I Doff My Cap to... Formula 1: Drive to Survive

I Doff My Cap to….

March 24th, 2021

Formula 1 is one of the biggest sports on the planet. Since the early 80s, thanks to television deals and territorial expansion, the success it has experienced is unrivalled.

But just when we thought F1 couldn’t get bigger, the people behind the sport have done the unimaginable and grown its offering, extended its reach and added to its success even more through a recent deal with Netflix, which brought the show, Formula 1: Drive to Survive to our screens.

Formula 1, I doff my cap. Not to the sport, but to the show and its success in attracting a whole new audience to the sport.

They’ve recognised that whilst the sport is already a global phenomenon, it can always be bigger, better and even more successful.

A new direction

The first series of the show aired in 2019, just two years after Bernie Ecclestone sold the commercial rights to Formula 1 to Liberty Media in an astonishing $8bn deal. When the takeover took place, sport’s governing body, the FIA, assured the public that the new partnership would guarantee the continued success and development of F1. And that, it has done.

Ecclestone’s 40-year reign over the sport saw it make significant commercial progress, particularly in its early phase when Formula 1 was first broadcast live on a regular basis and began to generate significant sponsorship and television revenues.

Nonetheless, while those revenues rose steadily into the 20th century, a failure to embrace social media and promote the sport to new demographics saw global TV audiences drop from over 600 million to below 400 million in the years after 2008.

So, in that sense, the deal with Liberty Media came at the perfect time. The sport had been losing momentum and needed some sort of pitstop in order for it to refuel and regain some of its old glamour and excitement. Liberty Media came in and did just that.

Something I have spoken about previously in this series is the risk involved in mergers and acquisitions. No matter how successful each entity has been independently, when merging or being acquired, there is no guarantee of continued profitability. Rather, investment, effort and strategy must go into making the deal a success.

But, with the amount of resources required to complete a merger or acquisition in the first place, businesses are often hesitant to allocate even more investment after the event. Liberty Media instead, dedicated a substantial amount of theirs to capturing the behind the scenes action of the 2018 racing season.

While it’s likely this decision wasn’t one that was taken lightly due to the risks involved with opening up to public view and opinion, Liberty Media took yet another chance by not going down a traditional route and partnering with a terrestrial TV network. Instead, they struck a deal with Netflix, leaders in the digital streaming market.

And consequently, this has enabled the sport to catch up to 21st century audiences without any geographical restraints or limitations that so often come with traditional, mainstream media.

So, first and foremost, I doff my cap to Formula 1: Drive to Survive for taking those risks. And next, because of how well they’ve made them work in their favour.

Fuelled with emotion and storytelling

Up until now, F1 has largely remained a closed book – what you see on the track is more or less what you get. Audiences catching any behind the scenes, garage-based action and reaction has historically been rare.

But for the very first time, the Netflix show gave viewers a look under the hood of the sport. The producers of the show did not hold back either. They documented and then released footage of every trial, tribulation and triumph of the racing season. And with that, viewers became hooked.

Anyone who has watched the show or follows the sport knows that the seasons during which the first two series of the show were filmed were not short of intrigue. There was drama, backstabbing and double dealings between teams, unforeseen victories and a tragic loss.

The sport itself knows that it has gone as far as it can as a sport, so now it is much more about the people and stories behind it.

And for creating such a compelling narrative, I doff my cap.

More than just a sport

As we move further into 2021, Formula 1 is continuing to be much more than just a sport, and for many, it’s a way of life.

Over the years, the sport has become recognised because of the people it is associated with. Take Lewis Hamilton for example, he has been the face of the sport for the last decade, but because of the modern and social media driven era we all live in now, this is no longer in the sense of a traditional sporting icon.

The people who take part in the sport, massively contribute to its success. You only have to look at the effect of Tiger Woods and golf to see that this rings incredibly true.

In 2013, Tiger competed in the Masters Tournament and this attracted more than 10.2 million views in the US, and a year later, without Tiger, the tournament’s viewing figures were down by almost three million – a testament to Tiger Woods and his phenomenal impact on the sport.

Now, sports stars and icons are recognised as influencers and are utilised in a way to promote the sports and industries they are a part of.

Anthony Joshua is a prime example of this. Although world renowned for his work as a professional boxer, he has also worked on campaigns with the likes of Hugo Boss, and JD Sports, combining boxing with fashion, creating somewhat of an influencer marketing campaign.

And the Netflix show has proved exactly that – that a sport is much more than meets the eye, and to that, I doff my cap.

Building the next generation

But, although F1 fans were already familiar with how the seasons had played out, the show attracted a whole new generation of viewers who, before watching the series, had much less awareness but are now just as gripped.

And that is the power of emotion. Viewers gained a greater understanding of the people behind the wheel, allowing them to form bonds with their characters and stories. By the time the first series came to an end, they had become so invested that they simply needed to keep up with the sport itself, contributing to a 9% rise in year on year viewing figures in 2019.

I, myself am proof of this. I have had a connection to F1 from a young age, having attended various Grand Prix races and met and formed strong relationships with a number of racing drivers, including Johnny Herbert.

In addition, Champions has worked closely with clients, such as adi Group, who apply strong F1 principles to their business model and internal culture, as well as Powerboat P1, another giant in motorsport.

And similarly to the Netflix show, our approach for Powerboat P1 was to look beyond the sport, focusing on sponsors as well as the teams and individuals behind it in a bid to create superstars of the future. We achieved just that, as did F1: Drive to Survive.

But, despite all these connections, I must admit that I have never really understood or enjoyed the sport. Until now. The series flicked a switch in me, and I became one of many - newly and heavily invested in Formula 1.

In fact, my daughter has also joined the growing throng of fans, showing not only an interest in the drama but also an understanding of how race results go on to impact behind the scenes action.

And because of the show, we now enjoy the sport - not the other way around. Formula 1 is no longer chunks of metal whizzing around a track, but a story filled with real people and real emotions.

This success is largely the result of a thing we like to call the human touch here at Champions. The human to human marketing approach is what we base a lot of our communications on.

It’s all about connecting with people on an intrinsic level to form bonds that result in long-standing brand loyalty. And it works every time.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive has fired up the sport’s engines once again and it is 100% emotion driven. So, that’s precisely why I doff my cap to such a genius TV show.


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