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Do (sex) crimes increase during the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix?

Journal of Experimental Criminology Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Objectives

We examine whether violent, property, or sex trafficking–related crime increased during the 2018 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

Methods

Ordinary least squares regression models, time series trend analysis, and forecasted prediction intervals based on autoregressive integrated moving average models are used to analyze daily crime incident data gathered by the Austin Police Department.

Results

There is no evidence to suggest a statistically significant increase in any of the analyzed crime types during the Formula 1 race weekend.

Conclusions

Our findings are directly relevant to the state of Texas’ human trafficking plan requirement for reimbursement from the state’s major events reimbursement fund. While we do not find the event increases crime, our data are limited to official crime incidents and exclude non-reported and undetected offenses. Future research should focus on potential differences between auto racing and other mega sporting events.

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Notes

  1. The International Labour Organization also reported an estimated 40 million persons were victims of “modern slavery.” Of these, about 25 million were in forced labor while 15 million were in forced marriage. Almost 25 million (24.9 to be precise) people were victims of human trafficking, 4.8 million of which were estimated to be sexually exploited (see also UNODC 2016).

  2. In early 2019, state officials in Texas withheld the annual $25 million subsidy to the track because managers failed to submit the required plan before the deadline.

  3. To be sure, the facility (including the racetrack and parking lots) does have regular sworn officers, private security, and other workers (parking lot attendants) who can act as capable guardians but they will not amount to the same number of individuals attending the event.

  4. We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer who suggested this incorporation of CPT into the manuscript.

  5. The authors go on to note that this moral panic was “arguably another illustration of merging punitive border protection, the criminalization of women, and the undermining of women’s human rights, under the cover of protection of women” (p. 28).

  6. Hritz and Ross (2010) did conduct a survey of Indianapolis, Indiana, residents that queried them on whether sport tourism in the city (not specific to the Indianapolis 500) provided social benefits, environmental benefits, economic benefits, and general negative impacts. With respect to crime, residents did perceive that sports tourism increased the crime rate in Indianapolis, but they were more likely to believe that “local residents have suffered from living in a sport tourism destination area” while also believing that “sport tourism has resulted in positive impacts on the cultural identity of Indianapolis” (p. 127).

  7. Naturally, restaurants and hotels witness a significant increase in revenue during the race weekend. For the 2018 Austin F1 race, weekly hotel earnings were expected to be around $45 million, or about 71% higher than the average (Sylt 2018), with hotels near or at capacity on Friday and Saturday nights. At the same time, there is a huge increase in traffic in and around downtown Austin, but especially on roads to the racetrack, many of which are two lanes.

  8. To be sure, there have been other challenges with staging the Austin F1 race. For example, in November 2015, the Texas government cut about $6 million of the $25 million dollars that is required to fund the event.

  9. In order to help secure the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government had to include “combating prostitution in the promises it made in order to secure the Olympic Games” (Hayes 2010, p. 1129).

  10. Austin Police Department crime data can be accessed at the following permalink: https://data.austintexas.gov/Public-Safety/Crime-Reports-2018/vmn9-3bvu.

  11. Recall that the null hypothesis in a Dickey-Fuller test is that a unit root is present in an autoregressive model.

  12. A set of portmanteau tests suggests there is autocorrelation, and each crime series might not be white noise; however, using Prais-Winsten models to correct for autocorrelation does not change our interpretations.

  13. We ran power tests in Stata for our regression models, and the results suggest power levels lower than .8. Here, we also make note of the rarity of events that may limit our study but continue to investigate our research questions with additional statistical techniques.

  14. To account for the lack of normality in the sex trafficking series, additional Poisson regression models were fit to the sex trafficking series. Results of the Poisson regression models suggest the race intervention has a lasting effect and decreases the log odds of expected sex trafficking crimes by 1.014, or an odds ratio of .363. A log-linear OLS model for sex trafficking crime associates the race intervention with a 96% decrease in crime, or an odds ratio of .382. Since both odds ratios are less than 1, our interpretation is that the sex trafficking crimes decreased in likelihood after the start of the race weekend.

  15. Using the race intervention variable and its third lag accounts for two intervention days: the race start and race end.

  16. Due to the nature of the ARIMA model function, this could not be done with human trafficking–related crime because of the series of 0 reported human trafficking–related crimes throughout the first 48 days of observed data. The ARIMA models’ order parameters were those generated by the auto.arima() function in R.

  17. An anonymous reviewer noted that “fan culture” may (or may not) contribute to criminal activity and, in so doing, argued that fan culture at some sporting events may vary depending on the cost to attend. This is an excellent observation. However, rigorous empirical research in this area is lacking. There is some literature on fan culture within the context of football hooliganism in Europe (Piquero et al. 2015), and there is some media-related coverage on the number of crimes reported at large sporting events, such as the Indianapolis 500 or the National Football League’s Super Bowl. However, a deep understanding on the kinds of people who attend these events and then what they do when they are there has escaped researchers’ attention. With respect to affordability, this deserves specific commentary. At first glance, racing events may be considered among the most family-friendly and affordable of all major sporting events to attend. For example, the cost of attending a game in one of the four major US professional sports varies widely. According to a recent report (Bhattacharyya 2018), the highest per-game costs were as follows (price reflects ticket, stadium parking, and one hot dog and beer): (1) in Major League Baseball, the Chicago Cubs have the most expensive outing ($104.07); (2) in the National Football League, the Dallas Cowboys were ranked most expensive ($199.20); (3) in the National Basketball Association, the New York Knicks ranked highest ($176.38); and (4) in the National Hockey League, the Boston Bruins were the most expensive ($144.95). In NASCAR, America’s most popular auto racing sport, ticket prices can be as little as $50 or $75 dollars (Bonkowski 2013). However, the cost of attending a Formula 1 Grand Prix is expensive. For example, if one was to purchase tickets only to this year’s (2019) Formula 1 race in Austin, a fan has to purchase a 3-day ticket (Friday practice, Saturday practice and qualifying, and Sunday race). For the 3-day ticket, a fan can purchase general admission ($195.00), grandstand ($595–$1295), bleachers ($345–$395), flex pass (which allows different seating options, $350–$650), or single-day tickets (where for the Sunday race, it ranges from $135 (general admission) to $350 (main grandstand trackside)). These are per-person ticket prices. For a family of four, the single cheapest ticket would be the Sunday-only ticket (general admission) of $135, totaling $540 for the entire family. Parking at COTA for Sunday-only is $50. So, simply parking and entry is almost $600 for a family of four not including travel and lodging costs (for those coming from afar) and any food, beverages, and merchandise purchased as the track. And finally, all Formula 1 events also have what are called “F1 experiences,” which include exclusive VIP hospitality, behind-the-scenes access, meet-and-greets, pit lane walks, paddock tours, and so forth. These packages are well over $1000 per person and can increase to over $10,000 per person depending on the added features. In sum, it is still unknown whether certain major sporting events attract certain kinds of spectators compared to others and whether this variability in attendance could lead to a different fan culture, fan experience, or criminal activity remains an important research question.

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Correspondence to Alex R. Piquero.

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Piquero, A.R., Piquero, N.L. & Riddell, J.R. Do (sex) crimes increase during the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix?. J Exp Criminol 17, 87–108 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-019-09398-7

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