China is not F1's panacea
8 December, 2004 – In an era when commercial clutter and ad avoidance is an increasing problem, F1 offers a unique opportunity for sponsors to communicate with huge audiences on an annual basis. In 2004, the global cumulative average audience was 800 million. This audience is distributed across the globe, but is concentrated in those markets with most F1 and motor sport heritage. Europe alone accounts for 75 per cent of the global audience.
Sponsors’ activity centers on these markets that deliver the greatest audience numbers. Consequently, adding new Grands Prix to the race calendar to boost audiences in the sport’s periphery, for example in the Far East, is not necessarily the answer to F1’s attempts to rejuvenate the sport. Although the season audience rose by 6 per cent in 2004 versus 2003 as the number of races was increased from 16 in 2003 to 18 in 2004, the global average TV audience per race declined by 6 per cent.
While the Bahrain Grand Prix was the second most popular race of the season, with 55 million individuals, the Chinese Grand Prix was the second least popular, with only 32 million viewers. The relative performance of F1’s two newest races was largely a function of time zones – the Bahrain race is effectively a European Grand Prix in terms of its start time, whereas the Shanghai race took place early on a Sunday morning in the core European markets. The Chinese Grand Prix attracted particularly small audiences in Europe as a result.
Viewing figures instead show that the more important factor in boosting both audience size and engagement is the presence of local heroes. While hardcore F1 fans watch the majority of races, the marginal viewer is more likely to watch if there are particular personalities driving whom they support. Often this will be a driver from a person’s country.
The success of Fernando Alonso has caused Spanish audiences to boom and the country is now the fifth biggest F1 TV market in the world, when average audiences are expressed in millions. Other examples in the 2004 season include the positive effect on viewing of Zsolt Baumgartner on Hungarian audiences, and Takuma Sato on Japanese viewers.
When local heroes participate, not only do average audiences rise, but also viewers become more engaged as they have more reason to support an individual driver. Fans are then more likely to share their F1 experiences, for example by talking about events both on and off the track. Local heroes do not necessarily need to win Grands Prix to be popular – often merely taking part in F1 is enough for fans to perceive the driver as a ‘winner’.
The challenge for Formula 1 in years to come will be to increase its global appeal, most notably in the Far East, without losing viewers in its core markets, i.e. Europe and South America. But the potential is there for F1 to extend its lead as the world's most popular annual TV event and further increase its effectiveness as a communications property for sponsors and advertisers.
Initiative tracked data in 47 markets during the 2004 F1 season. These data cover the average audience for live and time-shifted broadcasts. Highlights and news clips are excluded for international consistency.
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