America’s New Interest in F1

Television shows have often led to individuals winning prizes — just think of Top Chef or American Idol — but what follows behind is the less-obvious results of viewer interest in those shows or categories. A show that has recently demonstrated the power of television in a big way is Netflix’ Drive to Survive.

Slow Start

Mercedes and Ferrari, current F1 royalty, shunned the series in its first season, as they thought it would be a flash in the pan, nothing more. But you can see them sitting down for interviews in Season 2, when the ratings for the first season had come in and they had seen for themselves the dramatic increase in the American fan base.

Drive to Survive, like The Last Dance or Man in the Arena, combines moments of sport with commentary of the people experiencing and making those moments. That kind of storytelling creates a narrative that allows viewers to re-watch highlights with new eyes (and excitement), with new-found access to information previously only available to insiders.

Add that component to individual and team storylines that can run through an entire season, along with the vroom-vroom optics of 1000 HP Formula 1 vehicles and you can see why this show might have been the success that it has been.

More US Races

Traditionally many countries have had only one F1 race. This has been a way for F1 to spread its races over many countries but also a chance for it to be nimble instead of having multiple obligations in one country.

2022 saw the premiere of the Miami Grand Prix, which drew 360,000 over a three-day race weekend. Austin, which will host its race in October, is expected to have well north of 400,000, and Las Vegas has been confirmed for the 2023 calendar, giving America, with no drivers in the current F1 lineup, three races in a given year. ESPN has noted that its ratings for the sport are up 50% since 2020.

Other Reasons for the Surge

While Drive to Survive deserves (and has received) some credit for this rise, there are other factors that have led to this new interest in F1.

At the top of those reasons is Colorado-based Liberty Media’s acquisition of F1 in 2017. Liberty, which also owns SiriusXM and the Atlanta Braves, stated from the beginning that they wanted to solve the “American problem” with F1. Americans clearly like auto racing, as shown by the interest in NASCAR and Indycar, but they just didn’t (yet) buy into F1. Liberty has taken a 360 degree approach to solving that problem.

When Nielsen looked at the new US fans that have come into the sport in the last five years, they noticed that those fans were:

  • younger
  • more affluent
  • white collar
  • with children

Those younger fans are part of a rising generation that not only has access to technologies that are bringing the world closer together, they are more used to niche interests that define who they are. The idea of a personal brand that spans personal and professional interests isn’t a new concept to them: they know it intuitively without having to be taught it at school.

Looking Abroad

An analogy for the rise of F1 can be seen in soccer. Soccer has made a slow and steady move in this country, recently displacing hockey as the fourth most popular sport in America. The US recently won a joint bid to host a World Cup despite its national team failing to qualify for the last one.

As the rising generation’s interests intersect with increased investment in the US market, and technology empowers more people to find what interests them, rather than just choose from the same perennial offerings, you’re going to see more of not just F1, but other sports and interest grab the attention of the very large and lucrative American market.

The smartest companies, businesses, and sports will be watching and will adjust accordingly.

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