Formula One growth on Social Media
Formula One growth on Social Media. Fast cars, spectacular races, and vibrant cities. Formula one is one of the most popular sports in the world today. Almost half a billion unique viewers watch the races. Having that many people watch means serious money – from broadcasting and sponsorship deals.
The Formula One Group is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. But the most unexpected figure when looking into the success of Formula One? It is the fastest-growing sport on social media. That is impressive, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said: “I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash.” Now we could just say, OK boomer. But first, Bernie Ecclestone is way too old to be a boomer, and secondly, how was Formula One able to build such a strong digital brand although their boss had nothing but ignorance left for the digital generation? How did the Formula One Group manage to leave heavyweights like the Premier League, NBA, and UFC behind and become the fastest growing sports league on social media?
How did Formula one grow on Social Media?
Formula One growth on Social Media. Ecclestone’s control of the sport, which grew from his pioneering sale of television rights in the late 70s, was chiefly financial. But under his leadership the Formula One Group also managed the administration, setup, and logistics of each Grand Prix, making him one of the richest men in the United Kingdom. While Ecclestone understood very well how profitable broadcasting rights could be, he failed to understand the rise of digital media. His aversion against Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were also grounded in the way he saw his customers. His main target group was ‘the 70-year-old guy with plenty of cash. He simply didn’t understand why people want to get to the so-called young generation. ‘Most of these kids haven’t got any money, he said. That mindset created Formula One’s reputation as an old boys club.
Liberty Media’s Role
Formula One even lacked a professional marketing department. They were just not set up for the 21st century. They didn’t cut corners and relaunched the brand less than a year after acquisition and replaced the old logo which caused quite a debate. An unprecedented marketing campaign followed: official Esports competitions, a fantasy game, a sports betting deal, and a machine learning collaboration with Amazon. But one after another. Let’s unpack how Liberty Media reinvented the Formula One Brand.
In contrast to the gut-feeling approach of Ecclestone, Liberty Media started with data. They came out of it with a thorough understanding of what the fans wanted: to get closer to the sport. By analyzing the results they were also able to gain significant information about which consumer groups to target. They have significantly increased their social media presence to interact more with precisely this kind of consumer group: millennials and fans, that are connected through these channels. Their YouTube channel doubled their subscribers in 2020 from below 2M to more than four and a half. More significantly, more than half of these new fans were under the age of 35. The base for that success is a lot of great content like videos and images that can be turned into engaging social media posts. And in that regard, Formula One is in a prime position.
Formula One growth on Social Media. Unlike other sports, Formula One handles all the broadcast logistics itself. The group then provides a global feed to its TV partners, each of whom pays a hefty price for broadcasting rights. Those networks then add their own commentary and on-screen graphics for rebroadcast. Global broadcast revenues for 2018 amounted to more than 600 million dollars. Taking care of the broadcast in-house also means that Formula One Group owns all the copyright and has full control over the content and its look and feel.
For decades Formula One has led the world of sports broadcasting with pioneering technologies such as onboard cameras, live graphics, helicopter cameras, and Ultra-High Definition. At every race they deploy 90 cameras, 147 microphones, and 50 miles of cable, capturing over 430 hours of live TV per season. As a result, the F1 Broadcast Centre, the biggest and most complex transportable facility of its kind, is at the heart of the Formula One business. F1 provided live-action to almost half a billion unique viewers around the world in 2019. They also changed the positioning of the microphones on the cars, to make sure the TV viewers experience the unique sound of the engines. That rethinking of how to capture the sport on camera also set the groundwork for new ways of leveraging the content.
Formula One, Amazon, and Netflix
Formula One growth on Social Media. Netflix turned their exclusive access into fascinating content. That, in turn, brought in new audiences and even boosted F1 ticket sales. While many new initiatives were designed to gain new viewers. Part of their strategy was doubling down on providing value for their most passionate fans. Research told them that these hardcore fans wanted to go deeper. So, they reimagined the F1 app to offer in-depth analysis and real-time stats.
And just like at the start of their strategy, the keyword is again ‘data’. F1 has formed a partnership with Amazon Web Services to add more strategic elements to its on-screen graphics. During a Grand Prix, every car contains 120 sensors which generate over 1M telemetry data points per second. This data is transmitted from the cars to the pits. That sounds very fancy and technical, so here’s an example. With the Insight ‘fastest driver’, Amazon and F1 aim to compare the drivers from different eras and create ranks for each track.
Formula One growth on Social Media. A machine learning algorithm takes the times from every qualifying session in a driver’s career. It removes any outlying laps such as those affected by the weather. It compares them to the driver’s teammates to eliminate the performance of the car. They are then matched against other drivers through a network of teammate relationships. It gives a rank based on pure speed and a gap to the fastest driver in seconds. That mass of digital activities that Liberty Media has inaugurated will not just help reach followers. It will amass the oil of the 21st century: data. Liberty Media’s vision is to transform F1 from a motorsport company to an entertainment brand. Their chairman talks of making each race a spectacle like the Super Bowl or a heavyweight boxing match in Las Vegas. This brings us to a more fundamental issue: competitive balance.
New Rules and Regulations
It is extremely rare that a driver outside of Mercedes, Ferrari, or Red Bull gets on the podium. That’s why Liberty Media introduced new sporting, technical and financial regulations. It will be applied from 2021 onwards, including a budget cap of 145 million dollars per team and season. Those regulations are designed to bring about more exciting racing, greater competitive balance, and improved financial sustainability in the sport. It remains to be seen if a budget cap will be successful in creating more exciting races. But Formula One will definitely be prepared to capture those and turn them into compelling digital content.
They are not shying away from making major changes to modernize the sport. The days that Formula 1 is not interested in Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are over. While you can see Formula One only with Pay TV in most countries.