The just-concluded 2023 Formula 1 championship likely represents a turning point in the discipline, in terms of marketing and business.
While the extraordinary global success of the leading open-wheel series emerges shining from the data-and from the images on television and in magazines, some kinks in the fabric of metrics and sentiment hint at the first glimmers of flattening of the growth curve.
As always in the game of sports marketing there are multiple planes intersecting, and this is extraordinarily true especially when it comes to Formula 1. There is the plane of sport, understood as discipline, that of entertainment, that of business, that of the equity of a brand that in a few years has dropped one skin to grow another, iridescent and vibrant.
Formula 1 and the United States
The first topic of discussion as we end this 2023 can only be the relationship that the circus is establishing-or attempting to-with the United States. The races in Vegas, Miami and at COTA-hastily relegated too far down the sport’s expansive strategy when considering the numbers generated in terms of attendance-are just the tip of an iceberg that is showing its true shape and size beneath the water’s surface.
While the three U.S. races are extraordinary in numbers, it is in the renewed idea of Grand Prix, circuit and event that Formula 1 is showing its most America-oriented soul. The production of the race weekend, its showmanship and glossiness draw heavily from the culture of American sports, which traditionally pays more attention to the container than the content.
This is not necessarily bad or good. Rather, it is a logical choice for those who, like the rights holder, are faced with new audiences and expanding markets. Changing the recipe of the product becomes crucial when one has to get out of the comfort zone of one’s “hard core” audience and conquer new terrain. For marketing enthusiasts, this is the “market development” stage theorized by Ansoff and his matrix.
Curiously, and despite the huge bottom-up push exerted by marketing and promoters, the numbers tell us that Formula 1’s reputation in the United States is still more hype than passion. ESPN, the U.S. brodcaster owned by Disney that broadcasts F1 overseas, returns an average of 1.12 Million viewers per race in 2023, nearly half of 2022. Even the most recent Las Vegas Grand Prix-one of the most financially demanding in history for the Circus-failed to go over 1.3 Million spectators, again
50 percent less than last season’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix.
These are interesting data, especially when compared with other major American series. The NBA Finals garnered an average of
11.64 Million viewers in the United States alone.
, while the World Series, the baseball championship finals averaged around
9.11 Million average
The need to bring together diverse and global audiences certainly plays a role on audience figures. Indeed, it is not irrelevant to point out that the grand prix in Sin City was aired at midnight local time to accommodate logistical needs and European viewers, raising more than one eyebrow among local fans, teams and industry insiders.
That of the timetable is an interesting rovello and, once again, it is Formula 1 that has to pose the problem first. The NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL arrange schedules according to American viewers, just as the Champions League and Premier League on this side of the ocean do with domestic viewers. Very few series, if any, must instead focus on a truly world clock, forcing the viewer to make a considerable effort to follow the broadcasts. Once again, let’s step outside the metaphor: It is not necessarily easy to follow a sport that one weekend runs at 4 a.m., the next weekend at 2 p.m., and the following weekend at 8 p.m.
Change of pace
It is clear that the United States is both a great toy for Formula 1 to experiment with and a potential gold mine to exploit. Finding how to balance the equation without displeasing anyone even on the old continent will be the key to the future.
The purchase of the massive area on which to build the Las Vegas paddock,
costing $240 million
, is an important indicator. Rarely, if ever, does Formula 1 purchase first-hand locations for its events: circuits, facilities and facilities in general are found locally, made available by territories and promoters who invest in order to then be able to host the championship and make money through tertiary marketing.
Vegas has been an exception in this regard, and why not also a glimmer on the future of racing: reports speak of expenditures in excess of $500 Million incurred directly by Liberty Media to prepare the ground for the show, well convinced that it will be the sponsors and televisions, then, that will repay them for the hefty bill that has come to the table. Heineken Silver, MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and a total of 22 partners (the most for a single race ever) promptly invited themselves to the party for a direct sponsorship drive-says the Financial Times-which alone amounts to more than $100 Million.
