F1 must open up to attract younger fans


Formula One must become more accessible if it is to attract younger audiences. That is the opinion of many team bosses who agree that the sport has become too sterile and even alienates younger viewers with its policies towards the internet and social media.

With the largest set of regulation changes in its history, Formula One this year has the opportunity to reach a new demographic using the cutting-edge development of hybrid technologies as a catalyst. But while those within the paddock seem happy enough to give snappy sound bites as a collective they've failed to actually sell the sport beyond simply turning up for the scheduled nineteen races.

"That's particularly sad at this point of time because we've entered into an absolutely new era, particularly with regard to the powertrain unit," admitted Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn. "That's such a strong message.

"We have such a sophisticated hybrid system," she continued. "If you look at the consumer market, everyone's going to there. It's about less consumption, it's about such high efficiency and exactly that's what we are showcasing here - and what we should do at Formula One."

But even if the sport was able to sell that message one of the biggest difficulties it would face is engaging with the teenage Joe Public; a demographic the sport is missing from its current fan base.

"The younger audience today is one that have a lot of things thrown at them and have a lot of entertainment options," explained Pirelli motor sport director Paul Hembery, who suggests the sport should humanise itself.

"It's one of the few motorsport areas I think where we could be doing a lot more in promoting the personalities of the drivers," he continued. "I think it's a shame sometimes that we have some great, amazing - the best - drivers in the world but maybe they're not promoted as individuals as much as they should be."

Much of the problem is driven by marketing-minded PR departments who stage manage much of what drivers say and extends even up to the commercial rights holder, Formula One Management, and its strict policy on sites like YouTube. While both attempt to protect the sport's intellectual property, such hard lines could in fact be hurting the business by alienating fans according to Caterham's Cyril Abiteboul.

"We need to find the right balance between the accessibility, exclusivity and value," he reasoned.

"There is a belief right now that more exclusivity creates value. Maybe this was true, maybe it's less true with new media where it's more the distribution and our people need to react with content that is creating value.

"Look at Facebook," the Frenchman added. "There is nothing exclusive in Facebook and I think that the value of the IPO of Facebook is quite historic.

"Maybe a lack of exclusivity maybe does not mean a lack of value."

But given the slowness with which it picked up the internet and social media, not to mention its attempts to monetise every aspect (such as live timing) – a business model which inherently makes the sport more exclusive - there are no signs that Formula One's culture is going to change anytime soon. Instead the dramatic regulation changes which could have attracted a host of new fans, had they been better marketed, will likely be chalked up as another missed opportunity.

Mat Coch

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Published: 28/03/2014
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