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  • Writer's pictureNathan Pound

Can Streaming Accelerate Motorsport Growth?

How Netflix helped F1 change lanes to reach a new audience

Chances are, if you're reading this you've already binge-watched your way through all 4 seasons of Drive To Survive. If you haven't, then chances are this isn't the first time you've heard about it. We definitely sit within the former, and if like us you want to learn how there's way more to it than just a reality show about Formula 1 then read on as we lift the hood on the Netflix hit!

"Young Folks Don't Watch F1"

Since Liberty Media's acquisition of Formula 1 back in 2017, the sport had been going through somewhat of a rebrand, aiming to change the perception of F1 to attract a younger, more engaged and truly global audience, which of course included trying to 'break' America, something the sport had always tried and struggled with in its previous incarnation.

The aim was to achieve these goals through freshening up of the brand's identity; adding new countries, relevant sponsors, more street circuits and exciting new race weekend formats to create a more attractive proposition. However, there was another string to F1's rebrand bow.

Enter streaming giants Netflix. It's no coincidence that Netflix's key user base spans almost equally across Millenials and Gen-Xers with 46.55million monthly active users in the US (Statista, 2019), the exact audience that F1 wanted to get infront of. In a bite-size, bingeable, watch anywhere anytime format, Drive To Survive was born.

"They're not purists but it doesn't matter"

The diversification of the sport through streamed media turned out to be the key to F1 being on the right track in their global growth mission, drawing in non-motorsport, and non-engaged audiences to create a community of not just viewers, but fans. Each of the 4 seasons of Drive To Survive follows the movements of drivers and teams through the season. Over 10 episodes per season, the docu-series gives an insight not only into the inner workings of an F1 team, but most importantly puts the drivers and team bosses front and centre, showcasing each team and driver's personality on and off track, giving audiences a choice to delve beyond the Hamiltons and Verstappens and root for the underdog. The series documents the highs and lows in a team's season, with drivers like Daniel Ricciardo becoming instant fan favourites and feuds between team principles (Horner and Wolff) leading to viewers picking their side to cheer for. Drive To Survive has, in essense, created a tangible and emotional connection with viewers through drama and narrative, creating an immersive and engaging world otherwise hidden from the masses.

"Almost every comment you get out of someone out of the U.S., they reference ‘Drive to Survive.”

The show has been criticised by Max Verstappen for over dramatising the sport for the US audience, leading to him state that he will never return to feature in the series.

However comments like the above by McLaren's Zak Brown illustrate the importance of the show in reaching its target markets, backed up by Guenther Steiner, Team Principle at the US-owned Haas F1 Team, who perfectly summed up the reason for the series' success, “You want to see action. You want to see drama. You want to see the underdog making a good result. A story. Each race should have a story, and the story should not be all the time Mercedes or Ferrari wins, because that story gets old pretty quickly.”

The show, especially in Season 4, has a keen focus on both Haas as an American team, and McLaren with an American CEO and Ricciardo who already has a big celebrity presence in the US, which clearly shows the current ambitions of the sport in attracting sponsors having seen its fan base grow stateside. Parallel to Drive To Survive's success, F1's US growth has seen a big shift through the gears growing from the one circuit, Circuit of the Americas, in 2012 to now see the inaugural Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix in 2022, with sights set on a potential Las Vegas Grand Prix in the coming years. Alongside more events, come more sponsorship and investment opportunities from North America-centric businesses like tech company Lenovo and software behemoths Salesforce.

"The margins are fine, the learning curve is steep"

The Netflix effect (source: Formula 1)

  • Each season of Drive To Survive has been more watched than the previous

  • Season 3 reached pole position (#1) Netflix views worldwide

Social Media

  • F1 was the fastest growing major sports league on the planet in 2021

  • 49.1m social media followers +40%

  • 1.5bn total engagement +74%

  • 39% digital growth across Chinese platforms to 2.7m

TV Audiences

  • 108.7m viewers watched the season finale in Abu Dhabi +29% increase from the same race in 2020 and the most watched race from the season

  • Average age of Formula 1 viewers down from 36 years old in 2017 to 32 in 2021

  • 4% total viewership growth

  • Notable global viewer increases YoY - Netherlands +81%, USA +58%, UK +39%

"It's lights out and away we go"

Series 4 of Drive To Survive aired on Netflix on Friday (11th March) so if you haven't already binge-watched the entire season, grab some popcorn, enjoy some questionable golf from Lando Norris, listen to some colourful language from... basically everyone, and take in the emotional rollercoaster of 'that' season finale from a new perspective!

With all of that in mind, it's more clear than ever that there is a hunger for motorsport out there but the key to tapping into that is the packaging of your proposition, whether that's as a team, sponsor or championship!

See how we help our motorsport clients reach their audience and build communities here.

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