Formula One is losing its audience

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The new long term relationship between Formula One and TV is yet to be defined properly. Global viewing audiences have fallen from peak in 2008 of 600m to 425m in 2014. Many reasons have been proposed for this, a currently present one of them is the quality of the racing (or lack thereof) with one team being dominant.

Yet in 2008, McLaren and Ferrari were dominant and in more recent times, the season’s excitement on track has been better and a number of years have ended with a last race decider.

The decline has not been sudden, so the effect of the 2014 regulations could only be attributed to 25m of the lost viewers at most. But the cold hard facts are that Formula One is losing its audience.

The World Motor Sport Council ratified the cancellation of the German GP this weekend predominantly because neither Nurburgring nor Hockenheim believed they could generate enough interest to sell 60,000 tickets – a number alleged to offer the promoter a break even position.

It’s not only spectator numbers which have collapsed in Germany, for the 2015 season opener in Melbourne, a mere 1.8 million Germans tuned in to RTL’s free-to-air coverage. One year ago 3.1 million tuned in and even that was already a down-turn over previous years.

Of course the race was held an hour earlier, however to suggest this alone is responsible for the fall in numbers year on year would appear to be clutching at straws.

In the UK the arrival of a dedicated Formula One channel on SKY in 2012 was divisive amongst F1 viewers. However, the upside was believed to be that SKY would bring more dedicated programming for UK viewers.

The pre and post-race coverage has indeed been significantly extended beyond the BBC’s previous offering, yet programmes like the midweek F1 report and the F1 show have failed to capture the kind of audiences SKY had hoped for.

During the Jerez winter test, with little other mainstream programming available, Ted’s notebook averaged just 15,000 viewers across each of the four evenings it was broadcast. By comparison T.J13’s day two report attracted 18,000 views on YouTube, though of course this was available to a global audience.

SKY F1 UK have finally announced a 2015 sponsor for the channel in FairFX. In just three years previous partners for SKY Blackcircles.com, Santander, Rolex and Shell have all come and gone.

FairFX is a relatively unknown as CEO Ian Strafford-Taylor, reveals. “We are delighted to have agreed this partnership with Sky Media to sponsor Formula 1, on Sky Sports. The massive global following of Formula 1, combined with the innovation and cutting-edge technology it represents is a perfect fit for FAIRFX, which uses smart digital technology to deliver better value and service to over 400,000 global travellers and holidaymakers. As channel sponsor we will be able to reach a much wider audience for our products more quickly.”

FairFX offers a prepaid currency card service though it appears customer service may not exactly be their forte (here).

The numbers behind this sponsorship agreement have not been released, but since we are nearing the start of April and one GP weekend down already, it is likely SKY have been forced to discount their rack rate.

Formula One is floundering at present and doing so right in the face it’s audience. Establishment figures like David Coulthard are still criticising the new engines, whilst others argue regulation changes should be sought to tighten up the on track action.

F1.com has reluctantly dragged itself into the 21st century with a new website, though was unable to ensure it operated satisfactorily at the launch. The site has huge colour photographs which are impressive, but the amount of scrolling required suits best a PC reader making life difficult for those using mobile applications.

The lack of leadership and direction from a commercial perspective has to be one of the fundamental reasons Formula One is facing the problems it does today. Given the previous history of CVC and Bernie Ecclestone, this difficulty will not be addressed any time soon.

Meanwhile spectators have dwindled, TV viewers are vanishing at an alarming rate and apparently ‘anyone.com’ can now afford to sponsor a Formula One pay-per-view TV channel.

32 responses to “Formula One is losing its audience

  1. I’m fairly sure the best way to fix this is to charge more and sap even more out of the sports remaining contenders/fans to make up for the shortfall. Can see no issues there….

  2. Boring, want a race for the win not for 3rd place. Money needs to be distributed more equitably among teams so they can all compete on a more equal footing. Dont find the new Formula1 website user friendly, I may be missing something, but I cant find a way of accessing live timing now without paying £20, which I’m not inclined to do. If F1 want to increase their viewing numbers, stop putting information up behind payment barriers…….

