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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why is F1 losing its appeal

I've just read a couple of articles on on how F1 should go about appealing to Generation Y.  This question of the ageing profile of Formula 1 fans has been discussed and argued on numerous websites with plenty of ideas, good and bad, being expressed as to how the sport can attract and keep new fans.

The problems though are fundamental.  All of the articles I've read say that F1 doesn't recognise or engage with "new" media in any meaningful way (this is probably true) but this of itself won't bring about an increase in the number of new fans, rather it can be used to improve the show itself.

Peter Maynard wrote an article for PureF1 where he identified some of the basic problems with the current F1 set up and made some staggeringly simple suggestions:

He raises 3 problems in particular:
1. the cost of an entrance ticket to a Grand Prix is becoming prohibitively expensive
This last winter four friends of mine, all sports mad and thinking about going to their first grand prix, were absolutely staggered at Silverstone’s race day-only general admission price of £135. These are people who think that paying £30 for a premiership football match is excessive and none of them were willing to pay that sort of money. This summer my wife paid £20 for a ticket for a day’s session in the athletics arena for the London Paralympics.
More worryingly than those unwilling to pay are those who are unable to pay. The dedicated fans who follow every move in Formula One through TV and social networking but simply cannot afford to experience their beloved sport in person.
2. Whilst it markets itself as a sport it is devoid of the human side that catches the imagination of the casual observer in the way that this summer’s Olympics or Ryder Cup did. Out of their cars the drivers are being turned into corporate frontmen, their true personalities hidden behind branded clothing, organised press calls and sponsors’ events. It’s telling that the driver whose comments carry the most interest is the one who has the least to say – Kimi Raikkonen.
3. Formula One may be driven out of cash-strapped Europe completely for those countries where the circuits do not rely on admission prices for their income. Races could even be held without paying spectators, there are probably enough state sponsored circuits outside Europe to hold a ‘World Championship’ – a ‘for TV and invited guests only’ event.
and he suggests some solutions:
Sponsors – let the drivers off the leash a little, wear their own clothes if they wish and allow them to chat freely to TV crews and journalists a little more. It would be easy enough to pull them up if something untoward was said or done.
Promoters – allow a little more non-choreographed, reality TV filming – drivers’ briefings, team meetings etc.
Also, open up the paddocks of the support race feeder series GP3 and GP2. Let the public meet and form some kind of identity with these upcoming drivers in the atmosphere of a Grand Prix meeting to create a greater feeling of involvement particularly in the careers of those who make it to the top. They are at the stage where they (and their sponsors) benefit from and are seeking public recognition and inter-reaction.
Drivers – pay a little more respect to the paying public on the drivers’ parade. Face them, no standing in huddles collars up, hats down chatting amongst yourselves. No mobile phones. No TV interviews at the same time – simply acknowledge and inter-react with the fans. Many drivers admit they use the time to catch up with the other drivers.
I agree with the premise of the foregoing: Yes the costs are too high; Yes the teams are too corporate; and Yes Europe cannot compete with non-European state sponsored races.  How do we create more
interest in the sport? It's not enough to de-corporate the drivers, allow filming of briefings, team meetings, open up the GP2/GP3 paddocks or improve the driver's parade spectacle.

The sport needs to reconnect itself to the paying public, to the fanbase.

What is needed is a root and branch reform of the sport itself.  It is currently viewed as an elitist sport by those who are not fans: Why is this? It is because TV footage shows the Glitterati hanging around, it is because access to the Paddock is corporate, is by invite, or is massively expensive.  It is because Grandstand seats are out of the price range of 95% of the fans and these days grandstands are being constructed on more and more of the track, cutting off the General Admission fans, who are in the majority.

The majority of Grandstands are empty on Fridays and Saturdays but yet the GA fan is not allowed to sit in them to watch the F1 cars during practice or qualifying. If you consider that TV is showing these empty grandstands to the world, what does that do to the sports image?  It makes it appear that this is a one day only event rather an an entire weekend. If you allow the GA fan to sit in the empty seats it improves their weekend, improves the TV image, and gives the, correct, impression to the casual viewer that this is an event rather than simply a race.

The worst example of this that I ever noticed was at Silverstone last season: on Saturday, during qualifying, I was taking advantage of the deluge to walk the track when I saw a family with three young kids being refused access to an empty covered grandstand.  There was no action taking place on track and the rain had been falling continuously and heavily for over an hour.  The family were simply seeking a bit of respite but, while the security guard was apologetic his line was that it was more than his job was worth to let them in out of the rain - into a grandstand that was empty of all but a dozen fans all during qualifying.

General Admission Ticket holders spend a lot of money, for them, to go to one or two races a season, or even one every two seasons.  They are hardcore, dedicated to the sport, and massively friendly.  Inside the circuit they are the lowest of the low with no access to grandstands, no permitted pit lane access, no paddock, no frills.  They spend Free Practice and the support card practice and qualifying walking the circuit looking at all of the available viewing opportunities available to them, they don't tend to complain because they are just delighted to be there to see their sport live.

If the sport wants to keep them going to races, and intends to keep prices at their current level, then they have to offer them a better experience.  Access to empty grandstand seats on Friday and Saturday on a first come first served basis is just one way that you can keep these guys coming back.