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.