  3. This year is the first year in at least 15 years, that I won’t be watching every race & qualifying session live. I’ve enjoyed it over recent years to a degree, but the price that Sky are demanding to watch every race live has gone beyond the threshold of what I’m prepared to pay. I’m now watching the live races and highlights that the BBC have to offer, however if I accidentally catch the result on the news/internet before the highlights show, I’ll probably not even watch the highlights (especially given that the AUS highlights were so boring).

    My interest will probably be re-ignited if/when all the live races return to free-to-view TV.

    As for the apps and online content from f1.com, it’s way overpriced, but not much use when you’re watching delayed highlights anyway.

  4. Bernie doesn’t care about “freeloaders” leaving.

    He wants people who pay, such as those who subscribe to Sky or the F1 paywall website, or those who can afford to buy Rolexes and Ferraris.

    In other words, he wants to attract the Harrods customers, and not the Morrisons/Tesco/Aldi/Lidl chavs ;-).

    • “Freeloaders” are the eye-balls attracting sponsors. So let me rephrase that:
      Bernie (and Mackenzie) doesn’t care about sponsors leaving and F1 teams going belly up.

      There, fixed it.

  5. here’s what’s wrong:
    1- drivers are no longer the elite best of the best. they are now immature kids for the most part.
    2- the cars do no have visceral appeal.
    3- the races are mostly not in traditional venues with history and visual grandeur. (colorful painted Tarmac runoff areas don’t count as visual grandeur).
    4- the cost of being a fan has increased absolutely ridiculously because of an incessant need to increase the bottom line without vision of value.
    5- accessing content has become increasingly difficult and annoying with poor website designs, reluctance to use social media and mobile platforms intelligently.

    • I had taped the Australian race. But then deleted it without watching.
      I find the FIA
      1. meddling too much in some respects
      2. and too little in other respects
      3. being inconsistent in applying rules (e.g. Kimi/Ferrari unsafe release)
      is a turn-off.for me.
      I am not too fussed by Bernie’s antics and charges for viewing on pay-per-view – as long as:
      1. he pays all the teams a higher share of the profits; based on a formula linked to each race started, number of laps completed, plus finishing position for each race, plus a bonus at the end of the year for the position in the championship, and share a pot of money with the drivers based on a similar formula.
      2. the FIA just define some basic rules and then let the teams get on with racing, out-spending each other if they want to and go bust in the process it if comes to it.

    • Your first three points are “old man arguments”.

      Prost was right the other day – the F1 debase is largely unrenewed. Of course there are some new fans but my guess is that F1 fans are now mostly older guys with decades-old rose-tinted glasses on.

      “The Show” is just not good enough to attract new fans who have an increasing variety of other entertainment on offer. The “old man” fans pretend the racing was better when they were lads and so are disappointed the current product doesn’t match their addled expectations.

      • if what you say is true, where are the droves of new young fans? the sport had its largest period of fan growth in the late 80s and early 90s. ignoring the Dna and appeal that attracted those of fans in that era is ignorant. just look at the senna vs mansell Monaco 92 finish. the fans were literally jumping out of their seats with excitement. today? not so much. that’s what I’m getting at. bring back that visceral appeal. btw I’m 34 years old.

        • It’s ignorant to think the world hasn’t changed in 20.years.

          A lot of those fans from 80’s &.90’s are still around, but there’s been less new since then.

          For casual fans Schumacher winning 7 since then and Seb winning 4 and now Lewis winning 3, 4, 5? Boring.

          • it’s ignorant to think the human psyche has changed drastically in the last 20 years out of the 80000 Homo sapiens have been around.

      • The youth wants too fast too furious kinda drifting Shit. They don’t know anything about cars because of their knowledge based on that kind of movies. They think a Nissan skyline or a Toyota supra wins ever time if they are put up against a F1 car. (I actually had this discussion a while back at work) they don’t care about anything F1 is. They just want to see a fake show with lots of sliding…

    • “drivers are no longer the elite best of the best. they are now immature kids for the most part.”

      Interesting… So where are the elite best of the best drivers?

