Flags, Miami International Autodrome, 2022

F1’s America-first strategy delivers a big win on eve of Miami Grand Prix

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A sell-out crowd of 240,000 will attend this weekend’s inaugural Miami Grand Prix, with 82,500 filling the course around the Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday. The event promoters already plan to increase capacity for coming seasons.

It’s a major win for Formula 1 owners Liberty Media, who immediately latched onto the sport’s potential in their home country when they bought it. Liberty Media president and CEO Greg Maffei described F1’s American presence as “under-viewed, under-monetised, under-everything” in 2016.

The surge in F1’s US popularity since then has been largely driven by Netflix’s Drive to Survive series, which has shown the world a different side to the drivers (while exercising a fair bit of artistic licence). It was an instant hit which has been widely credit for driving the growth of the sport in America.

While some drivers, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in particular, have not been happy with their portrayal in the show, most recognise its value.

Miami International Autodrome, 2022
Gallery: First pictures from the 2022 Miami Grand Prix weekend
Kevin Magnussen, who raced in America last year before returning to F1, understands its appeal. “It’s huge,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans at Imola. “I don’t particularly enjoy being on camera or being interviewed but I see the impact that it has on the general public and how good it is for Formula 1. I really feel like it’s a benefit to all of us, so I’m happily participating.”

The numbers speak for themselves. The 2021 grand prix at Austin had 400,000 fans in attendance, the highest figure across a weekend compared to the other races in 2021.

But there’s more than just the ‘Netflix effect’ at work here. “It’s really not just ‘Drive to Survive’,” F1’s director of media rights for F1 Ian Holmes told Front Office Sports. “I think the value proposition of Formula 1 in the US has clearly grown exponentially from the last time we did a [media] deal.”

And he’s not wrong. Social media has had a huge impact on the sport.

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Bernie Ecclestone, F1 CEO before Liberty Media arrived, did not have any interest in social media. The sport’s online presence was not a focus compared to its lucrative broadcasting rights.

A huge crowd greeted F1 in Austin last year
Since Liberty Media took over, the sport has been on an upwards trend online. F1 described itself as “the fastest-growing major sports league on the planet in terms of follower growth in 2021.” Clearly, the numbers were always going to grow once the championship began engaging online and creating content, but their digital strategy has played a major role in picking up more fans.

Mario Isola, head of motorsport for F1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli, also believes this is the case. “The new management is working a lot to promote this championship in new countries, new locations, new spectators,” he said.

“Netflix is a good example of this new approach from F1. Not only Netflix, but they are also a lot more open on social media websites. That means that you can catch more and different spectators in public compared to the past.

“We had discussions a few years ago about the fact that the average spectator of Formula 1 was becoming older and older, and they wanted to find a way to attract the younger people to Formula 1.

“I believe that was with Netflix, we had a lot of younger people that are now passionate about Formula 1 and I believe also because of the new drivers, because we have young drivers that are a lot more active on social media.”

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The rise of Formula 1 in America is projected to continue to soar. Following Miami’s arrival on the calendar, a third US race is planned in Las Vegas next season.

F1’s growth isn’t confined to America. Last year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi last season saw a 29% increase in viewers, with 108.7 million tuning in. There were also significant rises in markets such as the Netherlands – inevitably linked to the rise of world champion Max Verstappen – plus France, Italy and the UK as well as the USA.

This growth has not gone unnoticed. In the week leading up to F1’s first race in Miami came news which will be music to the ears of those running the sport.

Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess gave the clearest indication yet that two of its premium brands, Porsche and Audi, will grab the chance to enter F1 due to the rising popularity of the championship.

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“Formula 1 is developing extremely positively worldwide, a lot,” said Diess. “In particular, Formula 1 has not been in the USA until now. [But] due to what is happening in marketing, Netflix, perhaps [you have] seen the series about Formula 1, which has led to Formula 1 now growing significantly among viewers in the USA, as well as young customer groups in Asia.”

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The evidence is mounting that Liberty Media have done something special: They have finally cracked America.

It’s come at a vital time as the sport recovers from the financial blow of the pandemic. Its annual revenues fell by more than 40% from 2019 to 2020 to $1.1bn, due to the far shorter season of just 17 races. This resulted in an operating loss of $444m for Liberty Media.

