F1 Formula 1 Nielsen Nielsen Sports Nigel Geach

How Did Formula 1 Viewership And Market Trends Change In 2019? Nigel Geach Talks To iSportconnect

March 11, 2020

With the new Formula 1 season kicking off this weekend, iSportconnect spoke to Nigel Geach of Nielsen Sports speaks to Ben Page to discuss how television figures and market trends for the sport changed during the 2019 season, what the addition of some W Series races at some weekends will bring and whether drivers are marketable enough for the sport?

So Nigel, how much of a change did Formula 1 see in 2019 in comparison to the viewing figures achieved in 2018?

Cumulative audiences have increased year on year by 9%, which is fantastic to see. The live race viewership has dropped by 1%, mainly due to a shift of viewing habits, with fans watching more highlights and magazine programmes. This peripheral programming now accounts for 43% of all F1’s output, which aligns with the wider industry trend of viewers wanting to consume sport in shorter, more ‘bite-size’ formats.

With the introduction of W Series combining with Formula 1 during some race weekends next season part of a push to increase the number of female viewers in Formula 1, were there any distinctive changes in the demographics of last season’s audience?

Year on year there has been an increase in female viewers of motorsport generally. The W series will further enhance this and racing on an F1 weekend is likely to bring more awareness to the sport. Both Austin and Mexico are extremely well-attended events which bodes well for the W Series and their ambitions.

How did Formula 1’s market shift compare to other major sports?

Generally shorter programming is happening in other sports as younger audiences watch more and more sports in shorter segments. We now see more broadcasters add pre and post shows to their main session coverage and the impact has been significant – audiences for these shows have been increasing by 16% year on year.

Nigel Geach, Senior Vice President of Global Motorsport at Nielsen Sports, has worked in sports sponsorship for over thirty years, with most of his clients coming from the Formula 1 grid. Having witnessed every twist and turn both on and off the track, Nigel has seen first-hand the powerful evolution of F1, and knows better than anyone the challenges and opportunities that the current climate presents.

According to ESPN, F1’s viewership growth in the US was 21%, was this seen across all markets or an anomaly?

Viewership in the U.S. has grown solidly over the last three years, but the percentage is from a lower base than more mature markets. With the Austin grand prix now a fixture in the calendar in October and the possibility of a Miami race, interest is still growing. Total U.S. viewership last year was up to 37 million.

In which markets did F1 see the greatest increase and where did they struggle – Did the move completely away from terrestrial TV in the UK affect F1? 

2019 saw a significant increase in France (10%), driven by the presence of French drivers Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly occupying race seats at Ferrari and Red Bull respectively. The boost in interest can also be attributed to the presence of the Renault team, together with a second year of a French GP.

The Netherlands saw a huge 56% spike in viewership due to Max Verstappen, the young Dutch driver who is tearing his way towards becoming the youngest ever world champion. The current viewership is the highest we’ve seen in 15 years of Nielsen Sports data, and with the addition of the Dutch grand prix in 2020, a further surge can be expected.

Growth was also seen in Germany, a mature and loyal motorsport market which also saw the return of Sky Deutschland broadcasting F1. This also has an effect on Austrian audiences, which were up 18% to a total of 69 million.

The UK viewership is down due to there no longer being a free-to-air broadcaster, but regular followers of the sport have maintained a healthy level interest in spite of many high profile competing events during the summer, including the Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon, both of which had finals which clashed with the British Grand Prix.

What do you make of the fact Liberty Media revealed they are finding it tough to find major sponsors for F1, and with teams like Williams losing sponsors recently despite TV audiences, what could be the reason for this?

The market for big sponsorship deals was tough across the board in 2019, with the global economy, Brexit and the sustainability conversation around motorsport all contributing. Liberty has faced the same hurdles. However, with 2021’s revolutionary rule changes set to provide a refresh and the success of initiatives by Liberty coming to fruition, strong sponsorships will emerge.

Are Formula 1’s drivers profitable enough for the company, does the fact we see their faces very little, and not at all during the race, affect their marketability?

The way the broadcasts and camera angles have changed in the last two years has helped marketability in this area. We now see more on-board shots and driver involvement. In general, brands involved in the sport get a good visibility-to-coverage ratio.

Are there any particular statistics that stand out as unusual or surprising from last year’s figures?

With the changing pattern of viewing and consumption, the importance of engaging drivers has helped in countries such as the Netherlands and France.

The surge in the Netherlands is particularly fascinating: the viewership in 2018 was at 66 million, which then rocketed to 103 million last year. Dutch broadcasting made significant moves to meet the evolving audience habits, with 464 extra showings of magazine and support shows. Viewing figures in the Netherlands has been soaring since Verstappen’s introduction to the grid in 2015, and this interest was well cultivated by last year’s jump in peripheral programming output. 

Away from flourishing hotbeds like the Netherlands and France, the figures are very solid across the world.

Nigel Geach is Senior Vice President of Global Motorsport at Nielsen Sports, the global leader in sports industry analytics. For more information visit www.nielsensports.com

F1 Formula 1 Nielsen Nielsen Sports Nigel Geach