Sponsorships in Formula 1, again
sponsorship in Formula 1
is undoubtedly in extraordinary health. The great notoriety of the series, the technological values expressed, the many marketing efforts, and the phenomenal side products (Drive to Survive, of course, but not only that) make Formula 1 an excellent marketing asset for sponsors and investors.
Of course, the fact that the Circus is undoubtedly “in fashion” helps, as do the many celebrities and stars from sports, music and film who are lately beginning to flock not only to the starting grids but also to the partner rosters.
There are more than 70 new Formula 1 brand sponsors in 2023, with an average value of $6 Million. In total, the deal count among the 10 teams is about 300 total sponsors, to which must be added the big names who are official partners of the league, from Aramco to MSC, from Salesforce to Rolex. In short, it is clear that not only is the value of the Formula 1 product increasing, but also that the opportunities to be part of the game are gradually shrinking for those who want to get in with the running train. To get out of metaphor: becoming a sponsor of Formula 1 costs more than before and is, arguably, more difficult.
The flip side of the coin lies in the great creativity expressed by teams and organizations, which truly best express the concept of “bespoke sponsorship” by creating tailor-made, high-impact solutions for each partner. In this, too, Formula 1 once again proves itself as the cutting edge of sports marketing, charting the course for what can only be but sports sponsorship in the future: highly personalized, unique in activations, precise in targeting, and skillfully declined in media, new or old.
It is precisely the new media that is probably the litmus test that most needs to give F1’s marketing department pause in the coming months. For the first time since 2018, formula 1’s social media profiles have begun to show signs of fatigue. An analysis entrusted to Buzz Radar shows a year-over-year decline in mentions of about 70 percent, while social reach dropped by 64 percent, even as follower growth slowed by more than 49 percent. It is sentiment analysis that provides answers, with terms such as “boring” and “disappointing” appearing frequently in the word cloud.
The door opens wide here on the big, real elephant in the room of a sport that has seen one team-Red Bull racing-triumph 21 times in 22 Grands Prix and one driver-MaxVerstappen-win 34 of the last 45 races.
Competitiveness is the Theme, and capitalization is in order, as one of the fundamental characteristics of the sports product is non-predictability. No one wants to see, especially on television, a competition in which the winner is a foregone conclusion and there is a race, in no uncertain terms, to finish second. If live, in attendance, this can be remedied with an exceptional setting, thanks to concerts, guests and cotillions (and in this the attendance figures at the circuit are mind-blowing, as well as those of the practically constant “sold out”) this does not work when watching on TV or, even worse, on handheld devices with which the risk of “losing” the viewer is very high.
The Milton Keynes team’s sportingly memorable performance (860 points, 30 podiums, 14 pole positions 5 wins in sprint races) cannot make one forget that behind the most incredible individual season ever in the history of Formula 1 since 1950 also lies probably the most boring season of all time. This, clearly, cannot be ignored, and it is clear that strategies of technical, sporting and financial regulation must be more carefully plotted to ensure that the show remains, first and foremost, a sport.
Towards formula 1 2024
There can be no doubt that Formula 1 is now a communications and marketing platform in excellent health, ranking firmly among the world’s leading sports properties along with the Premier League, NBA and a few others.
La spectacularity of the circuits and the many side events, the incredible bouquet of values, the absolute globality of the discipline and skillful marketing management make F1 a indispensable product for all those brands that want to approach sports sponsorship entering through the front door, certain that the money that went out the door (a lot, no question) will soon come back through the window multiplied.
Arcade, Movies, TV Series, exotic locations are just some of the signs of tangible change in a property that has been radically transformed in recent years. No one in the world of professional sports has approached such a definitive process of change with such courage and such decisiveness in the last two decades. This courage, this resourcefulness, has been repaid by fans, investors and sponsors.
To complete the painting now only requires not losing perspective. The focus must be to have the best possible automotive competition, with great manufacturers and great drivers doing battle with the world’s most excellent four-wheel prototypes.