Every European sport has to answer the same question – how do we make headway in the United States? The market is too big to leave alone, causing the likes of soccer, rugby, and cricket to search for backdoors into American popular culture.
Barring soccer, none of them has had the impact Formula One has had in recent years. F1 is inarguably European, yet sites like Formula 1 report that Austin was one of five tracks that welcomed over 128,000 spectators on race day in 2019. This has resulted in an overall increase of 1.75% for weekend attendances across the sport.
It’s evident that F1 is wooing American fans, as evidenced by these figures, but how is it succeeding where other sports are failing?
Switching from NBC to ESPN
Being owned by an American company helps matter as the Chases understand the market better than anyone else. This is highlighted by the move from NBC to ESPN in 2017. Ever since the switch, the viewership in America hasn’t looked back, with audience numbers increasing at rapid rates.
For example, in 2018, ESPN released data that showed the network was averaging double-digit growth for its F1 coverage, according to Sports Pro Media’s figures. By 2019, ESPN experienced a 20% increase in its viewership after the first 11 races, which was very impressive. This ended up with Liberty Media, Formula One’s owners, extending their contract with ESPN to 2022 at the earliest.
Finding the sweet spot for viewers, something that was made easier by the owner’s knowledge, has contributed to showcasing what the sport has to offer to an American audience.
Part of the problem is that most Americans don’t know who half of the paddock is, much like how Europeans don’t understand what makes regular basketball and baseball players good to watch. Lewis Hamilton stands out from the pack because he’s the best of the best, yet others aren’t as marketable.
However, Formula One might have found a solution to its problem through the globalization of the driver market. Essentially, the people who miss out on F1 seats due to a lack of quality or politics end up finding drives elsewhere, including Nascar and the IndyCar Series. Not only does this make audiences more aware of these guys, but their pasts add a sense of excitement and mystery, something you can see in the betting odds. When you take a look at betting on sites like Space Casino and other platforms that provide odds for US-based motor racing competitions, it’s not hard to spot the former F1 racers as they are at the top of the market. For example, Juan Pablo Montoya is 14/1 to win the Indy 500, while Takuma Sato is 18/1.
Plus, that’s without factoring in Fernando Alonso’s sabbatical from the sport. As The Guardian points out, his debut in 2017 was superb, but he was let down by his engine. Still, that was enough to engage motor racing enthusiasts and make them think Formula 1 has more to offer than they thought.
Commitment to the Cause
You can’t say that Liberty Media is going to leave anything to chance. Aside from making ruthless network decisions, the company is also tapping into the US’ untapped market by committing to extra races.
The city of Austin regularly appears on the F1 calendar and helps to engage supporters in Texas and beyond. But Liberty isn’t finished there because a street circuit in Miami is set to appear in 2022 for the first time. Furthermore, Auto Sport has revealed that F1 bosses will keep the race dates separate from one another to boost anticipation in the US by maximizing America’s impact on the championship.
It’s almost impossible for American sports fans to ignore the moves F1 is making because they are so blatant. Of course, as long as the racing remains adrenaline-fueled and supporters get to see more of their favorites, Formula 1 will only continue to expand its audience in America and around the world.