  6. Is the loss of viewers across the world or specific countries? I’ve never expected the new to F1 countries, like India, Korea or China to maintain initial audience levels. F1 isn’t a mainstream sport in those countries.
    I suspect Sky is losing viewers because their customers are now having to pay to watch it. When Sky first broadcast F1, they gave it away free to HD users, who only paid £5 a month extra. Since then customers who changed their Sky contract for any reason have lost the F1 channel. To watch now, it costs an extra £40 (or thereabouts) per month. Many said sod that for 100 hours of viewing a year.

    • Free to air channel RTL Germany has lost millions of viewers last year and this year is even worse if the first race is an indication. That’s free view with modes advertisement periods. A country with a guy fighting for the championship, the home country of Mercedes.

  7. To put some context to the comments around viewer figures for Ted’s Notebook. I understand SKY with F1 package costs in the region of £600 a year, you can be fairly sure that the people tuning into Ted’s notebook of the F1 obsessive, many of whom will have only subscribed to Sky for F1 (I am one of those people) The 15,000 viewer’s Ted achieved in pre-season testing equates to revenue generation of £9,000,000 for Sky, which is a significant proportion of the fee paid to FOM. Viewing figures might not be great, but there is plenty of money in the sport.

  8. Apart from people talking down F1, whether for economic reasons ( I.e.so that CVC will sell it more cheaply) or from some financial loyalty to a team that thinks it should win everything, I.e. DC, there a complete lack of understanding of marketing and selling a product in 2015.

    The little troll likes to think he knows it all and does not need to sell F1 to anyone who cannot afford a Rolex. Where does he think the future F1 audience is going to come from?

    In addition, the troll deliberately avoids trying to grow the audience and would rather just take money from dictators and pariah states. The idiot had a chance to get a huge audience in the U.S. with the New Jersey GP. Instead of going in with a loss leading price to get it up and running he wanted to milk it from the start. The result was the organisers could not come up with enough cash and the event was shelved, despite construction work having started.

    F1 could be providing the best show it has ever done, but until it is run by a modern management company who can see that it is not just about the next buck, but needs a proper long-term growth strategy, it will dwindle away to nothing.

  9. Good analysis, as always. You are spot on. Watching Formula 1 drown itself is captivating – as graft, corruption, and stupidity always are. I’m submitting this link to FormerF1Doc’s blog.
    lm

  10. F1 and MotoGP have many of the same issues for me. A few off the top of my head:

    1.) In many countries you have to have a paid TV subscription to watch them. Programs rammed with sponsorship…
    2.) Their is a lack of competitive machinery, so talent like Hulkenburg never get a shot in a car that’s a race winner. The same applied with the likes of Vermeulen in Moto GP.
    3.) We’ve had seasons where it was so damn close! The first of 2013 was incredibly close in F1, as was all of 2012. MotoGP has also seen it’s fair share of close racing. This makes 2014/15 appear even worse!
    4.) It’s currently very easy to predict the winner of a race based on their qualifying/FP performance.
    5.) It’s expensive to go and watch it live. MotoGP is cheaper, sure, but then again they do half the number of laps. F1 is pretty obscene for what it is.
    6.) Regulation changes have stifled the personality of the stars. Burns outs no more we need to save that engine.
    7.) Both sports are very techy, and that’s not really cool. We need less technical changes and more consistency so people talk about drivers performances, not a cars new techy engine that enabled x driver to win by 2 laps.
    8.) The sports both insist on going to places in the world where there really doesn’t appear to be much interest. At least MotoGP recognises it’s massive in Spain so has 3 races there! That’s better than F1 trawling off to places where the public really couldn’t give a hoot.

