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Marketing Matters

Chase Carey On Formula 1’s Audience Challenges

Think of a sport with a global reach, events across the world every year, strewn with some of the most prestigious global brands and a history as glamorous as any. That sport is surely Formula 1 motor racing.

But there’s a catch: is it under-performing with Americans, with Chinese, and with the young? If so, these are enormous failings for such a global sporting heavyweight, and indeed they are on the radar of Chase Carey, the CEO and Chairman of Formula 1.

“We really believe that Formula 1 is ripe for a fresh point of view,” Carey told the All That Matters conference in Singapore. That fresh point of view is partly aimed at challenging the stereotype that the sport’s fans are white, middle aged, and male. That’s especially problematic in a sport that kids can’t really take part in, as they can with something like football, cricket or basketball.

“You’ve got to let the fans connect and engage,” says Carey. “The young are not watching TV in the way their parents are, but they’re still engaging, and have their heroes and stars. You’ve got to connect in ways they want to connect.”

Part of Carey’s emphasis is on the spectacle of the live events – in fact the entire week building up to a Formula 1 race, in what he calls ‘destination cities’ around the world. He wants fans to have something they’ll talk about for ages, and presumably share their experience with others. There are – of course – digital platforms, and they are also busy simply trying to re-energise the traditional TV offering with improved graphics and sound.

That ‘destination city’ business is also part of Carey’s plans to boost popularity in the US, which has proved somewhat resistant to the charms of F1. He wants a race in just such a city, and a long term commitment rather than one-off races in places such as Detroit, Phoenix or Denver. It needs the visibility of a New York or a Miami, he says. The prize, according to Carey, is a unique set of US fans that are purely motorsports fans, that advertisers cannot reach any other way. “Some of them wouldn’t know a football from a baseball, but they live and die for Formula 1.”

What then about China, and indeed the whole of Asia. None of the 20 current drivers is Asian, and only one team owner is. As with the US, Carey sees only ‘upside opportunity’, as F1 is only scratching the surface there. The sweet spot that he identifies as F1’s greatest asset for a Chinese audience is its unique marrying of sporting competition with state-of-the-art technology. “Realistically Asia is a part of the world that’s just growing into sports,” he explains.

Carey speaks with the fervour of a convert to F1. His own favoured sports are rugby and baseball, and he has bleacher seats from the old Yankee Stadium in his office. “I didn’t come into motorsport with a deep understanding of the players, the competition, the history. And as I had the chance to understand it better it quickly became consuming and captivating. Sport’s all about competition, it’s human drama, the transformative nature of heroes, emotion, and history. Formula 1 has a fabulous spectrum of attributes that covers that spectrum.”

If he can impart just some of his own enthusiasm for Formula 1 to the Chinese, American, and younger sports fans across the world, he’ll have done a good job.

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