Formula 1 positions itself as the most technologically advanced sport, and it really is. True, until 2017 this concerned only the machines themselves. The Grand Prix audience was rapidly declining and aging, and the management did not want to hear anything about digitalization.
The then boss of the racing series, Bernie Ecclestone, expressed his attitude to the young audience and the serious race of the entire sports market for the young audience as bluntly as possible.
“If teenagers see the Rolex logo (watch), are they going to go out and buy it? No, they cannot afford it. Or our other sponsor, UBS, those guys don’t give a damn about banking. They still don’t have enough money to put it in the damn jars. That’s what I think.
I don’t know why people want to reach the younger generation… Why do they want to do this? To sell them something? Most of these children have no money. I’d rather get to a 70 year old guy with a lot of money. There is no point in trying to reach these kids because they won’t be buying any products, and if marketers are targeting that audience then they should go to Disney. I’m not interested in tweets, facebooks and other nonsense … I’m too old-fashioned. I don’t see any value in that,” Bernie said.
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In 2017, the Formula One Group, which promotes the F-1 series, was acquired by the American media corporation Liberty Media. A year later, ESPN, which broadcasts Formula 1 in the United States, began to report on the rapid growth of the audience: in 2018, an average of 547 thousand viewers were recruited for the race, in 2019 – 672 thousand people, in 2021 this number has already grown to 949 thousand viewers. The Bahrain Grand Prix this season gathered an average audience of 1,357,737 people, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – 1,445,291 spectators.
According to a recent Nielsen survey of 167,000 F1 fans from 187 countries, an aggressive marketing campaign to attract the younger generation of fans is working, with Liberty Media just announcing that the average age of a F1 fan has dropped from 36 to 2017 to 32 years in 2022.
Fan with Charles Leclerc
Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
How did they do it?
Sports are the best example of what can be achieved when an organization does not aim for an early return on investment, but instead focuses on increasing the loyalty of current fans and winning new ones.
This is the strategy that Liberty Media’s management decided to pursue, recognizing that attracting a new generation of fans may not bring huge profits in the early stages, but it can secure the future of the sport in the long term.
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As soon as there is talk in professional circles about the rapid rise of interest in F-1, the most often heard argument is that this is all thanks to the Formula 1: Drive to Survive series, which is now in its fourth season on Netflix and reveals the drivers from the other, human side, in colors he shows the entire interior kitchen of the paddock, and sometimes even invents drama where in reality there is none.
The series certainly played a huge role, but it was only part of a long-term strategy to attract new audiences and increase the loyalty of current fans.
Dutch fans bring elements of football matches to racing
Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
That’s what helped Formula 1 outpace the NBA and NHL in terms of growth and remain the fastest growing sports organization in the world for the third year in a row.
Working with data (Big Data)
Liberty Media relaunched the F1 brand less than a year after the acquisition, but the first three months after the acquisition were spent solely on deep learning about the fan base. They came out of it with a full understanding of what the fans want, namely to get closer to the races.
F1 Director of Marketing and Communications Ellie Norman describes this growth hacker mentality as follows: “Start from scratch. Attract new fans. Do it quickly.”
The racing series had a reputation as a closed and very technological club of old people. After the rebranding, Formula 1 emphasized human emotions. Building personal connections with pilots has become a new priority. We see this in a large amount of multi-platform content designed to create a strong emotional connection between fans and riders. Be sure to follow the F-1 social media accounts and you will immediately see that their content in stories and reels is not much different from what your friends usually post. No glossy picture.
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The Right Partnership
F-1 has specialists in holding gigantic events, craftsmen to sell 70 thousand tickets, organize broadcasts for TV viewers around the world. But what about the ability to tell stories? That is why, in 2018, an unprecedented contract was signed with Netflix, under which the streaming service received full editorial control and rights to create a documentary series. Netflix has turned this exclusive access into four seasons of immersive content, which in turn has greatly increased and diversified its reach to new audiences.
Libery Media has already found that racing fans crave stories and access to as much insider information as possible. Some highlights and dry analytical shows are clearly not enough. The daily volume of content across all the leading social media platforms, including high quality videos and simple stories, articles, podcasts and infographics, is staggering. All these investments pay off. For the third year in a row, F1 is the fastest growing major sport on social media.
Lewis Hamilton greets fans
Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Fight for loyalty
While many of the new initiatives were designed to attract new audiences, part of the new strategy was to double down on delivering value to its most dedicated fans. Research has shown that hardcore fans want the most immersive experience possible. That’s why F1App has been completely reimagined to offer in-depth analysis, real-time statistics and paid premium content.
Any sports league or championship cannot succeed on its own. In any case, you need a complete understanding of your strategy from all other business participants. In the case of Formula 1, it is the racing teams themselves. But here Liberty Media was lucky. Charismatics like Lewis Hamilton or creatives from Red Bull will do everything themselves. After all, few people in their right mind would come up with the idea of making a pit stop in zero gravity. Truth?
Since the relaunch, one of the most effective ad campaigns to date has been very risky. Formula One teamed up with the Chemical Brothers to create a global sonic look for the 2019 season, which has been called “the world’s fastest remix”. The campaign sparked a fierce online debate and over 1.7 million views.
As a result, music lovers were delighted to learn that the WGTT15000BPM F1 NEEEUM MIX has a tempo of 15,000 beats per minute, which symbolizes the 15,000 rpm of the most powerful F-1 car.
The coronavirus brought the 2020 season to a halt, but the F1 management got their bearings very quickly and were able to keep the content flowing steady. They replaced every race weekend with a virtual race weekend where racers took to the track online alongside celebrities, esportsmen and influencers. The idea was so successful that the copyright holders began to cover these races in full. Just like real Grand Prix: with comments, online press conferences and analytics.
Fans at a meeting with the riders
Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
What is the result
In the end, I would like to give some figures confirming that this tactic worked and the sport really reached a new level in the five years that Liberty Media owns the asset.
Few will argue that for any brand, the US market is the main battlefield for audience interest and money – and we will take it as an example.
Since 2018, Formula 1 has seen a steady increase in the average number of spectators per race in the US, from half a million in 2018 to almost 1.5 million in 2022. The 47% increase from 2021 alone has helped drive financial success as well. According to the latest documents, Formula One Group posted revenue of $360 million in the first quarter of 2022, up 100% from the same period in 2021.
If you still need proof, just take a look at last year’s US Grand Prix in Austin, which ended up being the highest single-weekend attendance in F1’s 70-year history. Further more.
Since 2018, Formula 1 has seen a steady increase in the average number of spectators
Photo: Peter Fox/Getty Images