  11. Maybe a new take on this subject….Bear with me on this…….When Senna was killed so did my love of F1. The next race after Imola was Monaco. I always watched every race and qualifying session but something tangible was missing from then on. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Therefore trying to think logically, what was it about F1 I enjoyed. I realise, thinking back, that the drivers were mostly household names, Senna , Prost, Berger, Mansell, Piquet, Arnoux, Tambay, Rosberg etc. What I feel is missing are new household names. Sure, Lewis Hamilton makes it as an A star driver. Ricciardo is the man closest to Senna for me at the moment. Don’t forget the technology either as its part and parcel of F1. But think back to races in any decade and what stands out in peoples memories are the abilities of superb drivers. Ive only been to a dozen or so British GP’s, but each one has some fantastic memory for me and its always the drivers that make me appreciate what an F1 car do. I cant tell you the chassis number or what type of brakes each car was running, but I was there when Mansell passed Piquet at Silverstone ’87 and can remember with great clarity Keke Rosbergs stunning Qualifying lap at the same venue two years earlier. No one can forget Senna at Donington. That one lap is etched on the memory. It suggests to me that some pay drivers who are ‘racing’ are actually diluting F1 as a spectacle. Max verstappen may well be a fantastic driver but I want to see drivers graduating to F1 after learning their craft and coming up through the ranks. Ie, earning their place at the table through their abilities and not how big their sponsors pockets are. I know that will never be realistic but lets allow the top drivers into the top category a chance. Was Max Chilton ever going to be a great? Bernie, you need more mature (older) drivers who will become household names to a legion of fans who need someone to look UP to. Max Verstappen is just too young in my opinion. The racing has always been up and down through the years but for me , the way I remember a race is how good a particular driver/s have performed on the day. I think the drivers make and break ‘the show’. Drivers have to have the ability to want the public to support them en masse. Think of how many races you remember and why. Was it the driver or the type of tyres he was running at the time?

  12. These tracks they run on today are so ridiculous, sterile and boring. Even Melbourne looks pathetic compared to Adelaide – that still hosts the V8 monsters sliding and roaring around it. It’s amazing to me that nowadays Hungary is considered a highlight of the year, when I remember not that long ago Hungary was treated with derision. Leaving behind the classic road racing tracks for the new Tilkedromes is a major reason the sport has lost it’s glamour and prestige.

  13. Sorry, but the cars themselves are just too complicated and untrustworthy. We lose almost half the field for the first race of the season, for various reasons. Then, more during the race, with eleven cars out of twenty to finish the race. Return to the days of a powerful engine without the KERS, FURS, MERS, BURRS or whatever gimmicks can be added. Give the drivers a steering wheel like 15 years ago. LET THEM RACE, not program the car. I’m 63 and can save a lot of money by downgrading my channel package to lose F1. There’s also nothing else in the costlier packages that interest me. Get me a beer.

    • “the cars themselves are just too complicated and untrustworthy”

      This is simply F1 catching up with time. The technology nowadays is this: lots of programming. The road cars have made the switch (a Merc garagista will likely fix a car with a laptop, rebooting the car and installing updates), as has the airplane manufacturers (the A380 was an absolute nightmare with its electronics wiring, as are these F1 cars). Heck, even my home heating seems to have too much programming for its own good… And I’ve heard of a number of internet-savvy fridges…

      Some of us may not like this, but the technology is there and those who put their money on the line like it… Just like with analog vs digital cameras (audio, etc.), the digital bits have won it hands down, simply because they’re extremely more flexible.

        • I’d go further than that. Since we all find this new technology bewildering and just too complicated and untrustworthy, I propose that TJ13 open up an analog interface to the website.

          So instead of writing comments on the site, using computers [sic!], people would have to use graphite-based analog input devices (i.e. crayons) to write down their thoughts, and mail them to TJ13 towers, who shall then make copies using a Gutenberg printing press, and then redistribute them to fellow TJ13 subscribers via said mailing network. Shall be fun to keep up discussions on this high-latency network…

          Oh, oh, and please release the TJ13 Podcast: The Vynil edition! So next time you want to listen to the podcast in your car or on the plane, you’ll have to bring your very own Portable Vynil Player (TM) instead of… shivers… an iPod. Can’t imagine the TSA being overly enthusiastic about such a development… 🙂

          https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a0/EdisonPhonograph.jpg

      • “Some of us may not like this”

        Er, since F1 is in fact losing it’s audience, I would suggest that in fact *most* of us do not like this.

  14. What’s wrong with f1 ! Let’s face it , it’s been used to develop hybrid systems that have so many problems in road car’s. Excitement, who will win? Well we know that before the race starts. Noise emphasis the power of the engine which also needs to be increased and where’s the danger, it looks so safe with less risk taking we are left with car’s driving around a track. Digital cameras and vinyl records! Guess that makes the computerised electronic mouse trap the best because its has more technology zzzz by the way laptops help with diagnostics they don’t repair cars.

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