Bernie is out and the new ‘dream team’ heading up F1 is led by Chase Carey and Ross Brawn. Since the shock departure of F1’s dictator last week Brawn and Carey have been on something of a charm offensive.
Everything they have had to say has been met with varying degrees of cautious and fervent optimism. As you would expect teams, circuits, drivers and fans have not been slow to offer up suggestions on what they believe Liberty Media should be looking at first. Or in the case of Toto Wolff, what Carey and Brawn should not be doing – specifically putting the sport in to some sort of ‘beta’ test.
With the bandwagon passing by I am jumping on with my 3 suggestions. This is where I believe Chase Carey and Ross Brawn should be focusing their attention in 2017.
1. Ensure there are free-to-air plus pay-per-view TV options
One of the many ironies of F1 is that free-to-air/low cost TV coverage is what made the sport a global phenomenon, and the subsequent push for pay-per-view is killing it.
Bernie Ecclestone built Formula 1 by selling the sport to the masses. It created a perpetual cycle of increasing returns as mass audiences made sponsors hungry to get involved, even as the costs rose. Fans became hooked on the sport through relatively low-cost access. As popularity skyrocketed Bernie then charged increasing amounts for the TV packages.
Now you like F1, pay for it
He became a very rich man but ended up pushing the sport out of reach of free to air channels and in to the clutches of pay-per-view. Now fewer people are watching F1 in most of the sport’s traditional territories.
F1 will always be expensive, even if Liberty are successful in bringing in cost caps. Therefore the sport has to bring in sponsors and sponsors want maximum coverage for their brand. Which makes subscription-only TV coverage incompatible with F1.
Core fans + casual fans = success
Liberty Media need to get F1 back in the face of casual fans. Casual fans are the people that make the difference between a good audience and a really great one. If the Olympics for example were to go exclusively to pay-per-view TV, the massive audiences it attracts would dwindle. The same has been and is happening for F1.
Chase Carey is unlikely to jeopardise the massive income streams pay-per-view coverage of F1 now brings. But he will have to address the issue of races playing out to much smaller audiences. Providing some degree of free to air coverage seems like the only option.
2. Renegotiate race fees down
Unless a national government is bankrolling an F1 race you can be guaranteed the host circuit is barely breaking even. Historic circuits like Silverstone start at a deficit running in to tens of millions of dollars before they sell one ticket, t-shirt or hotdog. Whilst Bernie and his investors have been raking it in, circuits have been struggling to survive.
The consequence has been a steady move away from the heartlands of F1 towards state-sponsored circuits and races. But as governments and priorities change F1 has no longer been of interest and these exotic adventures have ended almost as quickly as they started. Remember when F1 raced in Turkey, India and South Korea? Thought not.
Related article: Turkish Grand Prix venue becomes a used-car delearship
Liberty has to give circuits that are not government backed or funded a chance to make a profit from F1. Circuits like Silverstone and Monza host the races because of the passion for F1 in their countries (its certainly not because they make money from it). And fans need a break too. The eye watering ticket prices at many historic F1 circuits will only come down if promoter fees drop first.
Without a prompt reduction of promoter fees the sport will wander like a nomad from country to country. Racing in countries solely on the basis of who has the cash to burn. Paying little attention to whether that country or its people are really that interested in F1.
That is not sustainable for any sport and certainly not one as costly as Formula 1.
3. Make customer cars a reality
If you read this blog from time to time you will not be surprised by this. I believe customer cars are the only way to make F1 a more sustainable sport and to allow small teams a chance to compete on something resembling a level playing field.
The loss of the Manor F1 team this month brings the issue back in to sharp focus once more. Customer cars would undoubtedly allow smaller team to compete in F1 more effectively.
Instead of wasting resources building their own cars (which end up off the pace anyway) they could engineer proven chassis. The inherent complexity of F1 means only the best teams could do this and we would retain the important proving ground for young talent. Both drivers and engineering crew.
And if the minnows can come and give the big boys a bloody nose from time to time, all the better. Without customer cars F1 will find itself entirely depending upon car manufacturers and eccentric billionaires like Dietrich Mateschitz. That is a dangerous game to play.
Manufacturers have a habit of dropping motor sport programmes like hot potatoes. Secondly the rapidly increasing momentum towards electric road cars puts F1 in a difficult position with manufacturers in terms of serving any technological relevance.
What do you believe are the priorities for F1’s new owners? Should they be changing anything about F1 or everything? Is Bernie’s legacy there to be torn up or respected?
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