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The mystery of the 180,000 disappearing race fans

NEWS STORY
16/01/2019

In December 2017, Formula One Management revealed to Pitpass that a "systematic error" had led to a number of mistakes in the initial press release concerning that season's race attendance figures.

Whereas the core data contained was fine, it was the percentages in terms of increases (and decreases) that contained a number of errors.

For example, whereas FOM claimed a 41.38% increase year-on-year for the Austrian Grand Prix, the correct increase was 70.59%. Similarly, while Malaysia showed a 19.69% drop year-on-year, the correct figure was 24.51%.

The biggest error was Azerbaijan, where FOM claimed a 58.01% increase whereas it should have been an impressive 138.17% - albeit the attendance claimed by FOM was more than four times the figure disclosed by the race organiser

As we said, the core figures were correct, it was merely the math - in terms of the percentages that were wrong in all but two cases.

FOM subsequently reissued the press release with the correct details, all the figures laid out in helpful table form.

Last month, FOM issued the figures for 2018, revealing that in total 4,093,305 spectators attended the 21 races that comprised the 2018 season.

This time around there was no helpful, see-at-a-glance table, instead the figures were presented in a form which in some cases appeared to compare apples with oranges, the wording making it difficult - but not entirely impossible - to extrapolate some of the core data.

The 2017 press release stated that crowd numbers, which were "provided by the promoters of each Grand Prix", and showed that the Canadian Grand Prix was attended by 360,000 spectators, a 20% increase on the 300,000 that attended in 2016.

However, the 2018 press release reveals that the 2017 figure had been reduced to (at most) 179,533 - a drop of 40.16% - "in order to give more accurate figures."

Curiously, the Canadian Grand Prix, which receives around £10.9m ($18.7m CAD) of public money each year, is one of the few events on the calendar which doesn't publicly release attendance data.

In 2015, Octane Racing Group, which organises the Grand Prix, revealed that 93,273 spectators attended the event for a total of 244,374 admissions - the 93,273 relates to the actual number of spectators while the second figure is reached by counting them each time they attend over the course of the weekend. According to F1, this figure improved over the next two years.

As we said, the 2017 release from FOM stated that attendance in Montreal was up 20% on 2016's 300,000, thereby giving it the highest attendance of all 20 races, the results based on "official figures, provided by the promoters of each Grand Prix."

The 2018 release states that "over four million spectators (4,093,305) attended at least one of the 21 Grands Prix", which means an average of 194,919 over the course of the 21 races.

The release states that "seven Grands Prix, a third of all events, attracted crowds of over 200,000: Great Britain (340,000), Mexico (334,946), Australia (295,000), USA (263,160), Singapore (263,000), Belgium (250,000) and Hungary (210,000). The average attendance per race weekend was up over the 2017 figures by 2.7%, while four events saw an increase of over 10%: Azerbaijan (+31.6%), Austria (+27.6%), Japan (+20.4%) and Canada (+11.4%)."

"Fantastic!" you say, however, according to the release the Montreal event is not one of the seven that saw an attendance of more than 200,000, and rather than showing a decrease on 2017 claims an increase of 11.4%.

The actual Montreal attendance in 2018 isn't given however, fact is it couldn't have been more than 200,000 as the release clearly shows it was not one of the "seven Grands Prix, a third of all events, (that) attracted crowds of over 200,000". However, if as is stated, the Montreal attendance increased by 11.4% to the magic 200,000 it would mean the 2017 figure was actually 179,533... 180,467 less that the figure F1 obtained from the Octane Racing Group.

Though the 2018 release doesn't mention specific revisions, the carefully worded statement does reveal "adjustments made to certain 2017 attendance figures subsequent to the release of last year's attendance results".

An F1 spokesperson subsequently confirmed to Forbes that this referred to the Canadian Grand Prix, admitting that "we have made some adjustments to certain 2017 attendance figures subsequent to the release of last year's results in order to give more accurate figures. Promoters have been made aware of those adjustments".

The spokesman, when asked why the 2017 Montreal attendance had been adjusted from 360,000 to (at most) 179,533, declined to give any further information, while Octane Racing Group did not respond to a request for comment.

Consequently, it is unclear why the original figure was higher that it should have been or what triggered the retrospective adjustment. According to Forbes, there is no suggestion that this has been driven by a change in the measurement system as the evidence shows that it has remained the same.

For both 2017 and 2018, the attendance figures used by FOM match those released by the various organisers, who appear to arrive at their figures based on the number of tickets sold. It wouldn't be consistent for FOM to do this for some races but then use a different methodology for others.

