Formula One, and its partners a cease-and-desist letter, but his patience had clearly reached its limit.

“We are aware of the use of our mark in what appears to be a broadcast promotional spot. We will once again address it with the appropriate people and are prepared to take every measure possible to protect our brand’s intellectual property,” Boles said in the statement.

“It continues to be disappointing that others can’t create their own brand identity without infringing upon ours.”

The latest incident caps a trio of seemingly blatant instances over the last year of Formula 1 and Liberty Media co-opting the iconic Indy 500 phrase, which was first trademarked by Hulman and Company in 1986.

In an advertisement for the upcoming F1 season on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Saturday, an announcer’s voice can be heard in the background calling the racing series “the greatest spectacle in motorsports.” This follows in the wake of an incident F1’s Miami Grand Prix last May when entertainer LL Cool J announced the drivers with: “Let me introduce you to the 20 best drivers in the world. This is the greatest spectacle in motorsports. This is Formula 1.”

Days later, Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles called it “a crock of (expletive.)” Penske is the owner of IMS and the IndyCar Series.

LL Cool J’s scripted remarks came two months after the social media account promoting F1’s then-upcoming Las Vegas Grand Prix touted the future event to be “the greatest racing spectacle on the planet” and noted the event would be taking place in the “sports and entertainment capital of the world” – a riff off IMS’s trademark of the “Racing Capital of the World.”

ESPN will televise Formula One’s season-opening Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET kicking off a full slate of F1 coverage on the network through December’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

The 2024 IndyCar season begins on March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at noon ET on NBC. The 2024 Indy 500 scheduled for May 26, with NBC’s broadcast beginning at 11 a.m. ET.

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