Motorsport: Future Formula 1 success is up in the air
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The world of Liberty Media, owner of Formula 1, and the sport itself, will have wished itself a Happy New Year with a great deal of sincerity and more than anything else, hope.
The sport faces huge challenges this year and they’re coming from almost every direction.
The honeymoon period, if ever there was one, is most definitely over and the promise shown by Liberty in the first few months has so far not really come up with anything that greatly improves the show or brings in more fans.
I guess a race in Vietnam may look good on paper but, despite Liberty claiming the opposite, the core fan base seems to continue ebbing away.
Apart from the problems looming thanks to Brexit, the economy in general, new regulations, cost caps, the threat of historical F1 tracks losing their events, rule changes and a general disagreement on the future of the sport between the teams and F1’s owner, perhaps the most thorny issue is the move from free-to-air to pay television.
Not a situation unusual to audiences in New Zealand but even we will have to learn new ways to access, then accept and pay more, to watch the sport as it transitions from the screens of SKY to the internet world of Spark Sport.
As this is happening in New Zealand, Sky Sports F1 in the UK now holds the exclusive rights to the sport following similar deals in Italy and other international mass markets.
Market analysis estimates this move in the UK will boost F1 coffers by upwards of NZ$380 million per year but is likely to lead to a big drop in viewer numbers. I understand that profits have to be maximised, but the existence of Formula 1 depends on viewers, on the fans and the renewal of those fans as the ranks of the diehard “old school” core die.
Not too many young bloods can afford to pay the heavy subscription fees that will be needed to watch the sport, and therefore will not be watching during their formative years — and then will not grow up following the sport.
Formula 1 is slowly increasing its own internet streaming service availability in the hope of capturing this young element but then the issue becomes one of attention span — something that is short on the laptop or desktop.
Apart from the revenue from the television companies, the teams depend heavily on sponsorship. Some teams depend almost entirely on the good grace of the directors of whichever car manufacturing giant is emblazoned on the car, with the exclusive aim of selling their car to the public.
If the viewing public dwindles, then surely the appeal to those sponsors, those marketing departments trying to get the biggest bang for buck in sales, and all of that huge PR industry telling the viewer, the public at large, to watch a particular driver or team, will similarly dwindle.
Reduced audience, reduced potential customers, reduced sales targets so, reduced involvement.
The “traditional” spectator sports of the past decades have been losing viewers or supporters as the menu of available pastimes increases.
Who would have thought that drone racing, video gaming or “E” sports would have become so amazingly popular.
F1 is still one of the most watched sports in the world but just how long might that popularity last?