If anyone had told me that in 3 years’ time I will be waking up earlier (almost) every Sunday morning to watch a sport I never paid attention to, I would have thought that they lost their mind. But that’s exactly what happened to me and millions of Americans since 2020 when it comes to Formula 1. Never before has a sport managed to recruit such a massive amount of fans in such a short period of time. This transformation was not accidental and is far from having reached its full potential. To capitalize on this newly found consumer attention, brands need to act fast creating meaningful content and distributing it through paid, owned, and earned media channels.
For years Americans didn’t love Formula 1. For years Formula 1 ignored Americans.
For as long as we can remember, F1 has been a foreign sport. Something most motor racing fans in the United States didn’t care to watch. The charm of the European races, the speed, the history, and the iconic brands - like Ferrari and McLaren - were not good enough reasons to convince us to tune in.
For Bernie Ecclestone (the founder and former CEO/owner of Formula 1) the United States was so difficult to crack, he simply gave up trying. Convincing football, basketball, baseball, ice hockey or even soccer fans to pay attention to F1 was almost an impossible mission. Indy and NASCAR fans were also too satisfied with their racing passions to care about any other form of motorsport.
So Ecclestone turned to countries with no racing track record but who had a willingness to pay the hefty hosting fees required to have a race on the annual calendar. With every new race added - Sochi in Russia, Baku in Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates – the interest to tune in from the U.S. decreased.
Formula 1, an American sport.
Everything changed in 2016 when Liberty – a Colorado based media company – acquired Formula 1. They saw F1’s potential and quickly started to transform it – catering to a younger, more diverse, and very American audience.
Among other things, they launched over-the-top streaming platform F1TV and relaxed social media rules, allowing teams and drivers to engage with fans online making the sport more accessible.
- Revised regulations to allow for more overtaking and, most recently, agreed to establish a cost cap to better level the playing field and up the competitive ante (although, not all teams have complied – @RedBullRacing)
- Set up an eSports series (where 80% of the audience was under 35 years old) to connect with younger audiences
- Partnered with Netflix to launch the behind-the-scenes show “Drive to Survive”
- Brought two new races to the USA - Miami and Las Vegas
The results of these efforts have been nothing but incredible. Today, Formula 1 is the world’s fastest-growing sports league on social media and a “new-young-fan recruiting machine.” In the last 4 years, the number of F1 fans grew by 50%, with younger demographics accounting for the bulk of this growth. Their average fan (32 years old) is 10 years younger than those of the NBA, 15 years younger than the NHL, 12 years younger than MLB, and 18 years younger than the NFL. The U.S. is home to the majority of their newly acquired fanbase.
NASCAR is big, but Formula 1 is growing faster.
There is certainly room for both categories to co-exist successfully in America. NASCAR continues to attract some of the most loyal fans all over the country, particularly the South. F1 has expanded the motorsport fan base to other regions and fan groups, reaching a more urban, young, and diverse audience.
Formula 1’s growth pace is impossible to ignore. In 2013, the audience gap between a NASCAR and a F1 race was more than 5 million viewers. In 2022 both the Miami Grand Prix and the NASCAR Cup at Darlington Raceway – happening on the same weekend – reached approximately 2.6 million viewers. That was the first time in history a F1 event matched NASCAR numbers… and based on consumer insights and F1’s rapid growth, it’s fair to assume that Formula 1 will soon be attracting larger audiences than its American counterpart.
It’s not racing, it’s showbiz.
Taking a page from NASCAR, NBA and other sports’ playbooks, F1 dialed up the volume of their entertainment activities over the past few seasons. In addition to concerts in select cities and their ongoing eSports efforts, they have a much stronger presence of fashion icons, social media influencers, other sports’ stars, and A-list celebrities at every race.
All this new “content” helps to build the glamor of Formula 1 attracting new fans that are not necessarily interested in the on-track action. The races in Miami, Las Vegas, Monza (Italy), Monaco, Silverstone (UK), and Melbourne (Australia) have significantly more stars in the elite Paddock Club (the very premium hospitality lounge) than in the garages or cars. Thanks to this new approach, Formula 1 has grown to be relevant to a broad range of fans like few other sports and entertainment alternatives.
How to benefit from the growing interest in Formula 1 and build brand and business success.
Taylor’s experience in motorsports runs more than 20 years deep, from partnering with the NASCAR sanctioning body to evolve its communications initiatives, to activating sponsorships on behalf of leading brands such as Gillette, Tide, Allstate, Xfinity, 3M and Panini. Taylor’s signature accomplishment with NASCAR leadership was Project Evolve, a ground-breaking strategic roadmap that helped define the race fan of the future.
Addressing diversity, equity and inclusion has been another key milestone with P&G’s Take on Race. Taylor partnered with Brad Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, one of only a few Black Americans in motorsports, and an authoritative figure across sports, in a virtual press conference to unveil the No. 37 PG.com/TakeOnRace Chevrolet Camaro and provide educational tools to eliminate inequality, racism and bias.
You may be among the many new F1 and NASCAR fans, but your brand can still play a unique and authentic role for their fans. To do it right, talk to Taylor. We can help you shape new possibilities at the intersection of your brands and motorsports.