“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be” – Peter de Vries
The age demographic of the Formula One fan was clearly identified in two fan polls undertaken in the past year. The Autosport survey revealed that 65% of respondents had been devotees of the sport for more than 15 years.
Bernie Ecclestone confirmed the commercial rights holders’ views on the matter in a wide-ranging interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific magazine where he stated the ‘youth market’ was the wrong for F1 to target. Let’s remind ourselves of this epic diatribe.
“I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I tried to find out but in any case I’m too old-fashioned,” the 84-year-old F1 supremo said. “I couldn’t see any value in it.
“And, I don’t know what the so-called ‘young generation’ of today really wants. What is it? You ask a 15 or 16-year-old kid, ‘What do you want?’ and they don’t know. The challenge is getting the audience in the first place.
“I say to some of these people who start this nonsense about social media, look at what tobacco companies tried to do – get people smoking their brand early on because then people continue smoking their brand forever.
“You have a brand that you want to put in front of a few hundred million people, I can do that easily for you on television. Now, you’re telling me I need to find a channel to get this 15-year-old to watch Formula One because somebody wants to put out a new brand in front of them? They are not going to be interested in the slightest bit.
“Young kids will see the Rolex brand, but are they going to go and buy one? They can’t afford it. Or our other sponsor, UBS – these kids don’t care about banking. They haven’t got enough money to put in the bloody banks anyway. That’s what I think.”
Yet the truism is that the youth of today become the establishment of tomorrow and unless Formula One attracts a significant number of new ‘young’ viewers, the sport will eventually die. The drastic decline in TV audiences is already an indicator that the current demographic of F1 fans will not sustain the sports popularity.
So new thinking is required. And this is not just about the introduction of another ‘budget engine’. The sport needs to explore new markets and build new fan bases where it has never gone before.
The big drive by Ecclestone to take Formula One to ‘the east’ has been an utter failure from a ‘new fan’ perspective. Global TV audiences are falling despite the record race hosting fees paid in Korea, Singapore and other new eastern regions of Ecclestone’s global expansion plan. The TV broadcast times for these ‘new world’ live races mean the European and American audiences have to get up in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn – and the facts are, fans are not prepared to do this. More racing in the America’s would however provide prime time TV schedules for the European TV broadcasters along with regular TV time schedules for American based motorsports fans.
Whilst the governments of this eastern expansion have been sold the benefits of marketing their countries on the world stage – and charged exorbitant race hosting fees for the privilege – this does not translate into a significant new F1 fan base in these regions. So the trade off has been falling TV audiences for bigger race hosting fees.
Grandpappy Judge used to say, ‘Getting stuck in a rut is akin to digging a shallow grave,’ and this is where F1 finds itself at present. Tinkering with regulations (such as extra tyres) which may or may not make ‘the show’ better, whilst the real reasons for F1’s decline are being ignored.
Greater competition, cost control, cheaper engines, better aero for overtaking, cheaper prices for race spectators, free to air television, more races in the America’s… the list of problems is almost endless.
And such is the wide spread angst, that Fernando Alonso has weighed in with his thoughts on the matter. The Spaniard believes F1 is currently too concerned with assisting the ‘independent teams’.
And THIS is the failing of Formula One.
Alonso believes the fans will return to the sport and new fans will be attracted if we have “bigger engines, more power, more aero, more freedom for the teams to develop and more testing”.
The reality is that 99% of F1 fans watch the sport on TV and a car going 3-5 seconds a lap quicker is not really noticeable.
Fernando also complains about the increasing testing restrictions and that the teams get just 8 days pre-season winter trials unlike the old days.
“If some teams cannot afford to test, it’s their problem, it’s the nature of the sport,” Alonso argues. “Real Madrid can buy some players and other teams cannot. They cannot say sorry for that.
“In F1 there is always the need to protect the small teams and sometimes if they cannot test, they cannot test.”
Ok, so screw the midfield teams eh Fernando? Let’s see a return to when Ferrari spent $100m a year on tyres to win half a decade of consecutive F1 titles.
Alonso’s vision for F1 is simple, he wants a return to yesteryear. “I guess it is [should be] something like F1 was 10 years ago maybe. I know sometimes it was more expensive, which I doubt because now the technology of simulators and other technology increases the cost”.
The plan for 2017 should please Alonso because the cars a reported to be 4-5 seconds a lap quicker, yet the Spaniard is still sceptical. “The expectations are to have a fast F1 car because now we [now] have a slow F1 car. A fast F1 car will be a better show for people watching the race. But to have better races, it’s difficult to know what you need.
“If you look at his year, you have maybe four or five boring races where nothing happens and then suddenly two races which are spectacular and nothing has changed. It’s the same cars and the same teams. Even with the circuit, one year you see a boring race and the next year it’s spectacular.”
Well thank you Fernando for that contribution. Besides making no sense at all, his nostalgic view of returning F1 to the sport it was 10 years ago is simply impossible. Of course 10 years ago Alonso won back to back titles whilst driving for Renault – and indeed we are returning to the days when Renault will again have a works team.
Yet the in the preceding half a decade Formula One had been dominated by Ferrari with 6 consecutive constructor titles and five on the bounce for one Michael Schumacher.
Formula One needs a new revolution. The Hembery/TJ13 suggested calendar, proper investment in social media engagement and the plethora of ‘new age’ advertising opportunities that will ensue – are the future for F1.
But for now we’ll give the final word to one of the greatest sports commentators of all time.
“The problem with relying on nostalgia for commentary is that people only remember the good things” – Richie Benaud