Formula One’s TV audience has been in marked decline since the high point in 2008, where it was claimed 600 million people watched the events that year. By 2014 this figure was just 425 million, and as TJ13 has repeatedly reported, this number is in further decline during 2015.
In the UK. No race since Monza this year has achieved more than an average of 3.5 million viewers and the return of the Mexican GP also failed to generate significant interest in the UK. In fact as the F1Broadcastingblogg reveals, the TV viewing figures from the Mexico City weekend were a mere 400,000 higher than F1’s lowest number in modern times.
One problem for Formula One has been the expansion into the East, and whilst the new countries are prepared to cough up in excess of $30m to FOM for the right to hold the race, the unsociable times the cars are on track has seriously affected the core TV audience in Europe. TV companies pay FOM broadcasting rights fees based upon the value they place upon the number of viewers they can attract. There is a limit to the price per pair of eyeballs that the TV broadcasters will pay. When looking at the TV income in totality for FOM, a drop of x million at some point becomes more costly than raising $35million from a host country in the East which fails to generate much interest in Europe.
By way of contrast, races in the Americas mean Formula One in Europe is aired closer to Sunday evening prime time TV. Last week, Tavo Helmund revealed he would be announcing a new F1 project in the USA and unlike Ecclestone’s ‘new circuit’ proclamations, Tavo has a 100% record in delivering events on which he embarks.
Since NBC have taken on the broadcasting of Formula One in the states, they have been building the TV audience impressively. As discussed on a recent TJ13 podcast, if a part of the F1 season were focused on races in the America’s, this would aid NBC’s efforts further. Audience would become familiar with F1 weekends being broadcast live if say Canada, Austin, AN Other, Mexico, Brazil and possibly Argentina were all run in some kind of sequence.
This weekend, the local government of the ‘North Holland’ province declared an interest in bringing Formula One back to their historic circuit. Formula One last raced at Zandvoort in 1985. However, this ambition is not something new. There have been noises about bringing back F1 to Zandvoort pretty much since the revised GP circuit was opened in 2001. Dutch noise regulations have been a significant barrier to F1 returning previously, but the new V6 Hybrid Turbo’s appear to cause no issue on this score.
A member of the ruling party in Holland, told NU: “Everyone is excited about it,” said Jerry Kramer. “I think we need to tackle it together: governments and businesses in the region. It is a historic circuit, it would be so nice if we could get back on the calendar. I realise that it will cost tens of millions of Euros to bring back Formula 1, but we should certainly explore the possibilities.”
Realistically, Zandvoort will not return to the F1 calendar for some years as circuit director Erik Weijers admits. “There is a lot of money involved, but this is a first step,” he said. “Should it come to a concrete plan it will take some time. Perhaps in 2019 or 2020.
“Simply put, three things must happen. The infrastructure needs to be improved, the circuit needs to be refurbished and the financial requirements of the Formula 1 organisation must be met. And if we do that then we get another Grand Prix in the Netherlands.”
This is a big ask, given the exacting natures of the FIA’s regulations for approving a circuit as a category 1 facility – fit to hold an F1 event. Even following the re-configuration work completed 15 years ago, the costs would be in excess of $50m before the external infrastructure requirements are taken into consideration.
However, the talk of Zandvoort and Argentina returning to the F1 calendar, may indicate there’s finally a shift in where Ecclestone is looking for future venues. There’s only so many 6am ‘rise and shines’ the European’s will take to follow Formula One live on TV, and more races in Europe and the America’s would rebalance the calendar and mitigate that extent of this effect.