While no US race took place in 2019, F1 made a triumphant and popular return to Austin last year. CEO Stefano Domenicali admitted he had his sights set on America to help F1 rebuild.

With three races in America next season, F1 bosses will inevitably face suggestions they are putting too great a focus on a single country, and putting some traditional venues at risk. That may be so, but its policy of prioritising growth in American has to be regarded as a success, and all eyes will be on Miami this weekend.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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13 comments on “F1’s America-first strategy delivers a big win on eve of Miami Grand Prix”

  1. I think it’s a bit too much to throw all of Formula 1’s success on Drive To Survive. While it may have helped serve as an introduction to some, I don’t think it’s the main driver of F1’s recent successes. It’s mostly the sport itself that’s become more interesting, as Ian Holmes says, the increased social media presence for not just F1, but teams and drivers has helped people identify with the sport more. The leadership being better helps as well, Bernie might have been a character, he was also a stern headmaster and along with Mosley it made the sport look like a Boomer’s playground rather than an actual sport. Archaic and outdated. Add to that that 2021’s season was enticing and interesting and easily one of the best seasons since maybe 1998 or 1999, perhaps 2007 depending on who you ask, a must after years of rather boring Mercedes dominance where championships were decided before the season started.

    People like to complain about FOM and how they only do things for the “show,” but honestly, F1 is a lot more fun to follow these days than it has been for any of the 00s and it shows in attendance and interest. The show kinda matters.

    1. @sjaakfoo Totally agree. Liberty aren’t exactly marketing geniuses for asking the drivers silly questions and putting it up on YouTube with race highlights. F1 doing things like technical analysis in house rather than relying on broadcasters. It’s all very simple. The question is more that if CVC paid Bernie to make them lots of money. And they look at F1’s value now, it probably wasn’t a good arrangement outside of the short term.

      The content that is available now compared to ten years ago is staggeringly more accessible. As much as Bernie will be remembered as a calculated man, during the CVC years especially, he was woefully out of touch. As F1 does more and more itself, I can’t help but feel broadcasters positions when negotiating new deals will become ever weaker.

    2. The YouTube stuff is actually pretty good at times especially when you’re out and need to catch some highlights (I don’t do other social media). The only thing that bugs me is access to live timing data being behind a pay wall. Having it free way back when makes me not want to pay for it now. It does add to the race when you can see someone catching others through the lap times.

  2. Liberty Media bougth Formula 1 in January 2017.

    Since then, new and returning venues for Formula 1 were:

    – Baku
    – Nürburgring
    – Mugello
    – Imola
    – Saudi Arabia
    – Qatar
    – and now Miami

    Yeah, Libery Media’s famous United States of America Seventh strategy is paying of. I suppose.

    1. @proesterchen, To be precise, Baku debuted before LM came, so entirely under BE/CVC.
      Otherwise, new (either all-new or first-time in F1) & returning (temporarily except for Imola) venues have been quite common, albeit some wouldn’t have appeared without COVID, but still, & the US strategy indeed is paying off.
      Overall, I don’t mind & haven’t minded about these aspects, although happily oust some present tracks.

      1. You’re right, the Baku race initially being run as the European GP tripped me up. Thanks for correcting me! 👍

  3. growth as compared to when? Are some of those numbers comparing to earlier in the pandemic?

    Feels a bit of a puff piece for Liberty …

  4. Just to be fair Max does see the value in DTS in adding fans, but he objects to how he and others are portrayed in it at times, which he finds to be total fakery, so he chooses not to participate consciously, knowing they can still grab lots of sound bytes from him doing countless interviews elsewhere anyway. But he has acknowledged it has worked to add some fans but he just wishes they would keep it real rather than giving people (namely new fans) wrong first impressions of drivers’ characters etc.

  5. Who is vw going to buy? Dorilton and haas or rb and at?

  6. Remember when attendance figures used to come out after the event?
    Is the race result available in advance as well?

  7. Woah, the Gerrand Piri weekend is already deemed a success before it even started! Can’t wait for the DRS overtakes on the long straights, those are the best.

  8. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    8th May 2022, 15:02

    3 races in a country that is generally apathetic towards F1 feels like a mistake especially when they’re characterless car parks that seem more interested in the locale than the actual racing. There are many, many circuits in the world in places that are more enthusiastic and supportive of F1 that don’t even have a GP and we’re out here focusing on America presumably because F1 wants the money, I guess.

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