Bob McMurray: Where have all the fans gone?
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So who has the answer? Is it the “new” Formula 1? Is it the revamped Nascar series in the US?
Perhaps it is the Indycar series with some new rules and new combinations?
Somebody has to discover the answer quickly. Rugby hasn’t done it, nor has league, cricket, the sevens or any number of the traditional sports.
Where are the fans, the crowds? Why is “being there” becoming less fashionable for many sports?
In the case of Formula 1, even traditional countries are shying away from the sport; Germany being a case in point.
With a history going back to 1926, only interrupted by the war years and in 1955 the event being cancelled after the Le Mans tragedy, it seems amazing that with a German World Champion in Nico Rosberg as driver and Mercedes as Constructor and three current German drivers, the public are seemingly not interested in the sport.
Perhaps the financial demands of the previous controllers of the sport have a lot to do with the unwillingness of the German authorities to meet those demands but the underlying problem remains — no public interest.
TV viewing figures are falling with statistics revealing that the numbers of people watching F1 have fallen by one third since 2008, even in the strongholds of the sport such as the UK and Italy.
So is it the fault of the action on track, other public interests, changing tastes, the increasing reach of pay TV or simply lack of interest?
Conversely, attendance figures for the British Grand Prix get bigger each year and last year’s Mexican GP was oversold, although that was understandable as it was the first to be held in the country for many years.
At the Clipsal Supercars event in Adelaide this month it was disappointing to see many empty grandstand seats. And I understand that the TV audience was down by more than 20 per cent on 2016.
This at one of the best-attended, most competitive and exciting events on the Supercars calendar.
I have no idea what the answer is — and seemingly neither do many of the sports administrators — for this general decline in attending the more traditional sports and events has been happening for years.
In Formula 1 much blame has been unloaded at the door of boring racing, and more specifically the continued domination of one team or another,currently the Mercedes team.
Some years ago the sport was dominated by the McLaren team, with drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. That domination was so overwhelming at one point the team won 15 out of the 16 races held.
The attendance at grands prix that year and many following years increased.
The years of domination by the Schumacher-led Ferrari team and then the Vettel-dominated Red Bull team preceded the Mercedes age so perhaps the mechanical superiority of one team allied to the lack of “heroes” as the drivers used to be, has slowly contributed to the decline.
The average age of a Formula 1 fan has increased over the years — on average, about 40 years of age, and reasonably affluent. The young no longer look at the drivers with the awe and cult following that once drew them, with their autograph books, to patiently wait for that valuable signature.
These days it is rare indeed for a Formula 1 driver to be anywhere near an adoring fan. The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association conducted a survey in 2015 of more than 200,000 people from 194 countries.
Seventy-four per cent said the rules should be relaxed to allow greater diversity of cars and technology, 73 per cent said the sound of the engines was important, 20 per cent said the cars of the 1990s were the best looking and more than 50 per cent of respondents said they had stopped watching races live since the sport moved to pay television.
A key result, however, was that more then 90 per cent of the respondents thought Formula 1 should be more competitive.
Amen to that.
It doesn’t help when the cars, with a new low-fat look, are made to look stupid by the addition of extraneous body parts like the so called “Fence” and “T” wing.
Some sports have found the key to increasing the spectator attendance but as yet that formula has bypassed the owners of F1. I am not sure what action, if any, has been taken as a result of that survey.
Perhaps Formula 1 should do something that has been an abomination to the “ex” management for some time and take a look at other series.
MotoGP seems to have a good model going that could transfer to the four-wheel brigade.
There are good signs and good signals coming out of the new owners of Formula 1 in that they want, and indeed need, to make the sport more popular with the young fans who, to former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone’s surprise, will be the fans of the future.
Logic alone says that without the fans, without the TV ratings, Formula 1 will cease to prosper and the sponsors will leave the theatre.
That will curtail the amount of money that the drivers can command in this most lucrative of arenas and the teams will have to tighten their belts resulting in a hiatus in the millions of dollars spent in the search for that one tenth of a second of aerodynamic efficiency.
That may then force the teams to simplify the cars and, you know what, that may also result in better racing.