Motor sports outlook 2011

March 21, 2011

While technically, generic the adjustable rear wing and the comeback of KERS in F1 dominate the discussions in the motor sports industry, cheap it might be worth taking a look also on the commercial outlook of the sport and motor sports in general.

With again a new race on the calendar in Greater Noida, India, Formula One remains the series to open up new markets and target groups. Meanwhile the GP in Korea seems to be in question again, having recently cancelled two races of the Asian Festival of Speed due to unknown reasons. Not to speak of the Grand Prix in Bahrain that had been correctly cancelled due to issues going on in the country, that are obviously more important than the staging of an F1 event.

It looks good for F1 commercially: TV figures are on the rise and still produce a huge worldwide audience on a regular basis, or let’s say 19 times this year. The financial sector is back in terms of sponsorship with UBS being a global partner in 2011. And the teams have been able to make profit in the last year, obviously depending on their performance on the track. With the going public of Williams, a new era of F1 team financing has been opened up. And of course, the question of how long Bernie is going to be around in the paddock is a permanent one.

With races in new and interesting markets and a big and loyal audience in the old world, F1 does not seem to face any bigger issues. Of course sustainability and the always changing technical regulations might be negative for the sport, however, don’t have a big impact commercially.

It looks a bit different in the series below the international F1 circus. The WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) recently suffered from the withdrawing of the BMW works commitment.
Although having privately owned BMWs still on the grid, the question is always if privateer teams can contribute as much to the popularity of a series as constructors can with immense budgets and communication channels. The recent cancellation of the race in Morocco was obvious, due to the track not being able to organize an event up to the latest safety standards.

With regards to TV audiences, the championship grew in 2010 by 10% (in total 470 million viewers worldwide). The show is still great and the hope for WTCC will be that fans don’t bother if a car is entered by a manufacturer or by a private team and the audiences continue to grow. The series organizers in any case are doing everything to extend their target groups. The cooperation with the US Touring Car Championship may result in a first race being held in the US in 2012. Subaru might be back though works-wise joining the only remaining works-effort from Chevrolet.

Of course also the role of Eurosport being the host broadcaster as well as responsible for sponsorship acquisition is a favorable one, enabling sponsors to cross-link their commitment to the wide-ranging Eurosport advertising opportunities. Nevertheless, recently no new partners have been announced.

The same applies to the sports car series American Le Mans Series, Le Mans Series and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Sanctioned by the A. C. O. (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) the focus does not seem to be on improving the commercial side, but making good business with constructors and private teams. This obviously also makes sense, as sports car events offer racing with cars that are very close to production-based versions. So there won’t be that much to announce commercially, but on the sports-side the re-entry of Aston Martin to Le Mans with an LMP-car, the operation of a Diesel- Hybrid from Peugeot as well as the plan of McLaren to be back in the GT1 category in 2012 mark the great developments. Still the sports car series seem to be ahead of the rest of the industry with regards to new and sustainable technology.

The American Le Mans Series seems to be doing better than the Le Mans Series in terms of sponsorship, having just prolonged the contract with main sponsor Tequila Patron while the LMS is still only partnering with a tire supplier and media companies.

Talking about sports cars, the FIA GT1 World Championship should not be forgotten: Partnering with JMI (Just Marketing International) the series seems to be prepared to also succeed commercially. In 2010 the series left a first footprint as the successor of the legendary sports car world championship that ended in 1992.

Having a look at the US motor sports industry, it can only be stated that NASCAR found its strength again, while the INDYCARS are also doing well, mainly due to their new title sponsor IZOD. The series reached 222.08 million TV viewers in the US, Brazil, Canada, Asia and Japan, making up an increase of 34.5 %. Electronic media including print, internet and social media created cumulated impressions worth 25.9 billion US$. The rise of the series is mainly due to the title sponsor coming out of the fashion industry and having linked both worlds together. The industry can only congratulate the series and the sponsor for this excellent move. A perfect showcase on how sponsorship can be profitable for both sides.

NASCAR is meanwhile back in full strength with the Sprint-Cup being #2 in US broadcasts only beaten by the National Football League. The series reached more than 647 million TV viewers. Although this meant a slight decrease in viewership, digital media boomed in 2010 and more than compensated the decrease. Danica Patrick meanwhile seems to be the guarantee that audiences will be growing again in 2011, opening up new target groups with her recently great performance in the sport. The American racing industry seems in any way to be more gender-correct than the European series. A lot of talented women such as Pippa Mann, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Johanna Long (Truck Series) recently pushed into IRL and NASCAR. Also Trevor Bayne, the 20-year-old surprising winner of the Daytona 500 brings fresh new blood into the series.

For 2012, the series will have to look for a new tire partner, with Firestone having decided to leave the sport by the end of the year.

There is a lot more to come in the colorful world of motor sports that would simply go beyond the scope of this expert view. We are all looking forward to an exciting season 2011.