F1 Myth Busting: Is F1 an old man’s sport?
by Joe Baker
Joe Baker, Communications Manager at CSM Sport & Entertainment, explores how the global F1 audience is moving with the times - leaving the outdated perception of their 'male and grey' fanbase in the dust.
12th July 2019, 15:36
It’s March 2018, Melbourne. The then four-time Formula One (F1) World Champion Lewis Hamilton causes controversy ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix by posting a video on social media of a steady stream of old, white, male fans walking in to the Albert Park circuit.  In it he criticises the lack of diversity amongst the fans coming to F1, questioning why nothing has changed in the 11 years he has been in the sport.

A year earlier, Liberty Media had completed a $8bn deal to acquire F1. It announced as a priority the desire to make F1 a more fan-centric brand and diversify the appeal of a sport estimated to have 503 million fans globally. The burning question for Chase Carey & Co was how to pull a global sporting series - one that stretches across 9 months and 21 countries - into the 21st century, in order to expand fan engagement.

So, what progress have they made? The data below demonstrates that they are well on their way. This challenges a certain perception that still lingers in 2019 - that despite the sport being at the forefront of technological innovation and the pinnacle of motor racing, F1 remains stuck in the past when it comes to the area that arguably matters the most – its fans. 

Old and male or young and diverse? For many, the answer is still the former. However, if you are on that side of the fence, you may be pleasantly surprised to hear that you could well be wrong. Indeed, our recent The Global Sports Fan Survey has found that 46% of F1 fans are now under 35 – a higher proportion than football (43%). Meanwhile, in terms of new fans, of those who have started following the sport within the last 12 months 61% are under-35 and 25% are between 16-24 years of age. The last Motorsport Network Global Formula 1 Fan Survey, the largest ever conducted in the sport, also found that 26% of its 215,872 respondents were under the age of 25.

So, what does this mean? Put simply, the average age of the F1 fan is in fact decreasing, with the sport having a substantial and growing Gen Y and Z fan base. It therefore has a greater cross-generational appeal than many of us perhaps realise. It is well known within the sport and entertainment industry that F1 has been working hard to make itself more accessible to younger generations and new geographies and demographics. Digital investment has been a priority. This includes starting an esports competition and running fan festivals in existing or new markets. And the data suggests it’s working…

According to a recent study from Motorsport Broadcasting, F1’s number of social followers increased by 24.6% on Instagram alone for the first half of 2019. Our own research has also revealed that users of F1’s official social platforms grew by a staggering 53% last year. This move to a younger, digitally active fan base is supported by the fact that 42% of F1 fans now follow the sport on social media, a similar level to other major sports. Streaming races has also been a smart move by F1, with 25% of 16-34-year olds wanting to watch the action via this medium, through laptops or mobiles. The teams themselves have caught on to the online uplift, placing even more significance on connecting with a fresher, younger audience. For example, over the last 12 months Red Bull’s following increased by close to 2 million fans, with Mercedes’ swelling by 1.5 million.  And what of perhaps the most important issue of all – gender diversity? The launch of the W Series, the likes of former Williams Test Driver, and current Venturi Formula E Team Principal, Susie Wolff, and F1’s current Director, Marketing & Communications, Ellie Norman, show that female involvement in motorsport is rightly increasing. Yet, is this change finally occurring amongst F1 fans? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. The modern-day sport now has a stronger female following than it ever has before – and this continues to grow. Our research has found that 50% of fans who have started following the sport within the last 12 months are female, with 46% of all those interested in F1 now women.

As has been well publicised, new rules and regulations intended to be introduced in 2021 are set to be finalised by teams later this year. The outcome of these discussions, in terms of the racing and entertainment spectacle they could create, will be vital in continuing this trend and inspiring a range of different fans in the future. For now, the initially slow shift in diversity is picking up speed faster than you might think – creating a sport that will be more exciting for brands, fans and consumers than ever before. 

Part 1 - https://www.sportcal.com/Insight/Sponsorship/126399

Part 2 - https://www.sportcal.com/Insight/Sponsorship/126763

Part 3 - https://www.sportcal.com/Insight/Sponsorship/126764   

CSM, part of the Chime Challenger Network, is a global integrated marketing agency working across sport, entertainment, media, lifestyle, innovation, social impact and more. Driven by people pursuing the extraordinary, we build brands, work with properties and create meaningful, memorable and measurable live experiences. www.csm.co