F1 Drives Netflix Series Into U.S. Expansion as Circuit Heads to Austin

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The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, is gearing up to host a sold-out Formula One race this weekend, and while North America’s only grand prix for the 2021 calendar is central to F1’s U.S. focus, opportunities are sprouting all around for the racing circuit.

According to F1 Global Fan Survey results, F1 has seen greater interest and engagement from a “more diverse and evolving fanbase” since U.S.-based Liberty Media’s $4.6 billion takeover in 2017. “What this survey shows is that you’re getting younger audiences coming in,” James Allen, the president of Motorsport Network, said in a phone interview.

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The global F1 audience is on average 32 years old, four years younger than it was in 2017. Female participation has nearly doubled, according to the 2021 survey, to 18.3%, and student-age responses increased to 26%, up from 18% in 2017. “What we really want is to get a female Formula One driver at some point in the next five to 10 years,” Allen said, “and there’s no physical reason why it shouldn’t happen.”

Over the past three years F1 expanded its social media content and ramped up gaming and streaming. “We’ve had strong audience growth with live race audiences up 62% versus the season average for 2020,” said Chloe Targett-Adams, F1’s global director of race promotion. “I think part of that is because we’ve managed to create, or we are in the process of creating this presence, 365 days a year.”

Targett-Adams credits mainstream media, social content, “and obviously, the amazingness of Netflix’s Drive to Survive and our celebrity and influencer program.” Co-produced by F1 and the streaming platform, the documentary series is a bona fide hit, giving fans a compelling look behind the scenes at the races and teams.

The U.S. represents F1’s the fastest-growing market, with 36 million fans, a TV reach of 28 million and 2 million social media followers. But Targett-Adams admits there is still work to do. The goal for the next few years is to double or even triple those numbers. To achieve it, F1 is collaborating with America’s more established sports leagues. In Austin, F1 will commemorate the National Basketball Association’s 75th anniversary season by bringing NBA stars on site. Next year, F1 will hold a race in Miami on a circuit set up around the Miami Dolphins’ stadium.

F1 posted solid earnings for Q2 in 2021, in spite of ongoing lockdown restrictions around the world. Revenue improved significantly over the same period in 2020, up from $24 million to $501 million, and the outlook for the next two quarters and 2022 is optimistic.

Teams, too, are being affected by new business strategies. A spending cap was implemented in 2020 to make F1 more sustainable, with the upper limit for 2020 set at $175 million, and lowered in 2021 to $145 million. To keep costs down, F1 teams will be using cars from last year.

Laurent Rossi, the new CEO of Alpine, the rebranded Renault team, wholeheartedly supports the changes. “[The caps are] going to help us because no one will be able to throw money at problems and basically move faster than the others,” he said in an interview. “We were wondering if Formula One was really a good investment to pursue.”

Those doubts have been assuaged. “Liberty Media is trying to transform the sport into something more sustainable by capping the cost on the Formula One side [and] by uncapping revenue, if you will, monetizing the sport much better,” Rossi said. “We see it now as a possibility of becoming a franchise in a sport like the NBA or other sports here, making it way more sustainable. Because you don’t have to win the championship every year to imagine you have a future in the sport.”

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