Once upon a time, Formula One racing was like soccer in the United States. It had its fans, but, for the most part, F1 was never a formidable power in the states, especially when held up against NASCAR.
That began to change in 2017 when Liberty Media Inc. purchased F1. Liberty Media Inc is headquartered in the states, shifting the marketing targets of F1 just by virtue of being stateside. Now, a series of so-called street races are gaining serious traction in the US.
These street races are all F1-focused and it's clear that Liberty Media Inc has found a new home when it comes to marketing. Better yet, it's working. Formula One racing is making huge strides in terms of US fanship and, as of right now, the sky is the limit.
Stefano Domenicali is the CEO of Formula One racing and his solution to improving the popularity of Formula One in the United States is a very simple one—bringing more F1 races to the US. On its surface, it would seem to be too simplistic of an answer.
But, the reality is, the answer doesn’t require anything more complicated than F1 racecars blazing through more tracks in the United States. As far as everything outside of the cars themselves is concerned, there’s no better comparison than NASCAR.
It's not just the cars in NASCAR that attract its massive audience. It's the personalities of the drivers and the drama that goes on between races. It's also the action that takes place on the track—bitter rivalries colliding, struggles in the pits, crashing and burning on turn 4.
The thing is, Formula 1 racing is almost exactly the same. All of the elements that make NASCAR so popular in the US are right there in F1. The only differences are the type of race cars involved and the types of tracks they race on.
With all of that being said, multiple races are taking place outside of Europe each year, with a more concerted focus on the US. That’s the key to opening F1 to a massive, new, and eager US fan base.
Love them or hate them, ESPN is one of the major locks that Formula One has to open to gain traction in the United States. Fortunately, the powers that be have already unlocked that door and walked through.
ESPN picked up Formula One in 2018 and that’s a key component in fostering the popularity of F1 in the US. Better yet, Formula One and ESPN did something completely out of sync with everything else on cable television today. They went commercial-free.
The broadcast partnership between F1 and ESPN offered commercial-free coverage, and it's undeniably worked. The average viewership per race has risen to nearly one million. Now, that’s a far cry from NFL, College Football, NBA, etc. ratings, but it's growing consistently.
The biggest advantage that Formula One has is that it doesn’t have to change itself to attract US audiences. Everything F1 needs to be a huge attraction in US households is already there for the taking.
First and foremost, it's flashy and fast, which is what a race should be. Formula One racecars are like the tip of a whip, moving with lightning speed and changing course on a dime. That’s exciting for race fans in general and especially for race fans used to watching cars travel in an endless oval.
There are only a few races in the entire NASCAR circuit that take place on tracks with left and right turns. Other than that, all of the races are oval, and all of the race cars spend the afternoon making left turns at high speed.
Formula One is all over the place. There are varieties in all of the race tracks. F1 racecars make right turns, left turns, U-turns, and everything in between. We’re not trying to knock NASCAR here, but there is no refuting the fundamental differences between the two sports.
F1 racing offers a ton of variety, all of which takes place at blistering speeds with huge aerodynamic forces being exerted on the cars.
Just like NASCAR, F1 racing is a massive competition and heated rivalries are always the result of that level of antagonism. Rivalries are created and unlikely team-ups occur on a regular basis.
If there’s one thing that American audiences love, it's drama. All you have to do is look up the ratings for some of the more popular reality shows out there. F1 is no stranger to the fact that people love drama, especially in the US.
Because of that, F1 places a focus on these dramas, zooming in as they unfold. The rivalries and friendships that are built throughout the course of a single season in F1 racing are almost as compelling and attractive as the race itself.
Once Liberty Media Inc purchased F1, the idea of growing the audience in the United States bloomed into substantive efforts to do just that. One of the major platforms that Liberty Media leverages is social media.
But it doesn’t stop there. Various partnerships with sports networks—such as the aforementioned ESPN Partnership—help grow the sport stateside. One thing that Liberty Media has embraced is the “hot lap.”
A hot lap is an opportunity for fans to take a lap around the track in an F1 racecar. Even though these things take place at an individual level, it gives the fanbase—as a whole—the feel and understanding of being a part of something bigger than themselves.
If you connect F1 racing to fans at the emotional level, you’ve created a solid foundation on which to build.
Formula One is making huge strides in the US and it starts with the owner, Liberty Media Inc. With more races taking place in the US each year, it provides a direct and palpable connection between US fans and F1 racing.
There’s a difference between watching F1 on TV, knowing they are in Spain, and watching one on TV, knowing it's taking place 100 miles down the road.
(Top photo attribution: Seefrank, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)