However, while FOM states that the 2017 figures were "provided by the promoters of each Grand Prix", no such claim is made in the 2018 release. However, even if it estimated the 2018 attendance in Montreal, this doesn't explain the retrospective adjustment of the 2017 figure which it says came from the organisers.

If nothing else, the uncertainty over the actual numbers that attended the Montreal event, in light of the adjustment, could provide ammunition for those who object to public money being used to help finance the race.

After all, unlike most sporting event hosts, F1 race organisers do not get a slice of the income from broadcasting the event, advertising at the venue or even corporate hospitality, which heads straight to the F1 coffers, leaving said organisers with just the income from ticket sales and whatever funding they can secure from their government.

The Canadian Grand Prix receives £29.2m ($49.9m CAD) from the regional government in Quebec, £36.5m ($62.4m CAD) from federal government, the same amount from Montreal's tourist authority and £7.2m ($12.4m CAD) from Montreal itself.

Over the course of the ten-year deal, which was extended last year by five years to 2029, this brings the total to £109.7m ($187.1m CAD), £10.9m ($18.7m CAD) of public money every year which the government seeks to recoup via taxes on the spending by spectators during the event.

According to national newspaper The Globe and Mail, the 2015 Canadian Grand Prix economic impact study "pegs the event's contribution to Canada's gross domestic product at $42.4-million, about half the previous estimates".

If the attendance in subsequent years was actually lower than that figure released by F1, the economic impact could be even lower than anyone thought.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Chris Roper, 18/01/2019 21:00

"@Editor
It's like some of the 'accounting' used by websites. -

But if the F1.com website were read by all those people who didn't pay it would be classed as one reader and dozens of Pirates."

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2. Posted by English Tony, 17/01/2019 15:01

"Given the competence levels being displayed here there should be no problem in auditing the teams' budgets eh?

"

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3. Posted by imejl99, 17/01/2019 11:27

"@Editor

or course, answer always is 42 ;)"

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4. Posted by imejl99, 17/01/2019 9:35

"@Editor

I beg to differ on our examples.
Your example is not misleading on number of persons reading the paper.
Mine is very misleading on number of persons in the office.

In my opinion, FOM should go with ticket sales. If ticket sales seems unfavorable, FOM could legitimately use other statistics and accounting (TV numbers, broadcasts, social media) for exposure measurement.
If I were FOM, I wouldn`t even go there, I would left it to the promoters to publish or not.
Regarding teams ability to attract sponsors, I believe FOM is doing more damage than good with this."

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5. Posted by Editor, 17/01/2019 8:39

"@ imejl99

It's like some of the 'accounting' used by websites.

A man buys a newspaper to read on the train on his way to work. Arriving at the end of the line he leaves the paper on the train, and on the return journey it is read by another passenger.

This passenger takes the paper with him and leaves it on the bus, where it is subsequently read by a number of other passengers, one of whom takes it into their office where it is read by even more people.

While the newspaper can rightly claim to have had dozens of readers of that particular paper... it only counted as one sale."

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6. Posted by imejl99, 17/01/2019 8:02

"Last week me and my 20 colleagues attended office for 5 days. So, weekly office attendance is 105? There is a lunch break, so if there was a gate counter, attendance is at least 210 over the workweek? There were some meetings outside the office, people leaving and returning, I can put a modes attendance estimate at 300.
But if I`m pitching this business with 300 weekly office attendance as asset, I will be exposed to ridicule.

FOM is not doing any favors to teams pitching for sponsors with those figures."

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7. Posted by TokyoAussie, 17/01/2019 3:26

"F1 is just a numbers game now, and they can't get the numbers right? Or maybe they did get them "right" after all."

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8. Posted by Uffen, 16/01/2019 19:13

"I attended the Canadian GP for many years (1988 - 2015). In the last few years the organizers have removed grandstands (gold and silver) and built one bronze grandstand. General Admission is useless and I cannot see those levels rising. The stands are well filled, as bigbri describes it.
Yes, the local hotels have priced themselves beyond what is reasonable, so more and more stay away.
Great city and a nice venue but don't believe the head count. "

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9. Posted by bigbri, 16/01/2019 1:49

"As a regular attendee of the Montréal F1 race weekend from 1994-2008 I can attest to the fact that there were very few empty seats on Friday, even less on Saturday and no empty seats on Sunday. While I cannot comment on the actual attendance figures, I do know that Montreal has always been one of the best attendance events in the F1 season.
I can however understand that the attendance may have dropped off since 2008 due to the blatant gouging by the Montreal area hotels which caused my wife and I to decline attending since then."

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10. Posted by Rock Doc, 15/01/2019 21:37

"Which begs the question ... If the Canadians can't get the numbers right, what about the numbers for all the other venues that are quite as transparent?"

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