The United States viewership for Formula 1 racing jumped from 1.7 millions viewer in 2013 to 11.4M in 2014 (Autoweek, 2/6/14). This is a remarkable jump made more notable by the fact that viewership worldwide was down 10% and most of the countries that have drivers in the sport were down as well. How on earth did the American audience grow in a down market?
As an American fan that watched every race even down the stretch, here’s my perspective on why our viewership grew in 2014 (in no particular order):
Completely constructed vehicles, the worlds best drivers, a rich history, rookies, a dynasty, and world class venues. Everything about Formula 1 racing is incredible.
Leigh Diffey (@leighdiffey), David Hobbs (@MrDavidHobbs) and Steve Matchett (@MrSteveMatchett) were the perfect blend of expert and educator. If I was a few minutes late to the broadcast (especially for those races airing live in the middle of the night in the US), I would rewind to hear their pre-game. I especially liked the way they got close to fans through the use of social media both as a communication tool and a source. Bottom line is the ratings, and the formula NBC achieved in 2013 obviously worked in bringing a new audience to the sport in the US. I’m a fan.
3) In 2013, there was a dynasty in the making.
Vettel and the Red Bull crew remind us of the great sports dynasties in history. With all of the talk of “leveling the playing field”, there have been teams in the sport over the last four years with equal to or greater resources and talent than the Red Bull team: same or bigger budgets, same rules, and some of the greatest drivers in history. Yet the challengers haven’t really challenged and the chemistry of the Red Bull team has resulted in one of the great dynasties in racing history.
I like the rule changes coming in 2014, and I think they provide perfect timing for new drivers.
What if the Red Bull crew makes the adjustments in the first quarter of the season and they win again in 2014? It will be like Tiger winning after courses began restructuring to “Tiger-proof” their events. Even so (in both cases), you can’t deny the dominating greatness we have witnessed.
F1 came back to the United States in 2012, racing in Austin, Texas. The Circuit of the Americas put on a great event both years, and in 2013 Vettel picked up his 8th straight win. F1Fanatic called it a “consumate display of superiority.” That it was.
The sport has been working on bringing a race to New York / New Jersey for years and the New Jersey track made the provisional schedule for 2014. While it did not make the final schedule for various reasons, we look forward to a second race in 2015.
Having the opportunity to watch races live on a Sunday afternoon will continue to grow the US ratings.
5) Ron Howard and Rush. Golden Globe best picture nominated movie about the 1976 battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda (available on iTunes if you didn’t catch it). I know it underwhelmed at the box office, but I bet everyone that saw it tuned in to a Formula 1 race before the season was over. Diffey, Hobbs, and Matchett are great storytellers, but getting some help from Ron Howard on one of the great stories in the sport is always a good idea.
While I’m on the topic of storytelling, I have to say how much the sport missed an opportunity to tell and sell the Vettel story in 2013. I was surprised at the lack of promotion for what was, again, a dominating dynasty. That was the story. Instead, it seemed that the sport, the other drivers, and the writers were apologetic for Red Bulls dominance instead of savoring and selling the reality of greatness. Even so, the US fan base embraced it, and increased our commitment to the sport.
I predict the US viewership will grow to 20 million in 2014. We are looking forward to the new turbo package; changes on every team except 2; last years’ rookies that are now veterans, this years’ rookie (Kevin Magnussen), the former champions drive to get back to the top (Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button), McLaren back on the podium, and watching how the current dynasty will deal with all of these changes. (And yes, we do like to see Lewis Hamilton in a cowboy hat.)