This special analysis article is brought to to you by TJ13 contributor Mattpt55
Editors Note: This is The second article looking at how F1 coverage is affected by it’s stateside cousin, NASCAR. If you missed the first one, follow this link.
It’s not all bad news however; for one thing, being on the same network as NASCAR actually improved IndyCar viewership. Presumably starting in 2015, the same will be true for F1 when NASCAR joins NBCSN and the more open-minded of NASCAR fans might stick around because they are, well, “Euro-curious”, for lack of a better term. Also apparent is the fact that the bigger the starting audience, the bigger the overall viewership. ESPN, for example, is seen in more homes than NBCSN, and costs less to get. By looking at the differential between the losses of viewers, it’s clear that IndyCar lost fewer viewers on ESPN than it did on NBCSN. The addition of NASCAR in 2015 should allow NBCSN to leverage NASCAR’s popularity and negotiate with cable providers to be seen in more households at a lower price, which should then help drive F1’s audience in a positive direction. OF course, it’s also possible that NASCAR (whose own ratings, along with F1’s and IndyCar’s, have been dropping over the last several years) will fall victim to NBCSN’s lower profile. In that case, it will lose along with the rest of motorsport in America as races become harder to see and sponsors begin to re-evaluate their investment based on audience numbers.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is the Danica effect. The presence of a well-known, female driver having previously finished in the top 5 drove ratings far more than anything short of being on one of the big OTA channels. Which means that the broken clock that is FOM’s leader might have been righter than he thought, when pushing for women to join the ranks of F1 drivers. Of course, the Danica ship has already sailed and there is no guarantee that anyone else waiting in the wings (Simona di Silvestra is perhaps best placed, having achieved a podium at the end of the 2013 IndyCar season, in an actual road race, well, OK parking lot race) will have nearly the draw or ability to drive ratings that Danica, a real celebrity on these shores, did. Sadly for Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly, amongst the things that had no discernible influence on IndyCar ratings (compiled by the highly perspicacious Andrew Maness in his article on IndyCar Ratings, were the number of American participants both throughout the field and among the top 8 in the season long standings along with night racing and schedule momentum.
And tonight’s gonna be everything that I said
And when I walk through that door
I’m just gonna throw that money on the bed
She’ll see this time I wasn’t just talking
Then I’m gonna go out walking
Hey Eddie, can you catch us a ride?
Meeting Across the River, Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA
In a nutshell then, Bernie has in effect sold F1 to the highest bidders, (natch), whose interests may or may not entirely coincide with the interests of F1 proper. From the view of NBCSN, F1 is a niche sport in the US, one that attracts a strong fan base. Those fans have a great deal of appeal to advertisers, which allows them to reap higher than usual advertising rates. From the point of view of F1, it has to hope that the execs at NBCSN know what they are about (potentially dubious) and leaves them in the very odd position of hoping that their country bumpkin cousin from the South, NASCAR, rude, red-necked and loud-mouthed though he might be, can pull the collective danglies of motorsport in America out of the fire. Of course it would help if NBCSN could be bothered to improve their actual broadcasting of races. Between the timing of commercial breaks and the constant kindergarten level announcing (no doubt primarily for the benefit of the execs running the show) there exists no polite vocabulary to properly describe the awfulness that is watching F1 in the States.
Of course, when this deal was done, the plan was to float F1 on the stock exchange, where the enhanced cash flow from pay TV would enhance the overall value of the business, hence the price of the stock itself. The plan most certainly was not to watch the inestimable leader of FOM carted away in chains for financial chicanery of the highest order, as now seems likely. So the loss of viewership short term (as I would wager the plans for NASCAR and better market penetration were part of the discussion) would be worth the higher stock valuation and the bet was long term viewer increase. Since that worked out entirely as planned, F1 is now stuck with the worst of all possible worlds, one in which the interests of the FOM and teams have entirely diverged (that structural thing I mention earlier). Yes, the teams get 63% of the TV money, but distributed as prize money, which is to say, they don’t each get an equal share of it. In return, they will lose sponsorship, as worldwide ratings will continue to decline with the move to pay TV. Of course, 42% of a team’s budget is sponsorship so let’s do some back of the envelope calculations. Taking the UK as an example, TV money went up from $80 million to $100 million. Supposing they shared that out equally (which they don’t), 63% of the additional $20 million works out to $12.6 million, divided by the 10 = not nearly enough to make up for the loss of real dollars from fleeing sponsors because their investment loses ground every time another viewer changes the channel.
Just ask Eric Boullier, or Martin Whitmarsh, I’m sure you’ll get an earful. Boxing offers up a nice comparison, because they moved to the world of pay-per-view some time ago, and now boxing is a sport that almost no one follows. In fact, even though it has been off the air for years, boxing’s biggest ratings have still come when they returned to traditional OTA networks for one-off events. The dilemma is that the boxers make way less, but the sport does much better. Kathy Duva (interviewed for an article in Sports on Earth puts it in simple terms. “How do you tell the fighter?”
‘Well we can get you $100,000 to fight on NBC when HBO offers you a million? We’re not going to take the million to pay you commensurately because we don’t want to erode our fanbase 45 years from now.’ We absolutely knew what it was happening but there didn’t appear to be any other alternatives.” Except, much like boxing, it’s not really the fighter (teams) that get the money, it’s the whole entourage around them (FOM), leaving the fighter no choice but to take the next fight to clear their debt from the last one.
But are there really no alternatives for F1 in the US? In fact, there are plenty, if the guiding forces behind the sport could just bother to get themselves away from the caviar and champagne long enough to actually make some sensible choices.
1. Put qualifying on the OTA network, live where possible. Speaking as an American, Qualifying is often more exciting than the actual race that follows it. Want to capture a casual viewer? Show them the qualifying from Spa when Lewis turned in that ridiculous lap in the wet to take pole (or substitute your own favorite example, I’m not driver-centric). And, oh yes, possibly give 3, 2, and 1 points for the top 3 positions to make the championship a little more entertaining to us yokels.
2. Figure out that Hispanic/ Latino-Americans are a large and growing demographic segment with increasing economic power and market properly to them. I had no clue until I wrote this article just how big Univision
(which owns UniMás) has become, but anyone following politics knows that they are the most rapidly increasing demographic in our society and that, as time goes on, their opinions will become increasingly important in determining what matters.
3. Show the race live on NBCSN (maybe watch UniMás and figure out what they are doing right, ¡claro!) and then show edited broadcast on the OTA. Not exactly rocket science, putting a carefully edited version where newcomers might find it is probably not the worst idea, truefans can DVR the race. Oh, and please do something about the commercials, because, DAMN.
4. Use teh interwebs to let folks access coverage without subscribing to $170 a month cable service. Because OBVIOUS!!!
5. Girls, Girls, Girls. Clearly we have got it bad for that narrative. So go dig up some decent drivers and get it done already. Somewhere out there is a 17 year-old already good enough. You just gotta find her and convince her it’s worth her time.
6. Stop valuing money over fans. Hate to state the obvious, but if you want to succeed, you gotta be famous, not rich. You can’t go hiding behind layers of pay walls and exorbitant entry fees. And stop taking videos down from YouTube. It’s where everyone goes to find out what’s interesting. Why would you want to stop folks from finding out more about you?
Of course, all those presuppose we are dealing with intelligent adults who are taking the long view in caring for and growing their enterprise. But in reality, your best bet is to crack open an icy Budweiser (not the Czech one *sigh*) put your boots up, work on your yee-haws and hope that Tony Stewart and his rolling gang of rednecks can work an actual miracle and make F1 modestly popular in this country.