BlackBook Bulletin 02/06: Formula One’s US viewership is on the up

The latest monthly BlackBook Bulletin also covers Graham Stoker's FIA presidential bid, Extreme E's move into streaming and a tv rights roundup.

Although some Covid-19 restrictions remain, Formula One appears to be booming in 2021. It is no secret that the success of Netflix docuseries ‘Drive to Survive’ has helped the series attract younger viewers worldwide, and television viewing figures are starting to reflect that increase in audience.

Formula One’s history stateside has been mixed, as fans opt to watch national series such as Nascar and IndyCar rather than the predominantly European-focused Formula One. However, the signs suggest the tide is starting to turn.

US cable sports channel ESPN revealed that its broadcast of the recent Monaco Grand Prix drew the largest national audience for a Formula One race across the 2020 and 2021 seasons so far. A total of 934,000 tuned in to watch Max Verstappen whisk the championship lead away from Lewis Hamilton, heating up the championship battle.

The audience figure for this year’s glamourous Monte Carlo race represents the fourth largest US cable audience for a Formula One race on record. With a second American race recently secured in Miami, it seems that US fans are taking more notice of Formula One.

It isn’t just in the US, either. Recent data from Nielsen Sports revealed that Formula One viewership in Spain is at its highest since 2017. Examining the Portuguese Grand Prix, the sports analytics company found that Spanish viewership that weekend was up by 159 per cent in comparison to 2020. The return of Formula One legend Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz’s move to Ferrari also has Spanish fans hungry for more on social media, with Sainz seeing a 145.5 per cent increase in his Facebook following over the past year. 

This success has also translated to Formula One’s esports operation. Following the recent introduction of the Women’s Wildcard category and the success of the Virtual Grands Prix in 2020, the series announced that more than 494,000 people attempted to qualify for the 2021 Esports Series, a 108 per cent increase from 2020. 

As Formula One prepares to head to Baku in Azerbaijan for the sixth round of the championship, it will be hoping that it continues to see viewership increases for the duration of the 2021 season and beyond. 

The FIA’s leadership shake-up

As longstanding International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt plans to step down from his role at the end of the year, his right-hand man Graham Stoker has announced his bid to lead the global governing body

December’s elections will see Stoker stand alongside nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, who is running for Stoker’s current position of deputy president for sport. Building on the work of Todt, Stoker plans to introduce programmes and resources to support the FIA’s member clubs as well as enhance its global influence.

Announcing his bid, Stoker, who is a longstanding member of the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council and played an important role in cases such as ‘Crashgate’ and ‘Spygate’, told “Our core belief is an FIA for All which will continue to strengthen our federation – for our members, our sport and our society.”

Extreme E makes streaming moves

Electric SUV series Extreme E is continuing its efforts to engage with younger audiences by launching a channel on streaming platform Twitch, where content will be broadcast daily about the series and its sustainable messaging. Gaming, behind-the-scenes video and competitions will be just some of the content available on the channel, which will be named HighVoltage. 

And that’s not all.

As part of its collaboration with Little Dot Studios, Extreme E live streamed its recent Ocean X Prix on its TikTok channel. The series has been investing its social media focus into the short-form video platform and it is easy to see why. During its inaugural weekend under the hot sun in Saudi Arabia, Extreme E’s TikTok drew 18.5 million views and gained over 60,000 new followers.

Eurosport Events receives environmental pat on the back

As motorsport enters a new era of electric racing and sustainability, championships and promoters are feeling more pressure than ever to cut down on carbon emissions. World Touring Car Cup promoter Eurosport Events is the latest to have its environmental efforts recognised, as it was rewarded with the FIA’s three-star environmental accreditation for its efforts to tackle climate change.

The Discovery subsidiary has been clear in its ambitions to become a more sustainable organisation, securing promotion of the new electric touring car championship, Pure ETCR, and the Electric GT Championship, which is set to launch in 2023.  

TV rights roundup

There has been no shortage of deal-making going on in the world of motorsport in recent weeks.

Ziggo Sport revealed that it will no longer be the Dutch home to Formula One from 2022 onwards, with Swedish broadcast giant Nent set to take its place. Meanwhile, going into its second season in 2021, female single-seater championship W Series will remain on Channel 4 in the UK.

In electric motorsport, Sweden’s Sportkanalen channel has joined Extreme E’s expansive broadcast portfolio for the remainder of the 2021 season.

Elsewhere, UK channel ITV4 broadcast MotoGP’s French Grand Prix live, marking the series’ temporary return to free-to-air television in the UK. Also in motorcycling, Eurosport extended its broadcast deal with the Superbike World Championship, making the series available in over 50 countries.

Looking to the US, new series Nitro Rallycross has secured deals with Viaplay, Sky and SportsMax, which join Tencent, BeIN Sports, Peacock and SuperSport among the championship’s broadcast partners. 

Covid calendar shuffle

Although motorsport is beginning to return to normality, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means that several series have had to adapt their calendars. IndyCar has been forced to cancel its trip to Toronto due to a Covid-19 spike in the state of Ontario, while Formula One’s Turkish Grand Prix has also been cancelled, with the series opting for a second Austrian round instead. Elsewhere, W Series is moving its season-opener from France to Austria in tandem with the Formula One calendar.

Looking to motorcycle racing, MotoGP has cancelled its upcoming Finnish Grand Prix amid travel complications, replacing it with an Austrian round.

Finally, the World Rallycross Championship has made revisions to its 2021 season, switching out its round in Hell, Norway for a race in Montalegre. 

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