Formula 1’s Rapid Growth: The Impact on long-standing fans

There is no question that Formula 1 has experienced a rapid growth in recent seasons that has seen the sport reach a range of new audiences. This rise in popularity was emphasised by the recent visit to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The U.S has long been somewhat an anomaly in the global reach of F1, with Indycar and Nascar taking a large share of the spoils when it came to motorsport viewers. But following a 5-year hiatus from the States between 2007 and 2012, the country now hosts two races following the recent addition of Miami and are set to add a third event with next year’s inaugural Las Vegas grand prix. C.O.T.A saw 440,000 spectators through the gates throughout their 2022 event and an average of 1.3Million viewers tuning in to watch on Disney-owned channel ABC. The figures mark a clear increase in F1’s viewership in general, contributing to a 29% average rise on the 2021 season. With the U.S being such a vast market with huge growth potential, it was positive for F1 from a marketing perspective for the event to return to record breaking heights The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had previously broken the record for the best attended F1 grand prix in history at 250,000 spectator at its first event in 2000.

The Start Of The 2000 United States Grand Prix - The Most Attended Grand Prix Of All Time* : r/formula1
Comparison: the 2022 U.S. GP (below) and the 2000 U.S. GP (above) both set record breaking attendance figures for their time.The Second American Revolution - How Formula 1 finally cracked America : PlanetF1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Increased spectator numbers and fan interactions has been prompted by several factors. Netflix’s Drive to Survive series has taken the sport into mainstream audiences that would previously not have taken an interest in Formula 1. The deep dive behind the scenes into the off-track relationships and driver personalities has been a major hit with the younger generation of viewers as well as the casual fan. This, along with increased social media engagement, improved grand prix fan Zones and an increased calendar have contributed towards frequently sold-out events throughout the year.

Drive to Survive, Season 4, Netflix review - bitter rivalries on and off the track
Netflix camera crews try to give fans an insight into drivers outside of the car during the first day of pre season testing

However, with increased demand inevitably comes a rise in ticket prices. Long standing motorsport fans are, in some cases, faced with being priced out of the sport as it looks to capitalise on it’s wave of popularity. The British grand prix at Silverstone recently released ticket sales for 2023 using a dynamic pricing model, a decision widely criticised by fans and the press. Prices were seen to be increasing by the minute with some people adding tickets to their basket only to find they had increased in price once they went to purchase. To add to the disappointment, Silverstone’s website was unable to cope with the demand for tickets and there were several cases of fans being unable to purchase the tickets as they continued to rise in value. Silverstone CEO Stewart Pringle has apologised for the malfunctions and vowed to improve the system. However, Silverstone are in a position where their costs come close to matching their incomings on Grand Prix weekend. Therefore, from a financial perspective they have little choice but to capitalise on the sport’s popularity to ensure they can survive as a business and continue as a mainstay on the F1 calendar.

 

F1 Commentator David croft took to Twitter to defend remind fans that Silverstone are quick to reinvest their profits to improve the grand prix weekend. 

Granted, Formula 1 as a group are not in control of how individual grand prix circuits choose to price their tickets. However, it seems that the amount they are charging FIA grade 1 venues to host an event has increased post-pandemic. Arguably, this is forcing promoters to introduce pricing schemes that will deliver maximum profits to ensure they recoup the fees they are having to pay out. As previously mentioned, F1 is riding a wave of popularity and naturally independent venues need to take full advantage of the demand for tickets. But in a season where the on track spectacle has perhaps not lived up to the standard set in the following year, it is important to consider the loyal supporters that have stuck with the sport regardless of the competition level. Circuits promoters may consider some form of loyalty incentive for long-standing fans; a reward for contributing their hard earned money so frequently to the sport they love.

The Beautiful Game – but not for everyone

The ecstasy of a live sporting event is perhaps one of life’s most thrilling experiences. In the UK, 3PM on a Saturday afternoon is an escape for many – a chance to forget everything for 90 minutes and watch the game they love.  Football is widely considered relatively simple in terms of accessibility, opportunity to play and acquiring the resources to do so. The latest data collection clarifies that football in the UK is the most popular sport to both participate in and spectate with the Premier League alone reaching 15Million spectators in the 2021/22 season (statista, 2022). An outstanding figure and a testament to both the national and global appeal of the league.

However, for a number of UK citizens, contributing to these statistics is not as easy as most would assume. Disabled supporters, require a certain level of accessibility to support their team in person. Regardless of their desire to be in that stadium, long-standing barriers exist in society that mean this is not always possible. When supporters think of football in England, a large proportion would point towards Manchester United as top club in terms of history, success and global reach. Their home at Old Trafford seats 77,140 people, of which only 0.22% are wheelchair accessible (Age UK, 2021). If the club most synonymous with the premier league cannot lead by example when it comes to accessibility, then it is perhaps no surprise that only 7 teams offer the minimum threshold of wheelchair accessible seating in their stadium.

Of course, it is not only wheelchair users that need to be considered when it comes to accessibility. Audio commentary service, guide dog friendly facilities, and accessible entrances, walkways and toilets all contribute to how a stadium ranks as accessible for all. Additionally, there are disabilities to be considered that are not visible at first glance. Autism, ADHD, FASD and others benefit from use of a sensory room where individuals can experience live football in an environment where they can regulate their senses and emotions effectively. Different countries and sports appear to have a clearer direction when it comes to supporting these hidden disabilities. The U.S.A has been a leading force in this area both in terms of quantity and the technology level used in the facilities. Most recently, the NFL’s LA Raiders and Baseball’s New York Mets partnered with design company Nook to provide a sensory regulation escape from the overstimulation of a live sporting event. The Mets even host a ‘quiet zone’ where over 800 accessible tickets are made available for fans to experience the action with soundproofing for reduced noise, limited flashing lights and no large crowds.

TheMediagoon.com: Citi Field to add sensory Nook

The Mets provide off-field escape experiences as well as a pitch side ‘quiet zone’ to benefit Autistic fans. 

A handful of stadiums in the Premier League have installed a sensory room in recent years, supported in many cases by the Shippey Campaign. The charitable organization was founded by two parents with an ambition to revolutionize sensory rooms to incorporate sports stadia viewing. The inspiration behind the cause came from their three children, all of whom have been diagnosed with Autism. Funding provided by the Shippey Campaign has formed a platform for clubs to ensure they have the financial ability to provide a meaningful matchday experience for all fans – most notably, Autism. When such financial support is available, it remains a question as to why governing bodies do not make these essential facilities mandatory to ensure stadiums are as accessible as is possible for all. Where Premier League clubs have made progress in installing a sensory room within their stadium, there are few that provide access to viewing of the game from the environment – an element that is essential in addressing the sensory issues that come with live sport. With their alternate viewing experience, clubs such as Arsenal demonstrate the untapped potential in accessibility for the Premier With several examples across a range of regions and sports displaying the benefits fans reap from this experience, installation of such facilities should be a necessity.

The sensory room at Arsenal providing full pitch viewing from a sensory environment.